Building a Business of Great Relationships

Scott Scheffey and Title, Building a Business of Great RelationshipsAs an integrated marketing firm, Scheffey often collaborates attentively with clients to ensure the marketing strategies are achieving business goals. Such close attention results in relationships forged through time spent, goals reached together, and mutual respect. Not every agency enjoys long-term, tightknit connections, however. So we sat with the man who started it all, Scott Scheffey, to learn how he did it.

First, let’s ask some softball questions. How long have you been running Scheffey?

I started the business with a partner in 1990. It was called Bucher-Scheffey until I bought him out in 1996.

What motivated you to run the agency?

Running a business was always in my genes. When I was a kid I had my own little lawn mowing and snow shoveling business, like all kids do. In the summers while going to art school, I had a painting business rather than work for one. I just always wanted to run a business. So it was not any surprise to me when at 29, when my business partner said let’s do this, I said yes.

In those early years, how did you get new leads?

I was pretty involved in the community even at that age, and I just started networking to get clients to come on board with us. That’s the part I enjoyed. Not cold-calling, but being involved in the community in areas I have a heart for. It just worked out and we got more referrals that way.

The Horst Group companies is a great example of that. In 1988, I did work for a Horst company that was run by a friend from church. Then, in 1995 Horst Group and Construction contacted us. So, we’re working with all of the Horst companies because of my friendship with this one guy.

You’ve been working with some clients since you started. How do you hold on to clients for so long?

I think because the person I am at work and the person I am at home, they are the same. And I think a lot of clients feel comfortable with that. I’d say with a good number of clients, a personal relationship has developed around that, which has not only strengthened our relationship, but just really makes the relationship enjoyable.

There will always be cheaper agencies, agencies that do work faster, agencies that do flashier work. There are a lot of agencies like that. If you have a strong relationship, though, you can show your value and you are going to hold on to your clients longer. I think we can prove that because the length of a lot of our clients is well beyond what the industry average is.

Why is it important to have a good agency-client relationship?

It’s important to our clients because they know we’re in their corner, doing what’s best for their business more than our own. It’s important to us because it leads to strong, long-term clients. We’ve had situations where businesses came to us and – as much as we wanted to work with them based on their budget or what they wanted to do – if we knew they needed something else or knew someone else could do a better job with what they wanted, we would walk away from that.

Many years ago, there was an insurance agency that came to me through a client connection, and the owner wanted us to do marketing for them. I had one or two meetings with him, and I told him he shouldn’t do marketing at that point. He really needed to engage a sales coach and beef up his sales process first. So I recommended a sales coach instead. He did that for more than a year, and when that was over, he came back to us.

Tell me about a time when, because of your relationship with them, you were able to go above and beyond for a client.

Strasburg Rail Road has been a client since 2001. At that time, the new president, Linn Moedinger, and I met with each other for almost two hours. Linn and I have had a special relationship ever since. He retired in December 2018 after 50 years of service for the railroad. The board was trying to think of ways to honor Linn beyond naming a newly-refurbished passenger car after him. I came up with the idea of creating an endowed scholarship at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology, which is where the railroad gets a number of its welders and machinists. I put together a fundraising plan that they could implement, and Hope Graby and I donated many hours of brainstorming, consulting, and promoting the message. At the end of a few months, they raised $63,000, which was more than double the $25,000 needed for one scholarship. (They’re now providing two scholarships: welding and machining.)

What sends red flags that a new prospect or relationship is not going to work out?

One is if they just really want a pair of hands to execute their ideas, or we can sense they are going to be a difficult client to work with. We try to find out early if they value the people that they hire to work for them because we don’t want to be a vendor. A lot of companies look at agencies as a vendor to get the word out. We look carefully to see if we’re going to add value to them.

In 1993, a friend of mine, Art Dodge, connected us with Jim Dobmeier, President and Founder of Surface America in Buffalo New York. Art told Jim he has a guy to do his marketing. And it’s been a close relationship ever since because Jim values what we can do for him. He often tells people that through much of his success, he can think of two or three people or moments that propelled them forward, and Scheffey is one of them. Having direct contact with the president of the company, we can get a lot of work done. And when Jim added A-Turf, a synthetic turf field builder, in 2002, he had us do that work, too.

In fact, we were working with A-Turf when they got their big NFL break and installed the field at the Buffalo Bills stadium. Being a New England Patriots nemesis, Jim bought tickets to the home game against the Patriots for his whole company plus two of his valued partners. The turf manufacturer and his wife, and Sandy and I got to see a beautiful field and a great game. And the Bills won!

What is unique to building relationships as a small or medium-sized agency versus a larger firm?

A lot of clients like to know that the owner is involved in their account, even if just for oversight or attending quarterly planning meetings. What works for Scheffey is the client doesn’t get to know just one or two people on our team, but usually four or more people. We make sure the client gets to give input to and hear directly from our specialists, rather than the Client Manager being responsible to carry the details between the team and client.

Some might say it’s risky to put your whole team in front of clients. Why did you decide to operate with that model?

When we were small, three or four people, I was the only one who met with clients. I realized quickly that if we were to grow, we had to add more client managers. But the problem was that back then, people thought the business was me. So they wanted me. I had to work really hard at creating a model where I put the team members in front of me, letting them show clients their expertise. That really made a difference because over time, clients felt confident in the entire team, not just me.

You’ve obviously figured out how to come through for your clients, but relationships are two-way streets. Have clients ever come through for you?

On January 22 of this year, I was diagnosed with lung cancer. My team wanted to show support to me and my family so they created the Scheffey Strong website and t-shirts. Since then, clients have been sending us pictures of themselves or their teams in Scheffey Strong t-shirts, and supporting me on their social media pages. I get a kick out of seeing the photos, and really appreciate the love and support they’re giving me.

If there were another 29-year-old that wanted to start an agency, what advice would you give him or her?

I’d say be authentic and leverage your existing relationships. It can be personal relationships: you don’t know where the next client will come from, so don’t be afraid to leverage that. Provide great work and client service. Let them know how much you care about their success.

Scott Scheffey is the founder and Strategic Director for Scheffey, bringing real-world business acumen and creativity to his clients’ campaigns. His heavy involvement in the community over many years not only strengthens his relationships, but also contributes to making Lancaster County a great place to live. To get in contact with Scott and others at Scheffey, visit our contact page.