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August 7, 2014
What Clients Really Mean When They Say...
Clients and agencies don’t always see eye-to-eye. This isn’t news. Client businesses are very different from agency businesses, so sometimes the two entities don’t always connect because they misunderstand each other. There are three things that clients (or prospects) often say to agencies that drive us crazy:
  1. “We don’t have a budget in mind.”
  2. “Do you have experience in our industry?”
  3. “We need this done ASAP.”
As a long-time agency strategist who spent a short while on the client side, let me say this to all agencies: “Calm down and don’t freak out when you hear these things!” Here’s what I believe clients are really thinking when they voice one of those three phrases.

We Don’t Have a Budget In Mind
So a client comes to you with a project in mind and for sake of argument, let’s say that they want a new responsive design website. One of the first things the agency will ask is, “How much money do you want to spend on this project?” More often than not, the client answer will be, “I don’t know. We want you to tell us how much it will cost.” This is a classic chicken/egg or horse/cart scenario and can be frustrating for an agency.

Agencies build lots of websites, so we should know roughly how much it would cost to build one. We know that more features and functionality mean a higher price, and that a more intricate design is more costly. However, since clients only re-do their websites every few years, it’s unlikely that they truly understand what the price tag will be. So, in my opinion, the best way to approach a new project with an undetermined budget is to charge a planning or discovery fee to determine the project size and scope, and then create a production estimate based on the approved scope of work.

Do You Have Experience In Our Industry?
Another point of aggravation for agencies can be when a prospective client asks, “So what other companies have you worked with in our industry?” My guess would be that prospects ask this question because they don’t want to have spend extra time explaining the intricacies of their vertical to a new agency. They would prefer to jump right into the marketing planning for their brand.

If your agency has experience in that vertical, then it’s easy to answer and move on. If you don’t have this experience, it can be more difficult to address the question. I think there are a few different approaches an agency can take in the latter situation. One way would be to explain that you have clients with very similar target audiences, so your agency’s knowledge of the consumer’s behavior and lifestyle is more valuable than familiarity with the industry.

A second option could be to research the prospect’s field of expertise and competition before the pitch, so you can express that you do have a high-level understanding of the marketplace. A third (and probably the most viable) route is to explain how your objective outside perspective is more likely to mirror the consumer’s view of the industry. This viewpoint will allow you to create a message that is more likely to resonate with the target and inspire them to take action.

We Need This Done ASAP
This has happened to all agency folks. You get an email from a client that asks you to turn around a new deliverable “ASAP.” The immediate reaction of the agency is to interpret this as “right away," when, in fact, the client likely means that they want the project to be completed as quickly as the agency can deliver good work. So, agency AE, the next time those dreaded four letters arrive in your inbox, here’s a suggestion on how to respond:

"As always, we want to do a great job on this project and will complete the work as quickly as we can. Based on our current resources, we can get started on it early next week. From there, it will take two weeks to develop a few ideas. Once you select one of the ideas, we’ll need a couple of days to complete the estimate. Once you approve the costs, it will take four to six weeks to complete and deliver the final work. I trust that this fits within your desired timeframe. Please don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions. Thanks for the new assignment. We are excited to get started.”

This type of response will give the client a clear sense of your agency’s commitment to doing good work, your process, and your appreciation for them.

So, agencies — let’s try to give our clients and prospects the benefit of the doubt. They aren’t on a mission to make our lives difficult. They are simply on a mission to meet their business objectives. We should be thankful that they trust in us and in our craft to help them meet these goals.

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Emily K. Howarda marketing strategist since 1997, developed her skills at some of the country’s top marketing firms including DDB Worldwide, while working on brands like American Airlines, Pepsi, Bloomberg and Merck. Now as Vice President of Esparza, Emily’s integrated communications approach helps clients find order in marketing chaos. She’d love to hear from you and can be found on LinkedIn or @ekhoward on Twitter.
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