Think for a minute about the way your agency is organized. What is the primary focus of the business? Is it to sell and service a product such as medical insurance? Or is it to work with a group of clients that need help attracting and retaining employees? The answer to this determines how your business is structured, which in turn determines how you are able to attract and retain your own employees.

Product focus

Product-focused organizations center around two things: the core product they sell and the sales people who are responsible for selling that product. Everything in the organization is then designed to support and service the efforts of the sales people — from the administrative/service team, to the compensation programs, to training, resources and even facilities. Sadly in this scenario, the client is merely the result of the sales efforts to sell a product.

When an agency is structured like this, the business is 100% dependent on having the product to sell. If anything goes awry with that product, then the entire company is in jeopardy. These agencies are held together very rigidly and precariously around that central product and are simply not able to adapt to changes as they come along — which is pretty much always, these days. Unfortunately, this is the state of a good majority of independent agencies.

Client focus

An alternative model, and one I actively promote, is being a client-focused organization. In this model the needs of the client business are the central focus and everyone in the agency plays a role in educating buyers, uncovering buyer needs or helping clients solve their challenges through a combination of advice and services.

When you have a company structured like this, then the dependence is not on a single product, nor is it dependent on a single person or team. Instead, this model puts the client at the center of everyone’s focus and everyone on the team gets to play an equal, yet individual, role in the lifecycle of the client. When an organization decentralizes its core dependency, it becomes much more flexible and change-adaptive. The availability, or not, of a single product will not take the business down when change occurs. In this scenario everyone also gets to play a role in bringing ideas to the business and the burden does not lie on a single person or group to generate the next enhancement.

Having a business like this takes a pretty big shift in thinking because the old model is so engrained. For example, sales people not being the central focus might be hard on some egos. And thinking of service teams as significant contributors to client development might be a pull for some and a refreshing change for others.

The more you can create a model where the entire organization is obsessively focused on the needs of the client, the more nimble and flexible your company becomes and thus, the more stable it becomes. With a model like this, you’ll never be at a loss for what products or services you need to add next — the answers will become obvious by talking to your clients on a daily basis.

Keneipp is a partner and coach at Q4intelligence in the Seattle area. Reach her at

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