“The day you sign a client is the day you start losing one.” – Donald Draper to Pete Campbell on Mad Men
Let’s face it, we all have “problem clients.” Even Donald Draper did. As account managers, we all wish our clients simply handed over whatever we asked of them, when we asked them, and blindly trusted us to do our job. I’d love to live in a world where clients understood that we were asking to do these things not for our benefit, but for theirs. It would be nice if any other agencies they worked with were equally as cooperative. Concentrating on their own agendas may not only harm ours, but the client’s as well.
But let’s get back to reality and face the facts. Such a world does not exist, but maybe that’s a good thing?
When you’re in the consultation business, clients don’t just need you to do tasks. They require reasons, explanations, and assurance; sometimes more than we’d like them to. But why?
The SEO and Internet Marketing industry is made mysterious to outsiders because not everyone who adopts the name knows what they are doing. So while we know the proper way to do something, a client or prospect may have heard something else from a so-called expert and not understand why we are doing it differently.
They have expectations in their minds of the way things should be, but these are false expectations that have been planted in their minds before they ever decided to research or hire an agency. Many times, a client is unwilling to let go of what they think is right, even when they have been given reasons and explanations. This is one of the most basic issues in the consultation business: “you are paying me to guide you but you are not listening.”
So, how do we fix this problem? There really is no “fix.” We are talking about human interaction and every situation is different. However, I want to share with you some of my experiences and the advice that’s been given to me that has kept me going. Not only has it kept me afloat, it has allowed me to thrive in this business. I hope it will help you do the same.
Live the Product
You are in the business of persuasion. How in the world do you expect to persuade consumers if you are not capable of understanding your client’s product? Imagine that their business is their child. They want to raise their child and see it succeed; yet it is having trouble. You are that child’s expensive tutor. It is your job to get to know that child and treat him or her like your own. This means guiding it through life’s difficulties. Sometimes parents are blinded by their love for their child, and so do not always know what’s best for it, even when they think they do. It is your job to help them understand what is really going to help their child.
To apply that to the business, this is what you need to do to make sure your clients understand that their baby is your baby and that you also want what’s best for it. Moreover, that you know what’s best for it.
- Become familiar with the industry and its history
- Know what all the main influences are (both online and off)
- Read these influencer’s publications (articles, magazines, forums, etc.)
- Learn everything you possibly can about the target market and their needs
- Mentally become one of their team members
- Use the product in the mindset of the target consumer.
- What are its strengths?
- What are its weaknesses?
- Critique the product as if you were a consumer
- Keep a record of this process in whatever way you seem fit. I like Evernote.
Know Your Clients
This may seem obvious, but the trick to knowing your clients is to understand that you really don’t know them after exchanging just a few phone calls and emails. To truly be in control of your account, you must not only understand the business you’re handling, but the person behind the phone or computer screen. You must create a client persona, also known as a buyer persona.
Definition: Buyer Persona — The persona(s) of key buyers of your company’s products & services. A buyer persona includes demographic, firmographic, psychological and behavioral components of a buyer.
Doing this will give you insight as to how your client makes decisions, how they prefer to have information delivered, and most importantly, how you can persuade him to listen to you, understand you, and trust you to do what you do best: make them money.
Now creating a client persona is no easy task. The shy and those with weak communication skills will perish here. This is coming from someone whose second language is English, so I can relate to anyone having issues with this. The key is to understand your weaknesses and finding a way to conquer them. Don’t let weakness bring you down. Instead, use it as inspiration to improve yourself.
Embrace the Differences
Even if you don’t have international clients, being aware of cultural differences is important. This isn’t restricted to religion or politics; I’m talking about embracing the fact that we are all different and that where we come from influences our behaviors, preferences, and what is deemed polite or rude. What we may think is the normal way of communicating may not be appropriate with someone from another culture or even from another working environment.
Age differences can also change the dynamic of your professional relationship. Be respectful of the generation gap, stay sharp and be courteous at all times. Don’t cross any unconventional lines in conversation. If you are a young account manager, you may have to prove that they have a rising star handling their account. If you have been in the business for some time, you may also have something to prove. While your experience supports you, you must also show that you are up-to-date and that nothing passes you by. As Bob Dylan would sing…forever young!
Three Little Reminders
- Keep conversation solely professional at first; learn about your client’s personality through his or her diction and tone.
- Meet deadlines and make sure you’re doing everything that needs to be done – then do a little extra. Of course you should do what you’re being paid to do, but going the extra mile will let them know that you are in it for the long haul, that they matter to YOU, not just the organization you represent.
- Once you’ve proven yourself to you’re client, don’t be afraid to get a little personal. Ask them how they are. Figure out some of their passions; do they love music? Sports? Is there anything each of you have in common to speak about outside work related themes? Are they just crazy about their business? Since you are already living the product and keeping up with their industry for the work you do, recommend a recent publication or discuss your thoughts on a recent industry event. Whatever it takes. Make them feel comfortable simply talking to you, no matter what the topic. This is your client persona.
The ability to understand a client’s industry, the client themselves, and to synthesize that knowledge into everything you do will go a long way personally and professionally. Social and communication skills aren’t always innate, but they can certainly be learned. If you are lacking in this area, work on improving it. It is a key to what we do as SEO/Marketing Account Managers.
Bridging the Gap
Roger Sterling: The day you sign a client is the day you start losing him.
Don Draper: You don’t really believe that.
We heard Don agree with Roger just a few moments ago, but we know Don is no account manager. Roger Sterling is THE account man at Sterling Cooper, so of course he doesn’t agree! Not everyone can be an account manager; it takes a special set of skills that certain kinds of people have, that they work on cultivating because they want to have them. If you are not passionate about your clients and their businesses, I suggest you change your business and not waste anyone’s time, including your own.
But if that isn’t the case and the passion is there… well, stop looking at me. I’ve told you what I know. Now get out there and do exactly what you’re so good at. Produce results. Make it happen.
So there you have it. Gain a deep knowledge and understanding of your client’s product. Earn their trust, their attention, and most importantly their respect. Sometimes this means saying no.
Optimum7 Account Managers are experienced in handling a diverse range of clients and their respective industries. We know how to close the gap and look forward to working with you to achieve your marketing goals. Contact us today!