Clients Are Not The Enemy
It’s fascinating to listen to the lingo that floats around the concept of working with clients. You’ll hear terms such as dealing with, managing, controlling, educating. A lot of these terms mean different things to different folks, but often the commonality they share is that they imply that there’s something “wrong” with the client that must be fixed.
Agencies will sometimes go into new client relationships believing that they’ll need to wrangle, steer and rope them in. This sets up an equation that is difficult to register: Agency > Client.
It also leads to a bad cattle-roping metaphor.
As Carl mentioned in this post about healthy client relationships, it’s not that clients are bad. And it’s certainly not that agencies are better. It’s that we don’t know how to interact with them. We learn to follow a script of us-versus-them that tries to hurry clients through the door in the most painless way possible. It’s like we’re always looking to bail on the old one and bait the next. This attitude leads us down a bad path: We pit ourselves against current clients and feel almost territorial in our need to stand our ground when they ask for new features, or brighter colours, or don’t want to use the project management tool we’ve set up. Anything that might make the project take a little longer makes us cringe. With prospects, it means we write them off before we really see them. What’s this about?
“In the traditional business model, a web shop is searching for good leads. A lot of times, they have cash flow problems, pipeline concerns, and unregulated growth, which leads to taking on anything they can. I like to think of this as feeding the monster. The monster isn’t picky, it just needs more. So shops on this slippery slope try to take it all. Not only does this make it difficult to have any control over the quality of work or type of client you get, it leads to burnout and frustration. —Carl Smith
Couldn’t have said it better, Smith. When we can’t get a handle on who we want to be as an agency, it’s easy to slip into the “get me another one” script. Clearly, qualifying new business leads is invaluable. We need to vet opportunities and understand who we are as an agency before we say yes. Then we have to recognize that every lead starts with a human being on the other end who is trying to do the most he or she can with finite resources, and not a potentially “bad” client.
Shutting down our impulse to simplify client relationships into finite contracts means changing the way we view those relationships. It means recognizing our prospects’ vulnerabilities and contributions and, instead of overlooking them, we make a point of supporting them in a way that builds trust. Seeing the bright spots in potential clients means letting go of who we think they might be and letting them be who they are.