How to maintain healthy business relationships

Our analysis shows that regular evaluation and constructive action planning can help maintain healthy business relationships and provide the framework for continuous improvement.

Strong and healthy client-agency relationships help build stronger business. Our data also reveals that failing relationships can be turned around, but it requires a commitment from both parties. As with marital divorce, changing partners can be hugely disruptive and expensive, so it’s better to repair than to replace.

What the data says

The best business relationships are characterised by a willingness to challenge the status quo, and the weakest, by a reluctance to do so.

The best-performing client-agency relationships are defined by high scores on attributes including Challenge, Communication and Trust, the data shows.

These findings were drawn from our global database of more than 24,000 client-agency evaluations spanning 20 years and presented in our report entitled; ‘How to maintain healthy business relationships’ available for free download here.

The analysis also revealed conversely, that among the lowest-scoring agencies and clients, while all characteristics score poorly, Challenge is the attribute that most notably lags behind. 

This demonstrates that a willingness from both parties to ask questions, take risks and challenge the status quo could improve client-agency relationships.

Healthy business relationships
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Evaluations are built around the agency-client scope of work and include traditional disciplines and skills such as Leadership, Financial Management and Collaboration.

Aprais also assign behaviour traits to each question in the database to ascertain how the characteristics of Accountability, Challenge, Goals, Functional, Communication, Resilience and Trust affect team relationships.

How to improve failing relationships

The data indicates that even failing relationships between clients and agencies can be turned around, avoiding lengthy and costly pitch processes, if both parties support the process.

Figures show that a bi-annual process of two-way evaluations can improve relationships, and that scores increase with each evaluation as key learnings are identified and action taken.

It’s clear that regular evaluation and constructive action planning which addresses the key developmental areas for both parties can turn around a failing relationship and provide the framework for positive improvement.

Beth Lewis, head of client services at Aprais

Low performing relationships in particular see marked improvements in all scores over time, across all scopes of work. 

For agencies evaluated 5-9 times scores for creative client-agency teams improve by 24% for the agency and 20% for the client. This pattern also appears when examining scores for media and digital.

What not to do

Five common pitfalls when trying to improve a client-agency relationship:

  1. Applying a standard evaluation methodology across the company as part of the Supplier Relationship Management process. A rigid structure isn’t suitable for communications disciplines because the output depends upon the input from the client, and this model encourages a supplier mentality rather than a partnership.
  2. Evaluating relationships to manage the agency’s remuneration. Whilst linking agency fees to the outcome of the evaluation is common practice, this should not take precedence over improving the relationship between client and agency.
  3. Conducting a one-way evaluation of the agency only. This ignores the input of the client which can impact performance, for example poor briefing will lead to poorer quality work. A process where both parties evaluate each other can encourage improvements on both side and allow agencies to share examples of best practice from their client base.
  4. Annual or adhoc evaluations. Our data shows that six-monthly evaluations optimise the opportunities for consistent improvement.
  5. Internal evaluations with performance assessed over time. Using external benchmarks provides context for different scopes of work and allows for comparison with similar relationships.