Success in E-Business: Rethinking the Client-Agency Relationship with Lucie Dessarts

For many fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies that focus primarily on brick-and-mortar retail, e-business remains largely uncharted territory. Both e-business clients and e-commerce agencies are unsure how to effectively structure the client-agency relationship. As an e-business consultant with Brand New Galaxy, Lucie Dessarts specializes in helping BNG’s partner agencies improve the way they work with their e-business clients.

Dessarts has held positions in e-business, digital, marketing, and commercial departments at top consumer packaged goods [CPG] companies including Coty, Procter & Gamble, and Nestlé. Her extensive and varied experience gives her a unique perspective on how to help support brands in shaping their e-business ecosystem. As a network of agencies, Brand New Galaxy has the expertise to solve technical problems as well as offer big-picture, collaborative partnership to a client’s e-business team—a team that is often under-resourced in-house.

Content26 joined Brand New Galaxy in 2020. We spoke with Dessarts about today’s opportunities and challenges in e-business, and she shared her expertise from both a client and agency perspective.

E-retail is relatively new for many major companies, some of which still seem to treat e-commerce like an afterthought. What are the major challenges for someone like an e-business director in 2022?

Lucie Dessarts: E-business directors are in these relatively new roles within a company, so they must navigate a cultural shift internally, and also understand marketing, sales, and media in one team— traditionally in FMCG all those functions are very separate. That’s one of the big challenges: Most talents in e-commerce are coming either from sales or from marketing, and there’s no such thing yet as an e-retail career track, where you learn marketing, sales, media, etc. So, you have to learn and adapt while operating in an organization that is still very traditional. You don’t have a lot of other people doing the same job as you, and most other stakeholders are thinking about brick and mortar.

Then, suddenly, e-commerce becomes important, and with COVID, it becomes even more important. All eyes are on you to solve all the e-commerce problems because people don’t really understand your expertise. It’s a very challenging and exciting role, but it can also be lonely. This is where I think an agency could be a real e-commerce business partner.

When I was working on the client side as an e-business director, I had quite a lot of things to manage, ranging from content to media to commercials and trade terms with my e-retailers. I could identify a lot of e-commerce agencies that had specific technical skills, but I couldn’t identify an agency that understood my role, that could speak in the same language, and understand the challenges of e-business.

The BNG network can provide clients with not only technical solutions but with a business partnership mindset that understands the different aspects of your job. BNG includes Pathfinder 23, which provides end-to-end e-commerce support; it has content26, of course, which focuses on Amazon Advertising; it has Synthrone, which helps you with managing your digital shelf—it’s a good mix. Having customer service that can be a single-point-of-contact partner to a client and that understands what each of these agencies offers is a strength of the BNG network. It will enable us to step away from only technical solutions and say instead, “We understand, and we have solutions to your problems.”

What do agencies often get wrong in their approach to the client-agency relationship? How do you try and address this in your e-business consulting?

LD: I think it’s a failure to listen and understand a client’s business goals, then trying to push your solution regardless of what a client needs. If a client briefs you on something very specific and you can offer the capability, then great, it’s a no-brainer and you make a great sale. But when you start working with big accounts that have many needs, you need to always keep proactively asking questions about the pain points. It’s not a one-time thing, it’s keeping a constant line of communication with the client. Even when you’re talking about specific projects, it’s about always checking in to see what else is on their minds, what are their other pain points, so that you’re able to see the 360-degree picture of what they need, not just focus on one project and forget the rest.

You must also remember that on the client side they have an annual planning process, and sometimes the thing you’re trying to push or sell throughout the year, you’re not getting any traction on because it’s just not in their plan, so they have no resources, no time, no money. [An agency] can become more of a strategic partner by understanding when that cycle of annual decision-making happens internally and making sure you’re proactive before that process starts. Have a check-in and say, “Hey, you’re about to enter this annual planning for next year. That must be a stressful time for you as an individual, so how can I help? What are your priorities for next year?”

How can companies like BNG maximize their skill sets and shift their mindsets to best address a client’s needs?

LD: I always think about, based on what I know about you the client, what you could do differently. Today, agencies often receive briefs after a client’s annual planning has happened, so a client says, “OK, I need this in two months, this is my objective, now deliver.”

I’m trying to trigger a mindset shift in customer services teams that puts the agency more on the front foot, so they’ve not only helped unlock other opportunities for the agency that could be put in the annual plan, but they’ve also shown that they have thought leadership and supported their clients in a stressful time. They’ve provided ideas and shared knowledge in a time when an e-business director is often working alone trying to solve a lot of problems. That’s one way that agencies can become more like business partners.

Lucie Dessarts is an e-business consultant with Brand New Galaxy. This interview is part of a blog series highlighting the extensive e-commerce expertise and thought leadership throughout Brand New Galaxy. To read more, click here.