Fields of Green: Getting that Perfect Client Question

Maren Hogan, Workplace

I was speaking with a brand new client who really wanted to make sure our work together was successful. He specifically asked what I would recommend working with my team. I almost fell off my chair!

I realized that not only did his question make me want to work all the harder to make sure I did a great job on the account, it was a learning experience for the both of us. Me, to articulate what a successful client looks like (with the added benefit of hindsight) and him to learn the best way to work with someone new in his “orbit”.

Now we already have a few indicators of what this looks like:

  • In our initial call, we ask really granular questions about goals, timeline and budget.
  • We always explain what the process will look like for the first few weeks until we reach a comfortable cadence.
  • Our proposal says what a high growth client looks like.
  • And of course, the famous no-asshole rule.

But this question gave me the opportunity to tell someone what OUR team did really well and to be honest about any chinks in our armor. It also allowed me to realize where we may have gone wrong when confronting frustration in clients. Here’s what I ended up telling him and what I learned from the conversation.

What's your answer to 'How do I be the perfect client?' See what @marenhogan has to say: Click To Tweet

Please don’t just pick up the phone.

We never answer unscheduled calls at Red Branch Media. In the past, this has frustrated clients a great deal. I realized when I was conveying our reasoning to him, that maybe I hadn’t been as forthcoming as necessary. The reason we don’t take unscheduled calls (unless your website is melting down or some company just arranged a hostile takeover of your business) is because we are busy with scheduled calls, which keep everyone organized and keep expectations in check and running smoothly.

In hindsight, I should have told clients this in a more positive way. We’re currently working on pushing out the work in your account and making sure we hit your deadlines. That’s why we can’t answer the phone when you have video edits or want to “brainstorm” a new email design. Framing our inability to respond via phone with getting work done, lightning fast email response time and consistently smashed goals goes a long way with clients and I should have realized that sooner.

I am always CC’d on every communication.

Whoa, what control freak? I realize whenever I say or type this that people probably think I am insane and difficult to work for. Yes, but also…I make sure work is completed. And when I don’t, the rest of my team jumps in. Having a totally transparent workflow isn’t scalable but it does keep a small team accountable to finish their work. A whopping 86% of employees and executives cite a lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures, and this is how we try to prevent just that.

86% of employees and executives cite ineffective communication for workplace failures. Click To Tweet

Being CC’d on every email does make sure that when a PM loses track of an important thread, I’m there to loop them back in (and vice versa). It ensures my team is never taken advantage of by a rough client and Friday NEVER arrives without specific, measurable movement on every, single account. Letting clients know this is less about control and more about communication and ensuring they don’t have to worry their question will get answered is something I should have done long ago.

We have no ego but demand specificity.

Phrases like:

Let’s polish this up.

This statement doesn’t resonate.

I’m not in love with this.

Can you design it more?

Are….useless. My team doesn’t mind being edited, we have no issue with people letting us know they want changes but specificity is key. But WHY? Well, like any entity, we want to learn as we grow and continue to get better. In fact, always getting better is one of our CORE values. We don’t rest on our laurels, we don’t count last month’s success this month. We start fresh every week, every month, every year.

Perhaps, if I was able to articulate to clients WHY this feedback is unacceptable, rather than just rolling my eyes, I would get more understanding around this policy. Instead, chances are, clients think I’m being a diva about my writing. Blergh.

Please don’t make us market by committee.

Marketing touches everyone in an organization, especially those just looking to get off the ground. What does that mean? That everyone wants a say in how marketing is handled, who marketing should report to and what marketing should focus on. It’s nice to be in such high demand but what ends up happening without some serious intervention is we get several rounds of feedback and vague edits on one blog post, convoluted and conflicting ideas around a one-off email and design by committee on every simple landing page.

Not only does this sort of back and forth make for poor copy, cluttered design and lack of coherent voice, it also slows down lead generation, which, if I’m honest, is what most of my people want. It also makes my team take longer to enact any feedback given, and sometimes puts them in an uncomfortable position having to watch arguments between staff over “affect” versus “effect”. But as always, there is a better way to communicate this to clients before they pull in their Aunt Martha to give feedback on our UX audit. In fact, here are some ways I can do so right now:

For every additional person on our weekly call, 20% less work gets completed.

For every round of edits sent through separately, please add one business day to your scheduled blog post day.

For every new markup on your landing page, please allow 4 fewer leads.

Okay so I made most of those up. But the fact remains, the more people you add to the process, the less clean it ends up being, the more watered down the message, the slower the end deliverable, and the suckier the design.

Client

While not every agency will have these rules, they will have their own rules and their own preferred clients. What are yours? Tweet me and let me know! @marenhogan

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