Running any new business is hard, and a startup agency is no exception. There are typical challenges around business development, revenue, and organizational framework, but perhaps the most prevalent is one presented within an essential agency function – client service. The idea of client service seems simple enough, right? Be friendly, go above and beyond, listen to your clients, deliver on key goals and milestones, and do what your client tells you to do.
But wait… about that last one. What do you do when what your client tells you to do contradicts what’s best for the project or worse, their brand?
The simple and at the same time ever so complex answer to that question is: say no and walk – no, run – away. Kidding. There are many professional ways of saying no without saying it directly, and my recommendation is to ask why. Searching for the why in your client’s directive not only allows you the opportunity to listen and understand their point of view, it very often leads you to discover that you both have the same goal in mind. With common ground, you merely need to define and agree upon the most efficient and impactful pathway to achieving it.
If it’s not going to work for your client’s customers, it’s not going to work at all.
Show Them the Data
If you’ve done your job to this point, you’re basing your decisions in large part on reliable data. You’ve researched and compiled information about your client’s customer segments, industry trends, and competitive landscape. Now it’s time to delicately remind your client that you’re not building for them, and you’re certainly not building for you – you’re building for their customers. If it’s not going to work for your client’s customers, it’s not going to work at all. While there are additional factors to consider, good data will almost always be the right tool for carving out an optimal pathway forward.
State your case objectively and without emotion; allowing data to guide the discussion. Show your client that you understand their customers and how to connect with them, and that your team is using this information to set a new standard within their competitive landscape. In many cases the brand you’re contributing to is your client’s life’s work – so pivoting on an idea can be an emotional process for them. While you’re going to have to meet your client where they are to steer them toward where the project needs them to be, letting your emotions take the wheel will almost certainly leave the project and your client relationship in gridlock.
There are of course going to be times when your instinct is to say no, but your client is actually right. Be open to that idea. In a best case scenario, you’re actually both a little off target and a walk through the data paired with productive discussion leaves the project – and your client partnership – in an even better place. Achieve for your client and they’ll keep paying you. Achieve with your client and they’ll make you a part of their team.
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