There’s no shortage of criteria for choosing a good agency. Reports, ratings, opinions, and referrals are traded freely and openly as you might expect in any technical business where appropriate vendor selection is paramount. A lot of the information is published, so anyone can refer to it.
By contrast, when talk turns to what makes for a good client – and a good agency-client relationship – a lot of the talk stays in whispers, behind the scenes. I’m hoping this article will bring some of this out into the daylight. For a project to succeed, both the agency and the client need to be “good.”
By the way, it’s important to state that I have many good clients in my mind as models as I write this. It’s not a bash session; it’s meant to be helpful. But I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say the behind-the-scenes talks are more often about the horror stories. In the agency world, you tend to keep your good clients to yourself.
In my experience, several criteria make for a good client. In this article, I’ll share five points that we believe lead to an effective client-agency relationship.
- Budget considerations
- Can we make a difference?
- Good client rapport
- Are key contacts easy to get along with?
- Are they willing to listen to ideas?
- Will they have internal resources to implement suggestions?
- Are there significant internal barriers like poor reporting?
- Are clients forthcoming with internal communications and information?
- Have they got time for you?
- Are they a know-it-all?
The client’s budget has to be appropriate for their industry category. You may run into significant problems if competitors spend approximately $40,000 per month in PPC advertising, and your potential client only has a budget of $10,000 per month.
Client budgets also have to be appropriate for our agency and margins have to make sense. We definitely factor highly competitive industries and/or complex accounts into the budget equation.
Some industries are more competitive than others. Given factors like the competitive landscape, account complexity, account granularity, etc. – we ask if we can honestly make a difference for the client in their specific industry.
From the outset, we want to ascertain if the client will be easy to work with. It’s one thing for clients to be demanding; it’s quite another for clients to be the quintessential “difficult person.” It’s obviously better to figure this out before your prospects become your clients. Below are some questions that run through my mind when I think about good client relationships. It’s not always easy to pinpoint all of them. But with a few conversations before a contract is signed, you can get a general feel for the company, and the type of people you’ll be working with.
In general, projects are projects and a proactive approach to setting expectations and clarifying management styles at the outset will (a) help both parties to decide if they can work together at all; (b) help both parties figure out how to work most productively together.
If a client cannot respond to urgent questions, or chooses to respond very slowly for a whole variety of reasons, it’s probably because they have multiple responsibilities. Great people with great intentions sometimes think they have time to get involved, but really don’t. When they’re able to delegate project oversight to a more appropriately paid staff member who is able to focus and deal in routine matters without feeling overqualified, the work routine can usually proceed comfortably.
Unfortunately, this can also lead to serious trouble if the right people are not in place. Many of those who find themselves picking up such delegated roles are ill-prepared for them. Smaller or more traditional companies may use a general administrative person to handle the agency’s work. Unfortunately, relationships with totally untrained individuals can be nearly unworkable. (To give one example, we were grilled on our SEO acumen by a technician in an unrelated line of work, asking us if we knew how to get them on a “search engine called GoDaddy.”) In any case, whether the person has time for the project and a reasonable aptitude for it are determining factors in project success.
4b) Have they got too much time for you?
It seems that a balance tends to work best. We’ve never had luck with clients who are always too busy to respond. But those who have nothing better to do than to call you constantly to review results can impede the actual momentum on the project. There is no nice way of saying it: it’s just a fact of life in any relationship. Too much time together can be as dysfunctional as not enough time.
In some cases, we’ve had clients go beyond merely debating strategy and tactics, to second-guessing and showing off their knowledge. Clearly, a knowledgeable client is a good client. A client who structures the whole engagement to race their own personal skills against yours is using the project as some kind of outlet for their own needs and insecurities. Ideally, we’d like to be working to “win” against the client’s competitors, and our competing agencies, not the client directly. It almost goes without saying that working together is the goal. You surely don’t pay someone to “lose” to you, unless you’re the CEO of a major corporation and the game is golf.
In conclusion, it is extra work to ensure a productive work environment before starting client work, but it’s a must! Feel free to chime in with your own getting good client suggestions.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.