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The 5 Golden Rules of Successful Client Partnerships

Run more successful client relationships by following these golden rules.

Although your ability to creatively and successfully administer services is important, your skill in the perpetual arena of client relations is what will determine your true success.

Here are what I’ve come to know as my person four golden rules of successful client relations. Follow them for more fruitful and enjoyable client partnerships—for both you and your clients.

Rule 1: Clearly Define Expectations from the Start

Gather Their Expectations
Before you even tell your clients what you can do for them, make sure to ask the right questions.

  • How do they define success? And ask yourself—are these expectations realistic? If they aren’t, you need to express your concerns immediately. Your not a do-anything mercenary and you’re not a magician. If it’s unrealistic, make it known.
  • How do they measure success? Is it leads, dollars, butts in seats? You need to know what you’re aiming for.
  • What do they expect from working with you? Make sure you’re both on the same page as far what solutions you’re providing.

These three questions will help you understand what the client is specifically looking for. It will also decide whether the client is right for you or not. Too often we throw ourselves in roles where the client defines and measures success in a way dramatically different than your firm/service delivers. And sometimes clients may even have completely unrealistic expectations altogether that we aren’t capable of fulfilling.

It’s vital for the sake of the relationship to understand your client’s mindset.

Explain Your Process and How Your Agency Operates
On the other side of the coin, you need to be setting clear expectations surrounding your agency.

This starts in sales. Too often agencies do and say anything to win a client. Then when it comes to servicing that client, whoever is handling project management walks into a mess. The client was promised the moon and back and the agency can’t deliver. This most often leads to a relationship that is turbulent and ends more quickly than it should.

Throughout sales, don’t be afraid to discuss openly what it’s like to work with your agency. Talk about how you guys operate and what is required of both parties.

Refine those expectations into a contract. But don’t just let that happen in a vacuum—go through it with them. Highlight the important elements. The payment terms, the scope of work and how work outside that scope is handled.

When you both sign on that dotted line, you have a centralized document of intent to guide the journey.

Rule 2: If You Don’t Communicate It—It Didn’t Happen

Communication? Psh. We communications-related organizations are experts, right?

Actually not really. You might be (or maybe you won’t be) surprised to find out that marketing communications firms of every variety often struggle with properly communicating with clients.

Yes, this goes along with “Rule 1,” but it goes further than that. After you set expectations, communication doesn’t end there. It may seem tedious, but it’s incredibly important to continuously update your clients with progress.

I always like to say, if you don’t communicate it, it didn’t happen.

A lot of the work we do happens on the backend with delayed visibility. Make sure to keep everyone in the loop, regardless of the activity so they know what you’re up to and what you’re working towards. It will also help you and your organization to stay accountable.

Also, it probably doesn’t hurt to provide a living timeline-style checklist or project management software portal view that maps activities from the beginning to the end. Use these for your clients—they’ll thank you for the bird’s eye view.

Set Up Regular Conversation Points
There are several forms of formal conversation that you’ll want to establish. More specifically, if you’re running a longer engagement—website project, development endeavor or retainer—you’ll want to have three touch points:

  • Weekly meetings. This is to report on accomplished activities, forward tasks and outstanding matters.
  • Monthly meetings. Give a higher-level view of what was done and how it relates to the bigger picture. Analytics come in handy here.
  • Quarterly meetings. Bigger results, steps for improvement and reconnecting to the journey or vision.

Regular conversations make a world of difference. Your client should have an opportunity to vent, communicate concerns and get updated on what’s happening. This will also root out early objections that could turn into relationship-crippling conflicts if let go.

Rule 3: Be An Educator

Sometimes we agency folk get buried so deeply into our practices that we forget to educate our clients and start blabbering in jargon.

I’m not telling you to give your trade secrets away–I’m telling you to provide a basic education about what you’re actually doing. Explain your theories, philosophies and the physical deliverables. Elaborate on why they work and ultimately how they achieve success. Make it fun—do it over coffee, lunch or at your local craft brewery (just be sure to limit consumption until you’re done hitting the main points).

This will help your clients better understand your progress reports.

Rule 4: Don’t Forget to Keep Being Delightful

On a first date—or first client meeting—we’re delightful. We’re charming, funny, respectfully honest, responsive and incredibly enjoyable to be around.

Make it a point to be this way throughout the entirety of the relationship. It’s OK to continue being charming and funny. You don’t have to become overly serious when you score the job. And it’s vital to be responsive. Answer those emails in a timely manner and be sure to pick up your phone.

You also don’t have to pretend to tip toe on eggshells. Continue to maintain a respectfully honest demeanor that encourages your clients to voice their concerns when they feel them. Otherwise, either one of you might suddenly boil over in volatile emotion.

Rule 5: Stop Scope Creep Immediately

This should start back in the sales and contract phase. Don’t forget to talk about work outside the scope. If you don’t address it up front, you’re not going to have ground to stand on when it crops up. And believe me, it will happen eventually.

In short, allowing scope creep will slowly suck the life out of your agency. Work that is outside your original agreement might start with little requests, but almost always will expand into larger requests. These take time from other clients and from growing your business. You are, in fact, running a business.

Agency crippling scope creep doesn’t happen over night. It happens day by day. It happens every time you say yes to something outside the agreement, regardless of how small it is.

You don’t have to be a jerk about it. If they ask for something outside the scope, don’t be afraid to say you’d love to, but it will cost X. Even if you decide to complete an activity free of charge (which has a time and place), make it known that you normally charge for that. It all comes back to your original expectations. That’s why you need to communicate up front how it’s handled. You’ll be able to refer to that conversation.

In a lot cases, clients might not know that they’re doing it. If you see it start to happen, handle it immediately before it grows into something that frustrates you and your team.

Here’s to better client relationships,

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The 5 Golden Rules of Successful Client Partnerships