There is a concept in business that’s called being “behind the power curve” or “just behind the curve.”

client retention power curve

Don’t get behind the power curve. Move ahead with authority. Knowledge is power.

I’ve heard it used many times in the business world, but I’m guessing few really understand where it comes from or what it means.

The phrase comes from aviation, and it has everything to do with keeping your plane in the air. If you’re ahead of the power curve, all’s good. If you want to keep flying and not tie the low altitude record (you can’t beat the low altitude record but you sure can tie it) get ahead of the power curve. If you get behind the power curve, that’s known in aviation circles as a very Bad Thing™.

The simplest explanation of the power curve is here:

“…there is a point when your plane is slowing down that in order to maintain altitude you need to start adding power again. Pretty soon you’ve got the throttle on full, engine working as hard as it can, fuel burning up at maximum rate, and yet you are flying at your slowest possible speed! And in fact at that point you are barely hanging in the air and if you cut the power back just a little bit you come tumbling out of the sky.”

Ouch. If that sounds familiar, meaning your agency is running as hard as it can but getting further and further behind, just barely hanging in, you’re behind the power curve. Being ahead of the curve is about understanding and stopping problems, issues, and distractions before they have an impact on the agency. Below are ten ways to keep your agency in the air, well ahead of the power curve.

10 Techniques for Staying Ahead of the Power Curve:

  1. Focus on the Branding Battle: Every marketing expert is telling each of your clients that their most important company asset is their brand. Your agency’s role is to lead your clients on how to maximize their returns from those brands. Set up and leverage brand platforms, brand values, and brand personalities for your clients in an easy to understand manner. Offer extensive brand physicals for any branded products, services or programs that show clients clearly which path to take for greatest value. Keeping the client focus on a proven lofty goal helps keep the agency ahead of the curve.
  2. Think Beyond Campaigns: Agencies need to turn all the little client projects into campaigns, and then work to transform campaigns into long-running programs. Small projects like creating a new email template can be linked into an outreach campaign (using marketing automation) and then tied to an overall program to drive growth. Long-running programs keep the focus on the overall goals of the brand. Link your projects and campaigns under one strong brand theme or around one big idea. Always present the campaign as a way to achieve larger client objectives, or goals, linked to what you call programs. Keeping the focus on long-running, goal-specific programs helps the client stay on target. Helping the client organize and track all of the various projects, campaigns and programs and tying them to the overall brand goal helps the agency.
  3. Negotiate with Clients: Don’t waste time trying to second-guess what a client will pay. Don’t embarrass your agency by giving estimates clients can’t afford. Even worse is coming in way below the client’s budget – you leave money on the table and you send a signal that you don’t understand how important this initiative is to the client. Make sure to set budget ranges with clients before you open the job – it’s easy if you understand how and work at it. Additionally, you avoid spending valuable agency time on projects that have no funding and would never see the light of day. Also remember, any change request is an opportunity to negotiate, and often money is not the issue. Instead, think about trading introductions to new prospects, recommendations to other firms, or more time for approval process, etc.. Stop giving away agency time for nothing.
  4. Keep Clients from Killing Great Work: Too many times agencies have a great idea, a powerful solution, or a winning campaign, only to have it discounted or rejected outright by the client. Make sure you understand the best way to present to each of your clients, including type of client meeting to have, best presentation formats, best supporting materials to use and how to handle objections. By focusing on presenting outstanding work correctly the first time, you keep the focus on what clients want: reward, recognition, and results. This leads to more promotion opportunities for the client and better results for the agency. Not to mention that getting work approved the first time will save your agency thousands of dollars each month in unnecessary write-offs and rework.
  5. Use Mind Mapping and Logic Trails: What we have here is a failure to communicate. Understanding how clients access information and use different parts of their brains to solve problems is important information smart agencies understand. Present your recommendations in a way that clients understand and accept. Use visual thinking tools to help structure the presented information, and help clients better analyze and comprehend new ideas. Clients often think at the 10,000-foot level while agencies are trying to work at the 50,000 foot range. Bridge this difficult gap by helping clients see the logic and track the solutions recommended.
  6. Streamline Project Management: Managing projects through the creative-development process or the department structure is a learned skill set important to every agency account person. Mismanaged assignments create uproar for the agency, limit careers, cause clients to leave and result in unprofitable work. Eliminate that by outlining strict project launch guidelines, streamline work flow with project management technology, and clarify roles and responsibilities. Remove as much non-value added activity out of the process as you can.
  7. Consult with Clients: Learn how to consult with clients without being a consultant. Clients often see agencies as nothing more than creative vendors offering tactical solutions. By offering what we call value-based initiatives and assisting in those operational areas that irritate clients, agencies can become valued partners again. Utilize your skills in problem solving, communication, innovation and process improvement to help clients. When you create these revenue opportunities, you allow your clients to spend more time on their core businesses and generate consulting-type fees for the agency. The results are more happy clients, invigorated agency staffs and more revenue to the bottom line.
  8. Ride the Trends: Marketing is changing at a rapid pace; ensure your agency stays on top of all the latest trends. It’s important you have a point-of-view on where marketing is going. Agencies must be viewed as the clearinghouse for any new marketing fad. Be prepared to answer any client request with a strategic insight into why, or why not, a new trend is good for the client’s brand. Keep your finger on the marketing pulse, while keeping an eye on what’s going on in the client’s industry. Stop the client from getting distracted by buzz words and hype that end up being a time drain for your agency.
  9. Focus on Speed: It’s important to respond to any client request as soon as possible – that’s a given. But too many agencies acknowledge a request for some ideas on a new initiative and disappear down a rabbit hole. An agency may take weeks to research a proper response, create an outstanding overview, package it up in a great presentation, and finally get it back to the client. Due to the lengthy delay, the client has now hired a team of freelancers to launch the new initiative. Or perhaps it was just a toss-off question, and the agency just wasted hundreds of hours preparing for nothing. Implement a 48-hour rule. Get back to the client with top-line thoughts and a mini-working session within 48 hours. Go old school and use process sheets, flip paper, and bring in the agency topic “expert” to handle any questions. Speed of action, especially speed of decision making, is a powerful tool in keeping ahead of the power curve.
  10. Clients Are People Too: Clients will toss out a steady stream of work projects, program ideas and initiatives that keep agencies distracted from the real issue: maintaining the personal relationship. The work is important. But the most important agency-client management technique is to keep the focus on the people—what we call chemistry. Chemistry is about building trust and mutual respect. By keeping the focus on the relationship, your agency can create long-lasting and cohesive bonds that allow your agency to do great work and stay ahead of the power curve. Many agencies discover that if they stop throwing more hours, more bodies and more activity at all the client issues, but instead focus on the people, most of the little issues fade into the background.

Keeping Ahead of the Power Curve.

Agencies get caught behind the power curve when they get bogged down dealing with relatively minor issues (client requests, change orders, budgets and schedules) and end up missing the big picture. To the client, these issues might be important, but they end up distracting the agency from what the client most values – a great relationship that generates positive results. Each client has a different set of goals; make sure you keep the focus on what is really important.

To thrive in our changing world, agencies need more flexibility and resilience than ever before. Leaders need to understand what is going on and assess the real value of all activities to ensure they stay ahead of the power curve. And they must have the courage and determination to drive any necessary change throughout the agency.


Photo by BrettRisen