Picking perfect clients

Most days in an agency you will hear someone bemoan ‘they are a nightmare’, followed by a frustrated ‘why can’t they just X..’. They are talking about a client and in this sentence, X equals ‘behave like we want them to’.

The frustration for agencies is that clients are the one thing we can’t do without, but also the one thing we cannot control. So what is a perfect client?

In our eyes it is:

  • nice, switched-on individuals.
  • people enthusiastic about their brand.
  • a brand you want to work for.
  • people who value your expertise and trust you.
  • people who want to invest time in the relationship.
  • realistic budgets.
  • realistic timeframes.
  • clear objectives.
  • good, efficient communicators.
  • flexible in how they get from A to Z.
  • good payers.

You rarely get the whole list and no agency is immune from nightmare clients (if any of ours are reading this er… it’s not you, it’s another one!) but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive for perfect clients. It is simply too important not to.

Two or three failed projects or four or five that have a really long tail can be the difference between a good year and a bad year. The battle is certainly an ongoing one and made really difficult as you never really know what clients are going to be like until you work with them, but it doesn’t mean we can put in place processes and behaviours that encourage a larger proportion of close-to perfect clients. So what are the steps that should be taken?

When considering new business, prioritise personality.

You can focus on the brand, budget, quote or potential margin but we are finding ourselves prioritising questions such as ‘do we like them?’ and ’do we think they will be OK to work with?’. Often when things go wrong, you find yourself looking back and conceding that many warning signs were there before you started.

When considering new business, prioritise their agency outlook.

Do they view agencies as a valuable partner or a commodity? If it’s the latter, it rarely works out well. Every bill is a pain point and they don’t understand the work that goes into the producing something visible. But perhaps more importantly than that, if that is their outlook they won’t think twice about leaving you. If we thought at the outset there may not be a year 2 or 3, then it’s not a viable client to chase.

Communicate a united view on how the project will unfold.

As an agency, you all need to be on the same page as to what will happen in what order. It is amazing how frequently there can be different internal views that cause trouble later on. Once set, spend time taking the client on a journey so they understand each task at a high-level, the order they will be undertaken and their key dates and responsibilities. In a busy world, increasing the client’s knowledge and getting them on the same page is really valuable.

Take amazing briefs.

This should be on the hygiene list but it’s often the source of pain. Fill in all the gaps when you take the brief from the client and make sure you minimise the risk of stirring up a hornet’s nest later.

Conduct planning work before the creative brief.

Define the strategy (whether messaging or other) and the mandatories before the internal brief is written so the work is as easy as it can be to execute brilliantly. Keep the brief tight so the work cannot wander into a territory that gets you a huge telling off.

Don’t let staff quit on them.

A bad client offers the perfect get out clause for agency staff. ‘This project was always going to be a nightmare with them…’ or words to that effect can lead to people not trying or expecting failure from the outset. Recognise the client difficulty, support your staff where you can and make it a badge of honour to deliver good work.

Be prepared to quit on them.

If the client is so bad they are negatively affecting both culture and profitability, then work hard so you don’t need them anymore and exit the relationship in as nice a way as possible. Culture is way too precious to risk and we all need to make money. It is the ultimate step to take once you are convinced that they are a nightmare to support your staff and your business.

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