The client-agency relationship
The life of a digital marketer is never complete without working with a client who is difficult. An agency always has an array of clients, each one, different from the other. One of the most important factors for an agency’s success is the relationship between the client and the team. The deeper the understanding is between the agency and the client, the more seamless the workflow and experience.
Sure, the perfect state of understanding cannot be attained overnight. Relationship building is a time-consuming process and requires more efforts from the agency side. It is the client that needs to be convinced, and this can happen through a great campaign pitch, and a successful campaign run, sometimes, more than just one successful campaign run.
As far as clients are concerned, only results and proactive communication instils a sense of trust in them. Once the agency’s work gives the clients improved numbers, their confidence in the team goes up. But beyond all the hard work, agency-management always reaches a point where they will have to decide to fire a bad client.
What do we mean by bad clients?
Digital marketing experts often come across an array of clients – both good and bad, and sometimes, ones who are somewhere between good and bad. There are clients who trust the agency to do their work, give them their space and cooperate with them by giving them timely approvals, listening to their take on the market trends and participate in healthy discussions whenever necessary. More importantly, they pay you on-time.
But there are two sides to a coin. While some clients can be sweet, patient and understanding, some are constantly anxious about what the agency is doing for their brand and with their brand. No matter how many viral and meaningful campaigns the agency provides for them, no matter the professionalism and the proactiveness the agency exhibits, the client team somehow just can’t get themselves to trust the agency and give them the space they need to do what they have to.
This is where the problem arises. When the marketing team is not given the creative freedom that is necessary to plan and execute campaigns, and the required degree of authority to take creative calls for the brand, the relationship is bound to reach a fall-out point.
The micro-management issue
True to its name, micromanagement is almost always problematic and does not end well in the longer run. It is a relationship-breaker and can sometimes get ugly. Clients who demand to have a say in every step of the marketing and campaign planning process, tend to start micro-managing the team and the process. This will result in a team filled with annoyed people, whose interest levels in the project and sometimes the brand itself, will eventually drop.
The thin line between professionalism and being rude
Clients sometimes turn blind to the line that differentiates being professional and being rude. In the name of raising concerns, they often tend to cross the line and start spewing insults at the team, degrading them and their efforts.
Constant complaining will never help, and resorting to rudeness will only strain the relationship and make it a rough work experience for both the parties.
Just when you think it can’t get worse than this, it will. The client will simply refuse to pay you. It might be just one campaign gone wrong (which might also be the result of micromanagement from their end) – when you fall short of the desired results, then their immediate response would be, “We will not pay you!” This is when they fail to recognise the value you’ve provided for the brand up until now, as an agency.
How to manage bad clients? Or can you, really?
If you/your digital marketing agency is dealing with a troublesome client, it can be tiresome. Sometimes, handling a large brand may seem like a breezy walk in the park than managing a touch client team. But at the same time, you might end up successfully striking an amicable state of balance with the client. Here are a few things you can do to find your way around a difficult client:
# Stay calm
Staying calm in tense situations does more good than you can imagine. There is no point in taking out your frustration by getting into an argument with the client. Be the bigger person, take a step back and deal with the issue with a calm mind.
# Talk it out
When things are not green between you and your client, request to sit them down for a conversation and try addressing the issue as amicably as possible.
# Listen to them
Sometimes, being patient and listening to all that they have to say, however rude and unreasonable they may be, will help set the bigger picture right. Let the client let all his concerns out, and talk when they are done and in a calmer state of mind. This way, they will be in a position to listen to you, when you take the stage to address the issue.
# Signs it is time to bid goodbye
There will arrive a point when no amount of time, patience, or listening will be able to bring about a change in your troubled relationship with the client. Watch out for these signs and take a call of firing a bad client when their contract no longer serves you.
# Lack of respect
Despite repeatedly trying to make amends with the client, and extending the olive branch, if they continue to treat you and your team with disrespect, it is time to walk away.
# Slow or no payments
If the client does not acknowledge your efforts and fails to pay you on time or fails to pay you altogether, then it is time to bid farewell.
# Poor communication
If the client is not available when you/your team needs them for anything, be it meetings, reviews and approvals, it is eventually going to hinder your performance. It is a major red flag in the longer run, and you must decide if you still want to continue working for them.
# Being unreasonably discontent
Clients are prone to express discontent when things don’t go as per their expectations. If this persists continually, for the most trivial things, it is going to be difficult for you to work with them seamlessly, in the longer run. It is time to let them go.
How to pull the plug?
Firing a bad client need not necessarily be a nasty affair. You can always take the high road and do it in an absolutely professional way. Things to do when you call it quits with your client:
1) Revisit the terms of termination in your contract and ensure you strictly adhere to the conditions mentioned.
2) State the reasons for terminating the contract, talk about it as amicably as possible, but put forth your points and concerns clearly.
3) Be available in case they need guidance through the process, and do it in person, as much as possible, rather than doing it over notices and letters.
4) Always make sure you finish any ongoing campaigns or projects. You had taken it up when you were still under contract. However tough and thorny things maybe, work through the difficulties and finish the project you have undertaken.
5) Finally, part ways with a handshake and a referral. Refer any firm you think is a better fit to meet their requirements and expectations.
Client break-ups can be strenuous, sometimes, even more, taxing than an actual break-up. But tough decisions only make you stronger. Showcase utmost professionalism in handling things, and never allow them to get complicated and nasty.
Remember, you are saving on a lot of costs by firing an impossible client. Look ahead once you have fired a client – onwards and upwards!