A Mad Men Guide to What’s Better Than Your Biggest Client

Your company’s biggest client can be a real handful, especially when they’re privy to their financial pull. If they know they can get whatever they want, they’re likely to take advantage of it – and in the worst cases, walk all over you.

The account managers in Mad Men know all about this. They’ve had to suck it up countless times when an important client wants to get something out of them, even when the desires bridge very questionable ethical boundaries (including but not limited to public humiliation, infidelity and sex for hire).

A Mad Men Guide to What’s Better Than Your Biggest Client image madmen clientabuseA Mad Men Guide to What’s Better Than Your Biggest Client

Images from AMC

But they grin (or sob) and bear it.

While I’m not suggesting this sort of treachery actually happens in the contemporary ad industry, I am acknowledging that the biggest clients may receive special treatment at an agency’s expense.

What’s important to remember is that while your clients are essential to your business’s livelihood, there are other assets that should take precedence over their wishes. Read on to discover what’s potentially more valuable than those big accounts that pay the bills.

Your ethical integrity

Make sure you’re conducting business in an ethically sound manner. Your integrity is extremely important; if you establish yourself as a trustworthy, reliable organization, you’re also opening the door to new business.

But when you cut corners and pursue crooked dealings, it’ll eventually catch up to you. If a client gets out of line or asks for something that’s black-hat, shut them down right away. Some businesses pick and choose their clients to ensure they’re a good fit together, and if you’re big enough you may be able to do the same.

Don’t solicit shady, morally ambiguous deals with powerful clients to satisfy their yearnings and boost your earnings. Just because someone is eyeing your Joan Holloway doesn’t mean you should oblige them. This foul play may have played smoothly for SCDP, but in real life people go to jail for this.

Integrity is everything, and you should never sacrifice it in the name of a high-paying client.

Your best employee

Never underestimate the value of an outstanding employee.

Sure, your big clients pay the salaries. But you wouldn’t have accounts if your salesmen didn’t close them first. A great employee can bring in 10 accounts to take the place of one that departs. The undying loyalty of someone who’s sharp and highly motivated is incredibly beneficial in the long run. If a situation arises where a talented employee’s job is pitted against a big client’s interests, you should be looking after your people first and foremost.

Salvatore was an incredibly talented art director, but he was cut loose by the wishes of Lucky Strike’s Lee Garner Jr. after an unwanted, behind-the-doors advancement went afoul. Don’t let your Sal go just because he accidentally offends your biggest client: he’s worth far more than them in the long run.

Your customer service

You absolutely need to have outstanding customer service standards to handle the inherent problems that arise from dealing with big money.

It’s there to help people and resolve issues that could otherwise damage your reputation. It’s also a safeguard against poor reviews. Social media may not have been a concern for 1960s Madison Avenue firms, but nowadays it plays a huge role in effective customer service. Dissatisfied customers will often head to social media first if they have a problem, and your vigilance on Facebook and Twitter can be essential to diffusing these public outcries.

Solid customer service will keep your clients happy and create word of mouth referrals following a good experience.

A Mad Men Guide to What’s Better Than Your Biggest Client image kenny shotA Mad Men Guide to What’s Better Than Your Biggest Client

Image from The Big Lead

At the same time, don’t let your big clients take advantage of customer service efforts. Good customer service doesn’t play favorites, and be sure that your reliable Ken Cosgrove doesn’t get shot in the face trying to care for clients who simply can’t be pleased (poor Kenny). With that said, be sure that your customer service team has a thick skin and the patience it takes to resolve issues without losing their minds.

Your management

Effective management is the glue that holds a business together. Running a tight ship is what defines company culture and keeps your employees driven to do great work.

Without management, you’d likely have utter chaos in the workplace. It’s the leadership that enforces rules, reflects values, and teaches salesmen how to acquire the big accounts. A management team that possesses good chemistry and an inspirational attitude is invaluable to company morale; it’s a catalyst for operational efficiency and success.

In other words: don’t let your employees get out of control and run each other over with a lawnmower.

You’ll thank me later.

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