36 Agencies on How to Set Goals for Clients (When the Client Doesn’t Have Any)

Author's avatar Marketing UPDATED Apr 23, 2024 PUBLISHED Nov 26, 2018 14 minutes read

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    Peter Caputa

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    “As a consultant, it’s important for me to set well-defined and measurable goals for my clients.”

    Jackie Kossoff says that while goal-setting is a critical function of effective consulting, “I need to direct my clients in terms of what goals are possible for them because many times they simply don’t know where to start.”

    The vast majority of agency marketers agree–goals are not only important but that in setting them, performance improves.


    According to our latest research, 97% of agency marketers say that setting goals for a specific client KPI leads to improvement in that KPI.

    But herein lies the challenge–many agency clients don’t have goals. In many cases, they aren’t sure how to set them.

    After polling dozens of agencies on the subject, we learned that 48% of agencies say that only about 25% of their clients come to them with clear goals already in place.

    28% of agencies said about half of their clients already have goals in place, and 11% said less than 10% of their clients do.

    So, in most cases, it falls on the agency to help their clients determine their goals.

    Bryan Pattman from 9Sail has great advice for this situation:

    “The best way to approach this issue is to explain the different goal types that they can set and then figure out which one will give them the greatest ROI. In our industry, there are only a handful of goals that most companies will target and we explain each of them to the client and then give them the opportunity to decide what will make the project successful.”

    But there are lots of ways you might go about setting client goals for clients when they don’t have any in place.

    Here are a few we learned.

    Looking for an easier way to track and manage the goals you set for your clients? See how you can set, assign, and monitor client goals on one screen with Databox.

    Align Marketing Goals With Business Goals

    “When clients do not have clear goals in place for their department or marketing efforts, I always recommend working backward by beginning to ask questions about what is important to the organization,” says SmartBug Media‘s Drew Cohen.

    “For example, if a company that sells IT services is having problems expanding several of their product lines, this is a great jumping off point for a conversation about how to diversify promotions of all of the various services that the organization offers.”

    “This can lead to setting goals around page views for a product, leads that are specific to a product line, or growing overall organic traffic to a certain page or group of pages.”

    Get to the Core of Initial Goals

    “Be specific,” says AND CO‘s Sophie McAulay. “You should know why this project specifically will address that need, what they’ve tried before, and what has and has not worked.”

    “Be like that 5-year-old kid who is constantly asking ‘why?’ until you get to the crux of the issue. The outcome should be a specific aim which you can then put numbers on and discuss which metrics you will use to track the success of the project.”

    Beanstalk‘s Dave Davies emphasizes getting away from vanity metrics and digging into underlying goals:

    “If you start the discussion with a conversation not about what they think they want to attain in vanity terms but instead turn it into a conversation about business growth and outline a strategy around that I’ve found the buy-in on these key metrics and the strategies that produce them to be far easier than trying to have a conversation about what the client may wrongly believe will get them to these goals quickly.”

    Focus on the Customer Journey and Lifecycle

    Joe Goldstein from Contractor Calls explains his process when setting SEO goals:

    “The first step is to back up and walk them through the customer journey so that they can better understand why SEO specifically is a good fit for their industry.”

    “During this phase, we usually talk with them about their business goals, do a little on-the-fly research to turn them into keyword targets, and then reconvene later once we have more definite keyword goals in mind and a better idea of what it will take to rank for them.”

    “Start with average deal size and the overall revenue goal,” suggests LyntonWeb‘s Jennifer Lux.

    “Then, define lifecycle stages and pull lists to see how many leads, MQLs, SQLs, and opportunities a company received to reach past revenue goals. Note traffic as well, and visitor-to-lead ratio.”

    “Once you know your average conversion rate at each step of the buyer’s journey, you can define specific marketing goals that result in your overall company revenue goal.”

    Denamico uses a “simple, interactive conversion calculator we’ve built out to show how increases in website traffic and conversion rates can equate to more leads and closed sales—similar to a pipeline performance datawall,” says Adam Stewart.

    “What really gets clients thinking about goals is when our team can tie revenue to the calculator based on the average sale or lifetime value of a customer.”

    Put It All Together

    Gareth Robinson from Connecting Dots has a three-step process for turning business goals into marketing goals:

    First, ask “What is the big vision they have for their business?”

    “By uncovering their why and vision we have something powerful to tie their goals to later. When it comes to maintaining motivation when things get tough, this is what makes the difference between them seeing it through and quitting.”

    Next, “examine where they are in relation to their bigger vision.”

    “In order to get more detail on where they want to go, we’ll often do exercises such as Brainstorming or Guided Visualization.”

    “We also look at their current capacity for client acquisition and delivery. We look at their marketing, sales process, and client fulfillment. From here, in combination with what we got from step 1, we’re able to set short, mid, and long-term goals to get them creating their vision for the business.”

    Finally, “Set [KPIs].”

    “In my experience, this method of tying all the activity to their why and bigger vision is the most effective way to set goals and make sure that the client actually achieves them with our help.”

    Find a Vision of Success

    “If a client doesn’t have any goals,” says Darrell Evans from Yokel Local, “I always start with one simple question that I’ve used for years to get them thinking.”

    “‘Mr. Client, if we were sitting here one year from today and looking back at the results we’d accomplished together, what types of things would have to have happened for you to feel that our work together was extremely successful?'”

    Paige Arnof-Fenn from Mavens & Moguls uses the Socratic method in a similar way to get at client goals by asking these questions:

    • What is most important?
    • How will it improve your life/Why does it matter?
    • How do you win/succeed?
    • Who must do what to achieve it/what capabilities do you need?

    Start With Easier Questions

    Brandon Andersen from Ceralytics starts with questions clients can answer easily:

    “Why are they investing dollars in marketing activities? Is it to drive awareness for the brand? Drive leads? Drive actual sales? Often times it’s all three.”

    “But then we dig deeper,” adds Andersen. “What specific business objectives must be met to show that marketing is a success? This usually narrows things down.”

    “We then work with the client to measure those specific goals. Sometimes they may not have a method in place to measure it (such as measuring leads from their website appropriately), so we’ll help get those metrics in place.”

    “As a side note, the worst thing you can do to set goals is present your client with a list of potential goals. They’ll pick a bunch, even if they aren’t really important. Too many agencies have this approach, and I think it’s a disservice to clients.”

    “Sometimes [clients will] say vague things such as, ‘I want more clients,’ or ‘I need more revenue,'” says Myrna Arroyo from Pepper Inbound Marketing.

    “But to really make progress we need to establish goals that are measurable, and specific, so I try to take my clients through a goal-setting exercise where we take those big vague goals and gradually work backward until I can come up with a specific target.”

    Get Personal

    If clients have a hard time articulating business goals, says agency marketer Josh Meah, “you may be inclined to go personal.”

    “‘What goals would you like to achieve personally that the business can help with?’ From there, you’ll usually find that time or money are priorities and can set corresponding time horizons for achieving meaningful goals.”

    “The bottom line is that there is always something to do. Many people are just waiting for someone to ask them a question. So, dig around, and you’ll find goals.”

    Build on Current or Past Performance

    Fannit starts “by analyzing business and marketing performance to date,” says Neil Eneix.

    “We also go through a discovery process to find out what the owner or marketing/sales executive wants to accomplish—which may or may not be outlined as goals.”

    “Through this process we help walk them through the goal-setting process based on their current performance and what they want to accomplish.”

    Be Specific When You Can

    Clients “may have a fuzzy notion of a growth goal when asked,” says Robert Donnell from P5 Marketing. “For example, a client may want to grow 20% in their next fiscal year.”

    “Our question, in that case, is ‘what are sales estimated for this year?’ That helps us estimate the dollar value of the growth percentage. Most clients can estimate that. So, if, they want to grow 20% and their sales are $1 million, then we know they need to grow by 20%.”

    “We can also ask the value of a new client. So, if they estimate the average purchase is $2,000—then we can extrapolate they need 100 new clients next year to meet their goals.”

    Webiteers focuses on ROI, says Michel Bonvanie. “Discuss with the client what the minimum revenue must be, to justify the investment. How much traffic is needed to get the leads and sales necessary for this revenue, based on conversion rate.”

    “When it’s clear whether the client needs more traffic, leads or sales, you look at what is an attainable and realistic goal, using current data. Set the [KPIs] based on this outcome.”

    Be Realistic

    Clients “need to set realistic goals,” says Rachel Lindteigen of Etched Marketing.

    “If they’ve been down year over year for two years, they’re not likely going to have a 10X increase without making major changes to the strategy and budget.”

    Lindeigen also has a list of things to discuss with clients:

    • what they’d like to achieve
    • what they’ve achieved in the past
    • what they did to get those results
    • the opportunity at hand
    • and the budget to make it work

    “Then we create a goal to work towards, a strategy to achieve it, and a budget to use for the tactical work to get us there.”

    With No Data, Use Industry Benchmarks

    Bold Digital Architects focuses on conversion rates and marketing expenditures, according to Noa Eshed. But sometimes companies don’t have that information available.

    “If it’s a new company we look at industry standards and our experience in that vertical and set very careful goals (with an exception of a company that has an overall goal of market disruption in which case goals tend to be aggressive).”

    “For clients with no goals/objectives in place, we fall back on industry benchmarks and averages instead and then work from there,” says Leighton Interactive‘s Travis McGinnis.

    “For example, a typical visitor-to-lead conversion rate is 1 percent. We’ll take their current site traffic and their current number of leads per month and figure out how it compares to the one percent average.”

    Without Data, Get Baselines

    Johnathan Dane from Klientboost gives advice on what to do when you don’t have historical data.

    “Since we’re lucky enough to have data, we can easily set goals based on historical performance. But in the event that there is no data/history, we follow this approach…”

    1. Use the first month as a baseline creator
    2. Set goals for the next two months
    3. Move forward with the goal of achieving those laid out goals

    Fifth Ring‘s Scott Fraser also has experience with clients who aren’t sure where to start:

    “If our clients don’t have any goals in place but would like to start receiving reports, we will run reports for a few weeks/months depending on time scales, from there we will take averages for various different metrics that we know they have an interest in, such as traffic to the site, leads and contacts generated and set initial goals this way.”

    “From here, we refer to these goals and open up discussions with the client this way.”

    PRO TIP: Send automated reports to your clients with self-generated data using automated reporting software like Databox, and never worry again about timing, collecting data, and updating the context.

    Benchmark Your Performance, Too

    “By looking at our past projects in the same or similar industry, we’re able to benchmark realistic goals around not only passed leads but pipeline revenue and ROI,” says demandDrive‘s AJ Alonzo.

    “The two are usually correlated, but when we break down what we’ve seen in the past and what we can expect for them moving forward it shifts their focus from ‘we need more logos’ to ‘let’s work together to hit $X in pipeline revenue for this quarter.'”

    Work With What You Have

    “This is what being a trusted advisor to your clients is all about,” says Stephan Roussan of ICVM.

    “Many clients will engage you knowing that they need to do something, but without knowing exactly what or why. You’re the expert. Put yourself in the clients’ shoes but apply your full wealth of knowledge to their circumstances.”

    But that doesn’t always work, says Roussan.

    “If you get pushback and the client is insisting on fast-tracking forward without weighing in, then at the very least write up a brief with the goals as you see them and hold yourself accountable for meeting those goals.”

    “That way, when the client comes back to you in six months and says ‘hey, why isn’t X happening’ you can say ‘well, we didn’t focus on X… we’re measuring success based on A and B as we defined here. But we’re happy to work on X going forward if that is now your goal.'”

    . . . And Know When to Say No

    Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy, says Jake Fisher of Bridges Strategies.

    “If the prospective client is unable or unwilling to articulate, at the minimum, a general goal for the work that we are discussing, then we won’t take on that client.”

    (Though Fisher does note that this doesn’t happen often.)

    “Some clients don’t care to share actual revenue; we understand why this is sensitive. So, in this case, we use a KPI such as the number of qualified leads. If the number of qualified leads isn’t an acceptable KPI, at that point, we consider passing on the business.”

    Have you ever had to drop a client because they couldn’t set reasonable goals? Do you have goal-setting strategies that you use with your own customers? Let us know in the comments below.

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    Dann Albright

    Dann is a freelance writer who helps B2B companies reach their audiences more effectively. With an emphasis on organic traffic and conversion, he takes big ideas and turns them into highly practical content that keeps readers hooked.

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