Christopher is the co-founder, head strategist and CEO of The Go! Agency, a full-service digital marketing agency.
Clients are the definition of the old “can’t live with them, can’t live without them” idiom. Literally speaking, you cannot operate your business without a base of clients, but anyone in the marketing game has had the misfortune of taking on a client that was more trouble than they were worth.
There are a variety of specific reasons why some clients can be so dreadful to work with, but it seems almost every reason falls under the same umbrella: they ignore the big picture in favor of the minutiae. Instead of focusing on the goals or end results of their marketing campaign, they get fixated on small, usually meaningless changes that won’t impact the success of the project.
How can you spot a client who’s too focused on the minutiae? More importantly, how can you deal with them before they demoralize your team and tank your project?
Does the client send you back a laundry list of edits for every little thing you send them? Do they have thoughts on the color of the font in a specific image? They’re a micro-managing type, and that will not bode well for you.
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The superpower of a micromanager is sucking time and resources away from the project as a whole to draw attention to something that, ultimately, doesn’t matter very much. Unless you have a real stroke of genius and post something that goes viral, audiences will not be thinking about your posts once they scroll past them. A social media presence establishes your business and reminds customers that you’re out there, but individual posts are really just decor. The only reason a client should be focusing on a post is if there’s money behind it.
Try to retrain them to look at the more important content: long-form stuff like blogs, videos and podcasts. These are the elements of your brand that your audience is going to attach themselves to, not a post from Facebook.
Unless they’re working hand in hand with you on the campaign, you should not be hearing from your clients multiple times a day. If they’re constantly sending you requests for meetings to talk about your “approach” or demanding to know why they aren’t getting the results they imagined, they’re burdening your work with unnecessary negativity.
We’ve all had to sit through a meeting that could have just been an email. Often, clients will call meetings not to actually discuss furthering the project, but rather to impress upon you the same talking points they had at the beginning. They want a face-to-face meeting as a way of making you subservient because it puts you on their time. Always take clients’ suggestions into account, but don’t let a constant stream of negativity weigh down your team — especially if the complaints are invalid.
If a client is bemoaning certain posts as underperforming, don’t be afraid to spit facts back at them. It’s impossible for every post to reach ideal numbers, and just because they aren’t doesn’t mean the campaign is failing. Hyper-focusing on such things is exactly what we’re talking about when we say they’re “fixated on minutiae.” Watching the reactions to a single tweet is like checking your weight from day to day; it’s not a good indicator of success. You could fluctuate as much as three pounds from one day to the next, but at the end of the month still end up having lost weight. Gauging a six-month campaign by individual elements is silly and unfair to the work you and your team are doing.
What to Do About a Bad Client
Before we get into how to be the “mean parent,” let’s sympathize a little with their position. When a client signs on with a marketing company, they’re leaving their brand and business in someone else’s hands — a business they or someone in their family probably built from the ground up, a brand they feel protective over and responsible for. To them, it will feel a little bit like having their baby ripped out of their hands. This feeling will manifest itself as one of the most toxic traits bad clients can have: the need for control.
They will want to constantly remind you that they are the boss, but they aren’t. They brought you on to help bring their marketing campaign into the modern-day, something you won’t be able to do if the client needs to assert their dominance at every turn.
Never acquiesce in the face of a client who’s obviously just trying to take control of your campaign. If you give them an inch, most of them will take a mile. The best way to ease their concerns and get them to play ball is to show them cold, hard facts. Show them the metrics of how well your content is performing. Sit them down and do a cost/benefit analysis of how much the changes they’re clinging to will actually make a difference. And if that doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to end the relationship.
If a client insists on acting unprofessional, it won’t just impact them. A client who is ungrateful, dishonest, unreasonable or demotivating has been the iceberg that sank many outstanding campaigns. So cut them loose. You may hesitate to let go of that income, but in all honesty, they were probably taking up more of your time than they were paying for anyway.
A good way to avoid dedicating too much time to a bad client is to remember this: you aren’t working for them, they’re working with you. They came to you because you have the skills and experience they don’t. Their bad habit of focusing on the minutiae will not result in a beneficial partnership for either of you. Work with them for as long as you’re able, but never be afraid to sever the relationship if it goes sour. At the end of the day, you need to do what’s best for your business, not your client’s ego.
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Author: Christopher Tompkins, Forbes Councils Member