4 Charts and Three Cartoons – Understanding the Client Better

4 Charts and Three Cartoons – Understanding the Client Better

19th July 2012

I recently wrote a post on my model for picking the right agency, or a guide to pitching properly to clients.  The post in itself gives you a slight insight into the client world, but until you have worked in a few different client side roles, you will not really begin appreciate the complexity of being a client.

Don’t get me wrong – some clients are one or a mixture of the following:

  • A Nightmare
  • Unreasonable
  • Unintelligent
  • Myopic
  • Misguided
  • Biased 
Source: http://tomfishburne.com/2011/05/creative-brief.html

On the other hand agencies aren’t brilliant either, they can be:

  • A Nightmare
  • Unreasonable
  • Unintelligent
  • Myopic
  • Misguided
  • Biased

See what I did there?

What I wanted to highlight is that both sides of the coins have problems, and either side sees the other as the one who is at fault. However there is one KEY difference. An agency doesn’t pay a client – it’s the client that pays out, which means, although the client isn’t always right, the clients problems and issues are yours to deal with if you want to pitch a successful campaign.

It isn’t enough that you understand what the clients campaign is and what they want you to do for them. You need to understand the constraints under which your clients are working in.


Well to start with, you have a higher chance of proposing solutions that they can actually implement, and that will work. When I pick an agency, I see them as a partner to the business, not a consultant. The difference is a consultant tells you what you need to do. If you can, great, if not, your loss.

A good partner will identify what you need to do, whether you can do it, how you can do it and if not, what else you can do instead. That’s the difference between a good agency-client relationship and a great one.

The Common complaints I hear from Agencies

–        We are giving the client all these great ideas – and they mess them up
–        It should be SO easy to run this campaign.
–        They didn’t understand the strategy behind this project
–        They don’t get it
–        By the time they were ready to implement, it was too late
–        We can support them, but they don’t seem interested

… and any more.

The fact is, every client wants to do the best possible, but the reality is much different to what we imagine when working from an agency perspective. Sometimes simple to us, could be a mammoth task for the business, and that is the base fact you need to understand.

I Heard You Liked Charts…

In order to demonstrate what I mean, and common issues in-house, I decided to create some fictitious charts that I use to explain these problems to agencies when dealing with them.

Note: They aren’t scientific or based on  real numbers – if you think I am clever enough to create these on real numbers, you shouldn’t be reading anything I write.

No spreadsheets were hurt in the making of these. Nor was real data apart from personal experience and logic being used. 

Pecking Order

See that? Well it’s a common issue for people in house to get things done. If your key contact is lower the chain in the pecking order, the harder it is to get complex projects underway.

A business I worked with for a short stint refused to investigate issues with affiliate tracking – and as a result lost more than 75% off their affiliates. This is because the person dealing with them was low on the pecking order, AND affiliates were lower on their own task list. I, coming in as a consultant, had a higher clout and insisted they deal with the issue.

The problem was solved in a couple of weeks, with minimum effort – and the affiliate program continues to deliver over 20% of their sales to date.

Technical Know How

Businesses, especially big brands should have the necessary technical tools, support and resources to work on development projects. True or False?


There hasn’t been a single business I have worked with that can roll out technical projects fast enough. The ones that can, are the ones most people look to as being “innovative”. They are fewer than you think.

You have to understand that there are a large number of technical stop gas in a business, from site development to lack of in house coders, to analytics, to an understanding of relevant technology. IT tends to e a massive bloat and sink in a large number of businesses – and this could be a massive hindrance to projects.

Take for example one SEO project I was working on – the Robots txt file was blocking half the site from indexation. I rewrote it and had it installed. Only to find 2 weeks later (by chance) that the IT team had over written it with the original version. Their explanation? We had a historic issue with secure pages being indexed and they used robots files to block them! This issue was over a year old and had been resolved by the time I requested the change – but they were too scared – in the end I had to railroad the change and 5 weeks later organic traffic doubled.

Business Sign Off Process

Although this is similar to the Pecking Order point, sometimes it doesn’t make a difference how high up you are in an organisation. If the business sign of process is long winded then forget getting anything done quick – if it needs full sign off.

Sadly, this is one I have never been able to circumvent myself – except for the occasional jumping a few steps and going to the person at the end of the process… not advisable to be honest.  I recall often having great opportunities for online partnerships that had to b turned way, as the process to get them approved were weeks long, and often a week later than needed.

Volume of Responsibility

Most in house contacts are constantly juggling a range of projects and activities – both internal and external. If your contact has a lot on their plate, then the more complex and resource hungry the task, the lower your chances of getting stuff done. It’s not because they are incompetent – but they have to weigh their internal pressures against their external ones and get stuff done as is required.

I have run the role of an Online Marketing Manager often – and more often than not, you spend more than half you time explaining what the hell it is that you do than actually doing it. It is just the nature of the beast sadly.

So how should Agencies Work with their Direct Contacts?

The first thing I normally would do is to try and identify each one of the factors:

  1. How high are they in the hierarchy of the business?
  2. What is the business sign of process – and what is most impacted by that process?
  3. What is the technical capacity of the business? Who are the key tech teams involved?
  4. How much work does the contact handle? Is it just the on channel or is there more on their plate?

Sounds dumb to have to consider all of these factors, but if you understand them, you as an agency will b able to pitch and plan better suited projects – meaning the chances of execution are higher, and the wastage of the pitch / planning process on your end is lower.

Find out what level of autonomy the role has and resources available before coming up with elaborate ideas for running campaigns – may get more work done and stop coming up with ideas that just can’t be worked upon.

Let me end with this example of client offices 🙂

Source: http://tomfishburne.com/2008/12/silo-day-care.html

About the Author, Rishi Lakhani

Rishi Lakhani is a freelance Online Marketing Consultant working with a number of brands and agencies in the UK, and spends a large portion of his free time on twitter. Follow him at: https://twitter.com/rishil

This post is part of a special guest post series this summer in which we’ve asked (search) marketers to take a ‘different perspective’ on things.


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