You Gotta Listen to the Coach

You gotta to listen to the coach. 

In my experience, there seems to be a tug-of-war game between agencies and the internal teams of clients. 

The agency or consultant advocates X. The client’s staff says Y. Or, places red tape and obstacles to slow things down or prevent the execution of the strategy. 

When this isn’t remedied, communication breaks down. The client wonders why there is no result. The employees blame the agency. The agency explains that they have been prevented from implementing their strategy and carrying out their tactics by the gatekeepers. 

In the end, everyone loses. 

Agencies must be careful not to step on toes and to respect client’s internal structures, protocol, and their team’s insider knowledge gleaned from working in the trenches every day.  They know their industry and the daily goings on at the company better than the agency ever will. 

At the same time, if you’re not going to listen to your marketing firm, then why did you hire one in the first place? You’re busy. Your employees don’t have the bandwidth to create content at scale and hack social media distribution. You should also concede that your marketing agency probably understands marketing strategy better than you do. 

So, swallow your pride. Cooperate. And listen to the coach.

Make Sure You and Your Client Are in Alignment

After years of freelancing and subsequently building a digital marketing agency over the past year and a half, I think the most important piece of advice I can share is to make sure client and agency interests are in alignment.

If you’re just starting out, this may be hard to do. You’re likely still figuring out your focus and area of specialization. In the early stages, you may not even be in a position to properly vet each organization you work with and you’ll likely have to work with many people who may not be your ideal clients or target market. It may also be difficult at first to determine whether you and your clients are in alignment about things such strategy, expectations, timelines, and more.

Making sure you and your client are in alignment about key issues takes first understanding what those key issues should be. Next, you must become good at effectively communicating throughout the process. The greater the alignment between you and the client, the greater amount of harmony, which will ensure a smooth and productive working relationship that can hopefully turn into long-term loyalty and referrals.

Do your due diligence, learn as much as you can about the client, and ask the right questions before getting started or signing a contract. However, the discussion shouldn’t end once the deal is done. Regardless of whether or not you have an account executive on the payroll, it’s important to regularly communicate with the client and periodically check in to make sure their expectations are being met and that you’re both still on the same page.

While the following is particularly relevant to marketing agencies, here are some important areas where you and your clients should be in alignment no matter your industry:

Payment, fees, and costs

Delineate from the outset what you will get paid, how you will get paid, and when you will get paid. This will save both you and your clients a lot of headache and aggravation down the line. Do you need to be paid upfront? In stages? By the hour? Cash or credit? Check? Paypal? First of the month? What happens if they fail to pay on time or decide to part ways before you’ve concluded the project or the retainer? Iron this all out and put it in writing.

Financial surprises can lead to unwanted and unnecessary friction between client and service provider that can prove fatal to the business relationship. If something is going to be an issue, try to nip it in the bud and plan accordingly. Sometimes, this will mean having to pass on the account. However, the short-term pain of losing a deal is worth saving yourself from problems later on. Be sure to budget in as many of your costs as possible into your price and inform the client of any additional spending that may be required. Take your client’s budget into account and make sure you’ll have enough to get the job done well. Remember to be as clear as possible, even if it may potentially cost you the client. The last thing you want is a reputation of failing to disclose important information. Be honest, ethical, and transparent. No hidden fees!

One rule of thumb: If they can’t afford your retainer, they probably can’t afford additional marketing costs, such as ad spend or partnerships with influencers. Therefore, make sure you charge enough to screen out clients who are not likely to be seriously invested or stick around for the long haul.

Reasonable expectations of results

While it may seem silly to have to say this, make sure your client truly understands what you do. For example, if you only make tables and chairs, make that clear so they’re not disappointed upon later discovering you don’t also make cabinets. If you specialize in designing logos, make it clear that you don’t do signage as well. If you are strictly digital, your client shouldn’t be under the impression you’ll do direct mail. Clear communication and spelling out exactly what they will be getting for the money in a transparent manner will minimize your number of unhappy clients, lost accounts, and bad reviews.

Listen carefully in order to understand your clients’ needs, preferences, and goals. Don’t promise that you can meet their demands if you are not sure that you can do so. Furthermore, make it clear what kind of results they can reasonably expect from your work and what metrics you will be using to determine success. Of course, clients can sometimes be fickle or subjective in their evaluation of your work, but if you are able to qualitatively and quantitatively define what a good result looks like, then you will be in a better position to explain why they should retain your services.

Note: You’re not a miracle worker. Nor should anyone expect you to be. Make sure your client understands that and promise them only what you can deliver.

Timelines and communication

Timelines can refer to details, such as how long it will take to complete the work, when you will get paid, or how long you will be working together. Assign deadlines for payments and projects. Decide when campaigns will start and how long they will run. Establish deadlines for when the client must give you certain resources or information that you will need in order to execute optimally e.g. a signature, approval from the board or decision maker, ad spend, information or in-house data etc. Communicate regularly to make sure that you and the client are progressing at the same pace and will be able to meet respective deadlines. Try to determine from the outset if the client will have enough time available to work with you and that you will have enough time available to meet their needs.

While you cannot account for every unique situation, doing your best to ensure that there is as much alignment as possible between you and your clients (goals, payment, expectations, timeline, and frequency of communication) will help you to minimize friction and reduce client turnover. Moreover, it will help ensure customer satisfaction and make for an experience that is both productive and enjoyable for everyone involved.