Following Your Client to the New CMO Gig

One of the most critical new business skills is actually an old business skill: how to follow your client contact to his or her new job. Mastering that ability can cover a multitude of other deficiencies, like lame positioning or undisciplined lead generation. The skill is more important than ever, too, only because the decision makers on the client side are changing jobs more frequently. Not as frequently as in the past, but still more frequently than any other position in the C suite. That's remarkably sad--and stark evidence of the pressure they are under--but good for your business.

More than that, most CMOs (a full 72%) are hired from the outside, which usually means that they bring their team with them, which wouldn’t be as likely if they were promoted from within.

A change at CMO (or whoever your buyer is) has always been the signal to pounce. There are even services that alert you to these daily changes. The new entrant wants to put their stamp on something, which usually means bringing their prior partner (the agency they’ve worked with before) to the party. I offer a radical idea to retain an account in this episode of the 2bobs podcast, but today we’re talking about how to move with your existing contact when they change jobs.

First an important note about how your positioning impacts your expectations. If you are vertically positioned (by industry), you are more likely to follow your contact because they are more likely to move to another job opportunity within the same vertical. That’s not true of a horizontally positioned firm, though, because the odds are less than half that they will remain in the same vertical.

It’s more of an art than a science, so don’t expect to hear a magic bullet. It’s more a combination of doing the right things to achieve the right result. Here’s what I’d do before the boundary:

  • Pause right now and write a LinkedIn endorsement for all your contacts on the client side. Or at least the ones that you believe in. Do it without mentioning it to them and don’t ask for anything in return. Don’t write any for the assh0le clients…just the good ones.
  • Look for speaking opportunities for or even with your client contact. You build a unique bond with someone while traveling or while on stage, and there’s nothing quite like doing a public presentation to cement that relationship.
  • Enter their work in award shows and make a big deal of any awards that you win.
  • Make important introductions along the way. That includes other partners that do things you don’t do, industry greats, authors, thinkers: anyone that furthers their career opportunities. Maybe you’ve just been a guest on a podcast and you can easily facilitate the same for your client contact.
  • Stay in touch regularly before they move. In fact, stay in touch so closely that you know about the move before your contact resigns! It’s completely disingenuous to suddenly seem interested in a person right when they leave, with some faux loyalty. People see through that stuff.

And here’s what I’d do after the boundary:

  • One person needs to be in charge of following any specific account. It’s better if that’s the same person who manages the account you are trying to follow so that the new business person doesn’t have to pop back into the fray, but I’ve seen it work both ways.
  • That one person is going to have to be an extrovert or at least act like one for a bit. This isn’t going to happen with just emails. It’ll involve some good old-fashioned people skills.
  • Find out everything you can about the agency doing work for the new company where your client just moved. Size, billings, clients, key staff, history, strengths, weaknesses, anything you can find on GlassDoor, etc. But be completely fair. If anything, err on giving that agency the benefit of the doubt. Don’t bad mouth them in any way. Just pretend you are writing an unbiased Wikipedia entry. Then send it with a note that says something like this. “Congrats on the new job! We really enjoyed working with you before your new promotion, and we’re sad to not be working with you regularly. I had a staff member put this together for you. I know there are lots of new things to learn, but since we’re in this space I thought we could save you a little time in getting you up to speed on your existing agency. On our own dime, we’re working on putting together something similar on public perception of [new company] and will send it along when we’re finished. My very best wishes in your new challenge!”
  • Meanwhile, finish up the research report on the new company where they landed. Don’t sugarcoat anything. Be direct and transparent. You have nothing to lose, at this point–you’re playing with house money. Along with it, you can say something like this. “Here you are: the research report we finished. Just thought you’d want some sense of what you’re walking into. I hope you are settling in well. Thank you again for letting us help you in your former role. We’re here if you need anything, personally or for the business.”

Don’t ask for the new business. Simply do the right thing by wishing them well. If they want to use you at their new job, they’ll not need you to remind them. And if you do it right this time, without being pushy, a more natural timing might play out and they’ll call you six months later after discovering how much they miss your firm and how they were treated.

About 30–40% of your work will come this way. And if you do this right, there will be two CMOs whom you will each follow twice!

What have I missed? Shoot me a note and I’ll update this piece with your ideas. It’s a critical part of your success.

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