We asked a few dozen agencies to share their most painful client experiences, and more importantly, the advice they’d give to other agencies to avoid them.
Agencies | Nov 5
Kevin Kononenko on April 13, 2018 • 22 minute read
We asked some of our most active marketing agency partners a simple question: “Do you do better work for your best clients?”
And a majority of our agencies said… “Yes”.
“Hold on”, you might be thinking. “Every client’s dollar is worth the same amount! Why do some clients get better work?”
But, if you are saying that, you are probably part of the problem. You should try putting yourself in their shoes for a bit.
The issue? Most marketing agencies operate on razor-thin margins. In fact, according to the 2018 HubSpot Agency Growth Report, 57% have less than three months of cash flow available!
Sound easy? Not at all, right?
There is no room for error. In the year or so, we’ve been working with agencies, this cash flow and margin issue has had catastrophic effects for a few of them; we’ve seen a few go out of business and quite a few more downsize. Many have had to let employees go or lost employees who were tired of being overworked and/or treated poorly by clients.
Just to survive, agencies must focus on their profitable clients and the ones who are most likely to renew or buy more services.
If you were an agency leader, wouldn’t you allocate your limited resources towards your best clients too?
So, how can you be sure your one of your agency’s best clients? Read what a few had to say…
If you want the best work from your agency, you have to share what’s really going on with you and your business. Agencies need ongoing relationships with their clients in order to do their best work. If you’re getting into any long-term relationship – personal or professional – you have to be honest.
Our best clients are… ‘Honest’
What That Looks Like: I was working with a client just last week when I saw this truth come to life again. We were in the middle of a discovery session. We were going over strategic direction and organization structure.
Things were going ahead just as planned, then all of a sudden one of the three people from the client’s company said “Can I just share something?”
They went on to reveal a personal reflection on how a recent conflict within the core team had impacted them. The subject of the conflict didn’t matter. What mattered was how each member of the core team handled it.
They respected each other enough to be honest internally. They listened well. They respected me enough to be honest with me and to allow me to speak honestly to them.
Great clients understand that the real strength of an agency is a fresh set of eyes and a fresh set of experiences. They realize that to achieve their desired outcome, they need to foster an environment of honesty that allows the agency to bring those strengths to bear on their obstacles.
Our best clients are… ‘Honest ‘
What That Looks Like: We had a client from the financial sector with the following concerns:
We were able to produce extraordinary results and earned a multi-year contract.
This was only possible because the client was completely honest and provided details about what they needed.
Our best clients are… ‘Trustful’
What That Looks Like: The best clients trust you. They will let you work independently without asking too many questions (if you’re able to provide results). When you make a recommendation or execute something for them, they will not doubt you. They will trust your knowledge, judgment and experience to take the right decisions.
On the other hand, the worst clients are the ones who ask explanations for every single thing or action we do. They often have read 1 or 2 articles about a topic and then they believe they know more than you.
Our best clients are… ‘Trusting’
What That Looks Like: At UNINCORPORATED, we believe that we’re an extension of a client’s team. We view ourselves as a partner.
So, the best clients trust that we have their best interest in mind. This usually isn’t a factor when all the analytics and reports are exceeding expectations. However, when the results of a campaign aren’t ideal, the trust factor is tested. In these situations, I’m all for discussion, debate and coming up with alternative solutions. But, there are those clients who question everything. They may even get a “second opinion” from their cousin who has an Instagram account.
Performance drives the strategic direction of our work… leads, traffic, etc. So if we’re successful, the client is too! The best clients understand and value of our effort and expertise even when the merits of a campaign are tested. They trust us to do a great job no matter the circumstance.
Our best clients are… ‘Transparent’
What That Looks Like: Our business model really hinges on being an extension of our client’s team, and being transparent really helps us achieve that.
We have a client who really keeps us in the loop on everything they’re doing – long-term sales and marketing strategy, getting our input on new product launches, collaborating on ways to help further each other’s business, etc…it feels like we’re not just an agency that they’ve contracted to work with, but a trusted advisor. And it’s a two-way street – they appreciate us being honest with them and taking an interest in their success just like we appreciate them giving us direction on messaging and outreach. Making the relationship personal and forging a partnership outside of the numbers is something we strive for with each client, and we’ve seen it pay off for both sides.
A great example was when we were invited to this client’s sales kickoff in NYC. Not only did we participate heavily in aligning our sales and marketing goals for the year, but we were also involved in all of the social events afterward. Companies want to work with people they like, and usually, if they invite you to a Celtics game, crash a bachelorette party, and break into a hotel pool with you, it’s a good indicator that they like you.
Marketing is changing constantly. What worked a year ago may not work now. There may be things you should try that are cost less and have a quicker and higher return. If you don’t trust your agency to guide you as you do new things, it’s hard for them to deliver the best value to you.
Our best clients are… ‘trusting’
What That Looks Like: It’s somewhat funny because our first meeting with our top client didn’t go too well.
Halfway through he was red in the face, unsure of how inbound marketing was going to be any different than radio. He was a business owner and traditional marketer leaping into the digital realm. It was unlike any other kick-off meeting I had experienced.
After defending our process and digging deeper into his objectives, he started to cool off. The dialogue changed and the tension was gone as I vowed to do my absolute best. Kind of for him, but also for me. After working together for a short time, the leads started filtering in, and the data supported my plan. After that, the doubt didn’t burden our relationship, and his trust led me to take risks and get creative. A trusting client allows for growth and a higher understanding of your capabilities.
Our best clients are… ‘Determined’
What That Looks Like: The root of this adjective is “resolve” – or to vow to be intentional, resolute, and purposeful.
The word “determined” and its related meanings best embody Leighton Interactive’s top clients. They are passionate about growth and success and relentless about achieving it – that takes pure determination.
Our clients are determined to be agents of change and continuously keep an open mind and attitude of acceptance when it comes to the ideas we present to them. Even if the ideas are big, scary, and complicated, our clients are determined to embrace them.
They are determined to make our mutual partnership work – even if it takes work, hard conversations, and vulnerability. Our clients have the determination to be a resource, support system, and advocate for the work we do so that in return, our agency is empowered to do our very best work on their behalf.
Lone Fir Creative
Our best clients are… ‘Innovative ‘
What That Looks Like: We’ve worked with numerous clients over the years. But one client sticks out since they were innovative. They were open to new ideas, wanted to grow, wanted to change with the digital environment around them, and willing to try new tactics and activities even if it meant learning and adapting from them in the future if they weren’t “successful.”
Part of being innovative means taking risks and getting better along the way. We are always pulling from past successful experiences when proposing new strategies, but every product, service and company are different. Each one needs to have tailored solutions to meet their specific goals. Sometimes that means thinking of innovative ideas or changing something slightly that has worked in the past.
To make an agency relationship work, sometimes it means letting them control your strategy, while you implement some or even all of the work. Either way, you have to be responsive to your agency’s suggestions, since they’ve probably implemented the strategy a few more times than you have.
Our best clients are… ‘Responsive’
What That Looks Like: The best client is one that neatly fits your services, rather than forcing you to try to fit your services to their needs. If they are a good fit and genuinely want great results, then the best clients will respond positively to your recommendations and work with you to make rapid progress.
One of our clients started out as a one-person professional services operation. They have taken on and implemented all of our recommendations over the last 2 years, which has seen them outrank all their major competitors and grow steadily to become a respected operator in their field. That is the most satisfying relationship client and agency can have.
Our best clients are… ‘Decisive’
What That Looks Like: We have a home inspection client that has had us design and develop multiple websites for his business. Each time he came to us, he already had an idea of what he wanted and never second-guessed himself or our suggestions. Every review/feedback step was less than 24 hours and each project was completed ahead of time as there was never more than 1 round of revisions. AWESOME client 😉
Smart marketing agencies know they need to produce an ROI for clients as efficiently and quickly as possible. Talk to your agency about your business goals and work with them to make it happen.
But, don’t expect miracles. Marketing is a long-term investment in the future growth of your business. While sometimes, marketing agencies can produce quick wins, most digital marketing investments will produce more and more fruit over time. So, you have to be patient.
Our best clients are: ‘Numbers-focused’
What That Looks Like: I recently had a call with a prospective client who had 30,000 visits per month, but only generated 10 leads in the last twelve months. Yet, all they wanted to talk about was colors and branding. In these cases, I walk away.
Our best clients are… ‘Committed’
What That Looks Like: The best client knows that doing anything that is going to create lasting value takes time. They are committed to being open-minded about how they can get to the next level, whatever that means to them.
They recognize that the strategies they used to get their company to the current level will not always be enough to get to the next. They commit to a complete strategy, building processes and being patient to ultimately see the results they are anticipating. They commit to us and not only hold us accountable, but are willing to be held accountable too.
Our best clients are… ‘Goal-focused’
What That Looks Like: They are confident we will help them achieve success and their goals, they work with us towards achieving them.
Whenever we propose something new or different, they trust we are doing it because it will help them. I really like when a client gets involved. I don’t expect for them to blindly accept my tactics, but I do expect them to trust that I’ll help them hit their goals.. That’s why they hired me. If a client is not confident in you, they won’t be able to take bold risks that will get them to where they want to go.
Track progress towards SMART goals for every department with our free SMART goals tool
Our best clients are… ‘Committed’
What That Looks Like: One of our clients is a well-known automotive dealership. Their goal is to be the top dealership in the country, and their commitment to this goal was apparent very early on. Their goal was set, and all we had to do was deliver the best of our abilities to create a quality end-product. This client is still with us today, and is really happy and grateful for what we have done for them.
Our best clients are… ‘Loyal’
What That Looks Like: The sign of a truly fantastic client is one who not only embraces all the good things you do for them, but understands and helps you through some of the more challenging times as you go through the wonderful digital marketing journey with them.
It’s easy for a client to sing your praises when results are great, but upon news of some poor results or missed targets, only a truly excellent client helps you unearth the cause of this poor performance and work through some reparative steps together, with you, pulling in the same direction, rather than berating you or disassociating themselves from the ‘shared’ aspect of your working relationship.
We’ve seen this time and time again. Those clients who:
are generally the ones where we can build strong, long-lasting symbiotic relationships and achieve truly outstanding results together.
Our best clients are… ‘ambitious’
What That Looks Like: We focus heavily on marketing & sales enablement for growth. The greatest clients for us have a very distinct mindset. They are ambitious, looking for opportunities to grow while embracing the thought of change.
Every time you do something you haven’t done before, the process will involve some sort of change. The best clients have internally decided to accept change and want to achieve better outcomes, even if it happens in new ways.
There is no marketing “easy button.” For most companies, you can’t just outsource your marketing completely. So, it helps if you try to learn from your agency as you work with them. Most agencies are eager to teach how they do what they do and why they do it.
Paulo Henrique Lemos
Our best clients are… ‘Curious’
What That Looks Like: Too many clients have little or no interest in the work done by their agencies, in what they’re actually doing and why. They seem to believe that they have more important things to do, or that they know just enough to get by.
When clients are not curious, they are distant from the purpose of the work. Without the client’s inputs, the strategy becomes flawed. Without the client’s commitment, the execution falters. Without the client’s feedback, there’s no real possibility of improvement or optimization.
Curious clients are more committed to the work itself and to the agency as a partner. Curious clients evolve as the work evolves. They show more appreciation for a long-term relationship and the value it accrues. And through the new incoming data, curious clients learn more about their audience and how they behave. Each one of these factors has an impact on the results.
Is it a coincidence that the clients that have been with us the longest are usually the most curious? I don’t think so. Client curiosity also correlates well with higher retainer fees and goals achieved, regardless of difficulty. And what a pleasure it is to have a meeting with clients that have come a long way, and now know at least as much as we do about marketing, sales and technology.
Our best clients are… ‘Understanding’
What That Looks Like: The best clients are the ones who “get it”.
They understand how important marketing is. It’s not just something you toy around with, it’s essential to your business. When marketing is valued, it’s a lot easier to work with a client. They are also willing to invest enough to make it work.
They understand that you hire a marketing agency to do something they are good at. A marketing agency should be the pro. You pay them because they know what they are doing. Some clients have a tendency to tell the marketing agency what they want to do, rather than let the professionals do what they do best. This often leads to poor results, which the marketing agency gets the blame for.
They also understand how important it is for them to work on the rest of the business to assist in the marketing efforts. We’ve sent clients leads that a salesman wasted, which in the end, doesn’t grow their business. We’ve also seen where a client may just not be running their business well, no amount of marketing can fix that in most cases.
Most of the responses above cover the general required to work with an agency successfully. But, working with an agency requires more than just a good attitude.
Great clients take specific actions throughout the relationship. They are willing to get their sales and customer service teams involved, and also understand that they can help their agency be more productive by focusing on the big, important questions rather than every little detail.
Our best clients are… ‘Balanced’
What That Looks Like: Our best clients are perfectly balanced. They actively bring ideas to the table and take active roles in analysis and implementation where appropriate, yet they recognize that they hired us specifically for our expertise and trust us to advise them and to ultimately always do what’s best for them.
They recognize the value of certain “classic” marketing and SEO tactics, yet they’re open to new and changing strategies. They understand that regular communication is invaluable, yet they respect our time. The best clients are patient and know that quality results take a great deal of work and time to achieve, yet get just as excited for quick wins as we do. Our perfect clients are often challenging, yet are the biggest pleasure to work both with and for.
Our best clients are… ‘collaborative’
What That Looks Like: I’ve had numerous clients that get it. It’s not a destination, it’s a journey. Lot’s of diagnosis, and educated trial and error.
They understand that their investment today will not only deliver an immediate return, but will also affect future success of their marketing. Good results come from consistency and the willingness to follow a plan will ultimately always fluctuate.
Great clients trust the process, and they understand that their success is our success, so we have great communication. We help them read between the lines and better understand their data so that they can better plan internal activities around how their marketing is performing.
They understand marketing as a whole communications strategy that all works together.
And most important, they treat our agency as vital partners in their success.
Our best clients are… ‘Teammates’
What That Looks Like: My best client interacts with me and my colleagues as if we were part of their team, and they were part of ours. They take responsibility for their marketing goals and see us as their partner in getting there. They are kind and understanding of how our team operates, but also call us to the highest standard of quality without being accusatory. They are FUN!
Editor’s note: Read the process IMPACT Branding, a HubSpot Diamond partner and Databox Premier partner, uses to service their clients effectively.
Our best clients are… ‘Collaborative’
What That Looks Like: We partner with our clients to understand their products and services, and the best ways we can showcase them and sell them together. If they don’t have time to be part of our approval process and to give us feedback in a constructive and positive way and in a timely manner, we cannot then do our part. Feedback is a key part of every process through their inbound marketing journey, but helpfulness and positivity go much further than hostility and negative comments, not to mention foster a better partnership by spending more time moving forward and less time pointing fingers.
We also wrote an article about how to quickly determine if a client is a bad fit for an agency.
Our best clients are… ‘Champions’
What That Looks Like: Our best clients are champions … we call them change agents, too.
They’re pushing the envelope within their organizations, and they’re looking for a partner to help bring their vision to life. Some of our best clients are inbound marketing champions within an enterprise. Together, we’ve piloted successful inbound campaigns, and we’ve championed that success throughout the entire organization to build buy-in and help others adopt similar strategies.
Champion clients think intentionally about our partnership, the strengths an agency brings to the table, and how to best match those strengths with their own internal resources. They ask good questions, are interested in the latest marketing trends and technologies, and they’re continually helping push the partnership forward.
Grand Cru Digital
Our best clients are… ‘Cooperative’
What That Looks Like: The best clients are the ones which treat you as a specialist on their team. They understand your skills and knowledge without second-guessing or micro-managing. They keep you involved about what’s going on in the business, especially when it affects the work you do. They are interested in what you do and why so they can work closely with you to gain better results. They are also aware of what’s out of your control.
Our best clients are… ‘Sensible ‘
What That Looks Like: Our best client has a healthy perspective that’s truly partnership-oriented. They don’t expect silver-bullet miracles, nor do they simply sit back and watch us work. It’s a brilliant division of labor.
They offer constructive criticism on both our strategic and tactical work. They challenge assumptions and constantly check results. They take our constant reporting and match back on sales cycle progress for opportunities we’ve sourced… So that we might all learn and become better.
They trust that our team is always working hard and offer recognition. They regularly offer opinions– giving a window into where they stand. They serve as references for us, which helps us win more new business.
My sense is that our best client is getting their money’s worth and then some, largely based on the investment on time, attention, and true partnership they require.
Hopefully, these quotes above from successful marketing agencies help you think critically about how you work with your marketing agency.
One reason that agencies consistently stress the concept of “partnership” is because growth is stressful. If you want your business to take the path of least resistance, you can stick with the status quo and keep using the same tactics. Then you don’t even need an agency!
But, if you want to bring in a partner to hit your ambitious growth goal, you can expect that there will be some uncomfortable moments on both sides. You may not be accustomed to letting a third party like an agency make big decisions around marketing strategy. You may even get frustrated when some of their ideas do not work out as planned.
Most agencies, however, would like to see some spirited debate and involvement from clients. Their job gets easier once the client is ready to work as a partner. The client’s customer service and sales teams are some of the best sources of inspiration for the agency. A client’s investment in their own marketing makes it easier to find a win-win.
When it comes down to it, agencies and clients want the same thing: to help companies grow. Are you ready to do your part?
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