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How To Be a Great Client

A great client/agency relationship starts with trust. 

Short’s Brewing Company in Bellaire, MI, is one of my all-time favorite breweries. I fell in love with Short’s and its Huma Lupa Licious IPA over a decade ago while vacationing in Northern Michigan. I’ve been to Disney World, and I’d go as far as to say that hanging out in their tap room is like visiting craft beer Nirvana. How anyone can’t be in a good mood while they’re there is beyond me.

At the height of their busy season this past summer, the staff at Short’s reached a boiling point. They were fed up with “jerk customers,” and they decided to do something about it. They took to Facebook and made it clear that they would no longer tolerate any negative behavior, which included name-calling, swearing, and threatening negative reviews. Their message was simple: “If you can’t be kind, we can’t help you.”

I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of great clients over the years. I’ve also worked with some that weren’t so hot. Nobody starts off a marketing agency relationship wanting to be a Client from Hell. What does being a good client even mean nowadays? 

Here are six ways to be a great client for your marketing agency:

  1. Set clear expectations
  2. Provide timely feedback 
  3. Trust our expertise
  4. Be empathetic
  5. Hold us accountable
  6. Say “thank you”

1. Set clear expectations

Great clients are clear about their wants, needs, and expectations. A surefire recipe for disaster is when a client says,  “I’m not sure what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” Here are a few examples of being clear:

  • We’re looking to hire 20 new employees. We typically have to interview five people for every person we hire, so we need 100 job applicants.
  • Our goal is to increase sales by $100,000 this year. Our average customer is worth $10,000, and our close rate is 25%. That means we need 40 qualified sales leads.
  • We have a trade show in four months. The lead time on our booth is two months, and we’ll need a month to have our president and VP of sales sign off on the booth design. If we can get the booth design concepts in one month, we’ll be able to meet our deadline. 

 Setting clear expectations and sticking to them sets your agency up for marketing success.

2. Provide timely feedback

Feedback is a powerful tool for both positive and corrective actions. According to the Project Management Institute, providing effective feedback to project team members in a timely manner will minimize poor performance and maximize desired performance. 

Great clients provide complete responses promptly. Agencies build our timelines based on timely feedback from you, so we can meet your deadlines. ‘Timely’ is a relevant term; in the agency world, that means within 24 hours. When responses are provided promptly, we avoid having to rush our work. 

3. Trust our expertise

When my son hurt his elbow playing baseball, we didn’t take him to our family doctor. We went to an expert. Three experts, actually. After talking to three orthopedic surgeons, we picked one that played college baseball, studied under Dr. James Andrews, the leading expert in Tommy John procedures in the country, and chose a course of treatment. 

Marketing is the same. Great clients follow the advice of the experts. They consider their agency a marketing partner, not an order taker. They know they don’t have all the answers—that’s why they hired an agency in the first place. The Greek philosopher Epictetus is credited with saying that we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Great clients take that to heart.

4. Be empathetic

The sad reality is too often in this post-Covid world; customers don’t consider the person on the other end of a transaction. Empathy has become a lost art for some. My good friend Tim Leon has written about what he calls “Return on Empathy” at length. I highly recommend checking out his blog

Agencies don’t just pull creative ideas off the shelf. It takes time to develop marketing that moves people to action. This goes back to having clear expectations from the get-go. Agencies can move fast when needed, but we prefer when we have time to do the job right.  

Marketing is equal parts art and science. Even world-class agencies don’t always get it right the first time. Great clients are empathetic. They’re kind in their feedback when we may not hit the nail on the head out right of the gate.

5. Hold us accountable

Accountability gets a bad rap. It’s often confused with responsibility. 

Responsibility is a duty to complete a task. Accountability means answering questions about what’s happened in a particular area. Accountability simply means providing an account of what you did. For instance: 

Mom: Jason, did you take out the trash? 

Me: Yes, Mom.

Clients count on us, which is why we developed a promise at Revel. We call it our customer code. Expect your agency to do what they say when they say they’re going to do it. Great communication is a two-way street. By all means, if you’re wondering where something is at, ask. 

6. Say “thank you”

According to Harvard Health’s positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness. Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships. Marketing folks are no different. 

Most agencies are cranking out a high volume of creative work on a regular basis. We appreciate it when you appreciate us. A simple thank you goes a long way toward building positive client/agency relationships.

In summary, great clients trust their marketing agency. Turning your marketing over to an agency and expecting them to operate in a vacuum doesn’t work. Viewing your relationship as a partnership produces the best results. That’s what hiring a marketing agency is all about.

Jason is a Partner and the CEO at Revel, a B2B marketing agency. He is a diehard baseball fan who loves his Detroit Tigers. Family vacations often revolve around seeing games in different MLB ballparks around the country – they’ve been to 21 so far and counting. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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