By Tim Williams

By Tim Williams

“What is it they do again?” That’s the reaction of many prospective clients looking at the list of diverse services listed on most agency websites.

As my friend Bruno Gralpois of Microsoft says, “Agencies have mastered the art of talking about themselves in ways that make you wonder what they actually don’t do (what I like to fondly call the ‘we do it too’ syndrome).” He goes on to say, “Agencies cannot realistically hire every possible top talent or specialized skill … They cannot credibly be all things to all their clients.”

Clients don’t want choice; they just want what they want

The truth is that the agencies with the strongest new business development records are those that don’t try to provide every possible service for every possible kind of client. As Joseph Pine and James Gilmore write in The Experience Economy, “Customers don’t want choice; they just want exactly what they want.”

This is why a typical Fortune 500 company has an average of 17 best-in-class agency relationships. No one agency can possibly be an expert in every aspect of marketing.

Former agency execs Jason Fried and David Hansson, who now run the software company 37 Signals, make a compelling case for why less is more in their recent book Rework. Among other things, they preach principles like:

  • Say no instead of always saying yes
  • Stop worrying about what your competitors are doing
  • Offer less than your competition
  • Instead of always adding services, subtract
  • Curate your offering; decide what not to show or do
  • Do fewer things better

The economics of focus

Focus is the reason Germany has been the best performer among the rich countries of the world for the last decade. “German companies,” says The Economist, “have excelled at seeking out profitable niches and then focusing relentlessly on being the best. This is particularly true of the Mittelstand, the small and not-so-small companies that are the backbone of the German Economy.” Some of these companies may not be household names, but they are “world-beaters.”

So in place of an exhaustive list of agency services designed to appeal to “everyone,” pare down your list to appeal to “someone.” Find a client that fits you, and wants you for what you do best. A good place to start is to gather your management team together and discuss the question, “What are the things we say we do, but don’t really do?”

i From Agency Mania, by Bruno Gralpois
ii “Angela in Wunderland,” The Economist, February 5, 2011