Four Client Service Mysteries I Wish I Hadn’t Had To Figure Out On My Own

Corporate behavior often mystifies me, especially when the company in question is in a highly regulated industry.  And I’m likely not the only one trying to solve mysteries.

Over my nearly 20 years in the marketing services business, I’ve come to wrestle with and understand that there are a million different things going on behind the scenes at a client organization that I’m not exposed to and don’t even know about.  Remembering this is important, particularly when trying to connect the dots behind an odd request or strange question from a client or prospect.  It’s easy sometimes to jump to a conclusion that there’s ill intent behind the request.

So if there’s a lesson in this piece, it’s that if you’re in the marketing services business, it’s only in the rarest of cases that a client or a prospect is out to get you.  Quite simply, clients have more important things to do, and messing with a partner isn’t on the list of activities that helps a client get closer to their bonus.  So don’t ascribe ill intent where none exists.

Especially in situations like this…

“I Need You To Go Back In Time”

This happens constantly in the marketing services business.  A client calls and asks for a rush job on a deliverable.  Given your process and the steps you normally take to deliver, you don’t understand how the client request can be fulfilled without access to a time machine.  What, does the client not want you to do a good job?  Does the client not understand what you need to put a plan together?  Why don’t they seem to care?

Usually, when this mystery is unraveled, you find the issue arose because:

1)   The client does, indeed, know about requirements but wasn’t given enough time to fulfill by the folks further up the corporate chain.  Or…

2)   The client is unaware of requirements and legitimately didn’t know the dependencies and timelines.

In either case, the client or prospect is depending on you to deliver what you can within the timeframe.  If assumptions are made along the way, they should be noted and caveated.  You’re being paid for your best educated guesses.

“How Long Is A Piece Of String?”

We’re always being asked to estimate things without being given the inputs we require to make the estimate.  “How much does a digital campaign cost?” is a common one.  Does the client not understand what inputs we need to answer that question?  Don’t they realize that an answer to that question is going to be so heavily caveated as to be useless?  How can I answer that without knowing who their target audience is or what their business objective is?

I’ve come to realize that this mystery is easier to solve than most.  Typically, when clients ask questions like this, they’re looking for a ranged response and an understanding of the variables that drive the range.  Somebody in executive management is probably contemplating some marketing activity and wants to get an idea of what it might take to invest.  So a ranged response might not be as useless as you think.

“This Marketing Activity Is Of Paramount Importance.  No, I Can’t Meet With You To Discuss It.”

Getting a frantic call makes sense.  Being asked to deliver something very important on an abbreviated timeframe makes sense.  The client or prospect not having time to discuss or brief the agency on something hugely important does not.

If the client thinks this is so important, why can’t they meet with us to answer our questions?  Don’t they understand that a simple briefing could save a lot of time and effort?

There’s hardly ever any ill intent behind these fire drills.  Different companies do different things when confronted with this situation.  Some refuse to move forward without a basic brief.  Others will move forward with assumptions and document everything.  Which is the better option depends quite a bit on whether the relationship is an existing one with history or a new one.  – Do you know enough about the client that your assumptions will hold up?  Which approach is right for you will be your own call, but I’ve found that these situations are often unavoidable and driven by a legitimate lack of time to brief everyone involved in the effort.

“Procurement Needs to Approve This MSA Before We Can Move Forward.”

You’ve disclosed your costs and delivered proposals that have been accepted, so why the drawn-out discussions with the bean counters?

Despite what many agency people think about client procurement processes, they’re not merely an attempt to secure your services at a substandard rate.  Most clients dread the process and would prefer to not have their trusted marketing services partners run the gauntlet.  But it’s corporate policy.  Yes, you’ll have to justify your cost structures, rates and answer the “Why do we need this?” question more times than you want to, but the fact of the matter is that there’s a lot of waste in corporate spending.  Executive management needs a way to minimize that waste.

It’s a process step, and it’s usually a step your marketing contacts would probably like to skip.  So don’t think it’s a concerted effort to short-change your company.

Whatever the status of your relationship with a client or prospect, it’s important to keep things positive in business, and avoid succumbing to fear.  Many of the mysteries I’ve described above are just that – mysteries – and not anything that anyone in marketing services should take personally or chalk up to bad motives.

Tom Hespos is a contributor at The Makegood and Founder and Chief Media Officer at Underscore Marketing, a boutique firm that creates and manages digital marketing programs. Look for Tom’s column the 1st and 3rd Friday of every month.