CMO Coffee Talk ‘Aha! Moment’: Six Roles for Successful Agency Relationships

4 minutes
May 03, 2022
Digital Marketing

Editor's Note: CMO Coffee Talk is an open space for more than 1,300 CMOs to come together weekly with their peers and discuss timely, crowd-sourced topics. Matt Heinz of Heinz...

Editor’s Note: CMO Coffee Talk is an open space for more than 1,300 CMOs to come together weekly with their peers and discuss timely, crowd-sourced topics. Matt Heinz of Heinz Marketing co-hosts these dynamic, illuminating conversations with 6sense CMO Latané Conant. 


Successful agency relationships are a two-way street. At a recent CMO Coffee Talk session, we covered agency management best practices, and had a lively conversation featuring input from CMOs as well as heads of successful agencies.

A great relationship goes beyond simply following the work order or achieving stated, measurable objectives. Those are table stakes.

But what roles separate good agencies from great agencies? What leadership elements make some agencies true, trusted advisors who deliver world-class value well beyond the tactical work?

Reflecting on the great agencies I’ve worked with in the past — and currently interact with in our work today — I’ve cooked up six roles I find most helpful and differentiating. Here’s a close look at each.

1. Listener

Mediocre agencies start by telling the client what they need. Great agencies listen first, and listen often. They ask good questions, hear what the client needs, and then continue to ask questions — of their client, of the client’s customers and partners, of the direct and channel sales teams, and more.

Listening alone can unlock ideas, opportunities, and other advantages that other agencies will completely miss. 

2. Challenger

Great agencies challenge their clients to think differently, beyond what they’re used to or comfortable with. They challenge convention and push the limits of what’s been done before.  

They don’t do this from a position of arrogance or power, but from insights trust and respect. This is not unlike what smart sales professionals do in The Challenger Sale model. Great agencies create value in every interaction, including well before that first piece of work is formalized. 

3. Teacher

If your agency  colleagues keeps their intellectual capital completely to themselves, they’re making it clear they don’t trust you. And they’re making it clear they don’t trust themselves, either.

If you aren’t teaching your clients to do better, to be better, and leverage what you know to their direct advantage, you’re failing to create trust, credibility and loyalty.  Great agencies foster an internal culture of learning that keeps their insights ahead of the rest of the market.  This makes teaching a constant, ongoing opportunity. 

4. Quantifier

It might be an awkward word, but it’s an important concept. Measurement alone isn’t as valuable as measuring what’s most important. Your agency should be proactively accountable for their efforts and results.

Great agencies don’t hide between fluffy presentations with lots of flash and little quantifiable substance. They let the metrics speak for themselves — even when the story is less than ideal — and put focus on how to make them better. 

5. Integrator

“Integrator” agencies excel at the integration of processes, internal teams, and even other agencies.

It’s incredibly frustrating to clients when agencies treat each other as competitors, fail to share information, and constantly play political games to maneuver themselves into better positions for future business.

In contrast to those short-sighted agencies, the great ones lean in. They teach other agencies to be better (either directly or by their actions). And they proactively seek to integrate teams and systems and consultants to serve a greater purpose: to be greater than the sum of their parts. 

6. Innovator

Great agencies aren’t afraid of failure. They know that the path to innovation — the very act of innovating — is paved with failure and “bad news” for the client on occasion.

But great agencies leverage the advantages listed above to earn the trust, credibility, respect, and permission necessary to innovate in ways that put their clients ahead and constantly in positive territory. 

Coming Up on CMO Coffee Talk… 

In our next CMO Coffee Talk meetup (which is just around the corner!), we’ll focus on customer loyalty and retention, and specifically the new Earned Growth model introduced last year by Fred Reichheld in his new book, Winning on Purpose. You don’t want to miss this one! 

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