Great Clients: Born or Made?

Great Clients: Born or Made?

Having spent more than a decade providing services in the agency and digital marketplace, I’ve had the pleasure of working with some amazing clients.  Of course, there wouldn’t be great clients without some bad ones along the way. Agencies often joke about how bad clients can be.  As you’d suspect, there are even some funny videos on YouTube about the trials and tribulations of the agency-client relationship.

It is all too easy to become frustrated by clients when you are in the agency space. But as time goes by and the tread wears a bit on the old tires, I think it’s healthy to look at the relationship from a different perspective.

The recent acquisition of a new client motivated this article.  I consider myself fortunate to have won the confidence of this new client and would definitely put them in the “Amazing” category. They are fair, open when sharing information, conduct themselves as true professionals, and most of all, they take pride in their culture as the best in their industry.

This culture is more than just words. It manifests itself in their attitudes and actions. In a recent meeting, they were kind enough to compliment the team on our work ethic, honesty, integrity and our commitment to building a partnership. Naturally, coming from this particular client, I took this as high praise.

Basking in their praise started me thinking about what we did right to earn the compliment. As I evaluate the events that occurred over the past year in our pursuit of this client, I realize that three factors in particular that directly attributed to our now solid relationship.

The first was our patience. Clients don’t want to be pressured for their business. It’s my opinion that this is arguably the most critical aspect of the relationship. I’ve yet to meet a client that really cares about an agency’s sales quota, goals or business objectives. When we let the pressures of our own business influence how we handle prospective clients, it often boomerangs, souring the relationship before it ever gets started. It serves those of us in the agency space to remember that it is about them! We can’t let our own business challenges get in the way of doing the right thing for our clients. Thankfully, in this case, we didn’t.

The second factor was our willingness to share information, ideas and intellectual property. From the very beginning of the sales process we acted as if our prospect was already our client. Everything we did and said was in their best interest.  We were honest and generous with our guidance – even at the risk of losing the business. Because we never just told them what they wanted to hear, they gained insight into who we are, how we think and what it would be like to work with us. In many ways, a good client relationship has to be a love match similar to finding the right person in your life. The client has to love you for who you really are, which includes your faults as well as your strengths.  We’ve seen clients make bad choices in selecting their business partners. But this is never just the client’s fault. There are agencies that don’t represent themselves honestly, who say what the client wants to hear just to win the business. Eventually, however, this approach will backfire on both partners.

Finally, integrity must be at the core of everything you do. This is not as prevalent as it should be in the agency space.  We can’t expect clients to behave with integrity if we don’t first set the example. Promising more than you can deliver or misrepresenting yourself at any point in the relationship will have a negative short- and long-term impact. Why is it so hard for people to openly discuss their shortcomings? Have we forgotten that clients are people just like us who can appreciate the challenges we all face? It is human nature to be sympathetic to those who acknowledge their demons just as long as they see you working toward a better outcome. Whenever I’ve done this with clients, it has always been received positively. In fact, it often prompts clients to share their own shortcomings as well, which in turn can give us more insight and help us do our job better.

So what is the answer to the question posed in the title of this piece? I honestly believe that, by and large, great clients are made and not born. I’m willing to own my responsibility for the bad clients in my past by acknowledging that I have not always followed the principles stated above. But as I move forward in my agency capacity, I vow to put these values at the forefront of my efforts. Doing so may mean I lose a prospective client or two on the way, but I am confident that the ones I win will be great ones.