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|The Client is Always Right|
|Monday, 09 January 2012 18:31|
Most of us are aware of the 'Client is Always Right' maxim as one of the first rules in the industry, and are also painfully aware of the ensuing witticism: If the client is wrong, refer back to the first rule. It's a funny quip, until it gets real.
This omnipotent client, the organization and its decision-maker internal publics, more often than not opt for a course of action that (in your opinion) is not in their best interests or is at odds with what your client really needs.
Before looking at this impasse in greater detail we, as marketing professionals, need to understand and diagnose the underlying cause there may be some clues there to help mere consultants and agencies manage through this situation. So why do most clients choose to axe their own foot?
There may be other reasons but these are usually the key ones, so let us go with those for a start, shall we? How do we deal with them?
It takes extensive research and maturity to understand your client's perspective, to truly understand their business and get yourself to the point where you can be pretty sure that what you're recommending is good for them. Many a time I find agencies asking a client to risk money on something without any clear notion of the end result - even if something works on a small scale, what's the point if it doesn't work on a large
I've seen agencies recommend an SMS campaign on the basis that it only uses 1% of the advertising budget - without making it clear what incremental benefit accrues from this campaign, how to avoid consumers getting spammed and what the next step is if the 1% of budget produces some measurable returns.
The idea is to have your research, data and statistics prepared and ready to present to the client, taking into account the limitations and calculated risks that might be involved.
Marketing agencies and professionals can be delightfully vague about the benefits of an engagement campaign online - "We can build a database", is one of the arguments presented - of what? If your client doesn't already have a CRM capability, what's the point of collecting data? Think it through!
It is very common to find your client skeptical and ready to shake their head, just before they deliver a resounding no. Clients have turned down my recommendations on the basis of unwillingness to be the first one to implement said campaign. I remember presenting an integrated media recommendation to a client at a major Quick Service Restaurant in Singapore where we were trying to drive up their market share by using occasion / time specific messaging and offers. The marketing director nodded her head at every key point and at the end of the presentation asked me, "Has this been done anywhere else in the world where your agency works on our business?"
Slightly taken aback, I shook my head. "Then I don't want to do it - when some other market tries this and succeeds then we'll do it," she concluded. It is worth it, taking calculated risks on a regular basis, constantly trying to do things that help solve the marketing problem and cover new grounds. The important thing is to commit to a program-not sell one idea at a time: to focus on the core marketing problems and come up with a group of ideas to tackle them; a holistic approach to the issue where you set success criteria, track progress and if need be, kill the campaign before it gets too ugly.
Commit your client to a program of seeking innovative solutions for their marketing problems.
Avoid selling innovation for its own sake - commit your client to a program of seeking innovative solutions for marketing problems - if they fail, they're out a little money, but if they succeed, they're getting ahead of the market.
I didn't succeed at doing this with the QSR folks, but I did succeed with other clients. Sell an approach and then selling ideas within it becomes easy.
To Be or Not To Be
A 'yes' from your client entails approval of the plan, budgeting, new ways of measuring success, unfamiliar cost structures, so on and so forth. Additionally, they have to convince their boss and their finance team about the strategy. A 'no' on the other hand, changes nothing. Your client can continue on the trajectory they are on and nothing new need be done or planned. Which course do you think they will take? Did you motivate them enough to make the difficult choice?
The key thing is selling a new idea and slamdunking it. If you know for sure that you can deliver it, then taking the 'All you have to do is say yes and we'll take care of the rest' approach will eventually get you affirmative responses more often. Perseverance is what will help you through this stage. Make it harder for them to say no than to say yes. If the clients realize that a 'no' doesn't rid them of you, you'll start getting yes more often.
Typically, new client - agency relationships have a honeymoon period - you can get away with almost anything for the first three months. If you come across as believable, sincere and worth taking a risk on, you're off to a good start. This is the time to make provocative (but correct) recommendations and your client will eat out of your hand for a long time.
However, if you come across as lazy, incompetent, someone who shoots their mouth off without thinking - then you're dead. Not much you can do to correct this situation. Change jobs, study at night and make sure you actually know what you're talking about.
First of all, I know some of you will read this and think - "those aren't the reasons why my client keeps blocking new ideas - he's doing it because he's an idiot!" Now, thinking negatively about someone is never going to help you resolve anything. Whether you like it or not, this guy (or gal) is the gatekeeper and you have to get to where you want by having them open the door for you. So always put aside your resentment and try and understand where the objection is based.
The one thing you should not do unless you're really frustrated with a consistently negative pattern of behavior is escalate things to the client's boss. That usually makes things worse for everybody. We had one situation like that with the media manager at a major client in the Philippines who was constantly micromanaging the agency team, overloading them with meaningless assignments and then complaining that we didn't have enough resources for the business - this despite having 106 people on the team!
All our efforts failed, and very reluctantly we escalated the matter. While we won our point at that time - successfully negotiating a much reduced scope of work and a better fee and so on-at the very first opportunity she called a pitch and gave the business to a new agency.
Who won? We certainly didn't - we lost our biggest client in the Philippines. The client didn't - because they went from being with the best agency in the market to one of the newest, most under-resourced and weakest. Perhaps the individual who was the client would have thought she won, except that a year later she was fired. Everybody lost. It's not easy managing clients. You have to go in with the attitude that it's your job to make them see your point of view, and if they don't do that, it's your fault, not theirs. Take control, make it your problem and find a way.