Everyone knows that dealing with clients can be rewarding, but it can also be quite funny, and even a little painful at times. We accept that the agency world can be challenging, grueling even, but there are those one or two clients that are just a little beyond the pale. They push your buttons. Make you grit your teeth. You ask, with no small amount of trepidation, "What do you want from your campaign?" because you know that what comes out of their mouth will not be what you want to hear. It may suggest severe delusions about marketing itself or even a willing intent to sabotage the process; the future of the campaign appears bleak, and the fighting, or laughing once you've seen enough of this, begins.
These are the clients that challenge us, make us upset, and, most of all, give us the best stories for after-work drinks. Over the years I've found that some of our clients fall into identifiable types, and you may recognize them too.
Client type No. 1: Bad idea guy
The bad idea guy has become disconnected from his audience. He loves jargon and industry acronyms. He speaks in terms of USPs and value-add. His PowerPoint presentations are noisy and bloated, but they get the point across -- he is right.
All of these contribute to what the bad idea guy loves to churn out: boring copy, dysfunctional websites, ineffective campaigns, and a large bill to show for it. He's mastered the inefficiencies of bureaucracy so well you'd think he worked for the government. If you've ever read a mission statement like the one below, you've witnessed the Bad Idea Guy's work.
"We provide strategic, value-laden, multi-platform SaaS solutions to small- to medium-size enterprises across the globe."
One former client, in prepping us for a new microsite said, "Can't you see that our product is superior? Given our target market is women between the ages of 25-55, we want to focus on the fact that our DSL VoIP combo is 2 mbps faster than the competition." Really? I'm an interactive marketer and I don't even know how many mbps my high-speed connection is.
This client type often attempts to carry over industry knowledge (of which they have plenty) to marketing know-how, resulting in blunders they perceive to be brilliant. Beware of the red flag phrase "Because I said so," a common defense of the Bad Idea Guy.
If you work in search marketing, you're also probably familiar with this statement: "I know our users don't search for this term, but..." Sometimes you may get through to these clients by slowly explaining that what people search for is, in fact, one of the most crucial variables to consider, but more often than not these clients will be so focused on what corporate wants that your words of reason will not penetrate. In these cases, the only option may be to give them what they want and suffer the ramifications.
Client type No.2: Really wants to help, but really shouldn't
Don't get me wrong; our most successful projects always have a high level of client engagement. But the "I really, really, want to help" clients go above and beyond -- too far beyond. They don't just participate in the creative process; they actually try to "design" their site.
I've seen a client handover a napkin of his vision as if it were an official deliverable.
Now, I'm all for creative brainstorming. Plenty of dreams originated on the back of a napkin, but the dreams of someone who has skipped all of the prior meetings have no place being taken seriously.
The telling sign of a Really Want to Help, But Shouldn't isn't over-involvement, as one might expect, but rather a blissfully ignorant view that they are the architect and agencies are the brick layers. In the eyes of the Really Want to Help, their ideas are supreme, even if they just want more yellow. A lot more yellow.
Really, I think we've added enough yellow? Maybe we can make the text red and blink as well?
This client takes a different form when they are involved in a search engine marketing campaign. They've read a blog and have discovered meta tags. They have ridiculous keyword ideas that somehow didn't show up in the preliminary keyword research or the already approved SEO strategy (for good reason).
They say things like, "my friend told me doorway pages could really help us so I went ahead and built out 32 of them over the weekend." Those 32 black hat, against Google TOS, likely-to-cause-penalties doorway pages are now yours to deal with because you let your guard down for the weekend. You left on Friday and came back Monday only to find out the truth: the client isn't just a helpful fellow, but a Really Wants to Help, But Really Shouldn't.
I mean, when I go to the dentist, I don't offer advice on how to clean my teeth or fill my cavities. To be honest, I'm more than happy to let the dentist use her best judgment. I'll ask the appropriate questions and try to be involved with being a better patient, such as doing the right things for the health of my teeth and gums, but I'm not going to stop the dentist mid-drill and give advice.
Client type No. 3: Your deadlines matter, mine don't
Most agencies are really good about hitting deadlines, and even build in time for clients to miss theirs (slightly). That said, there are some clients that don't just barely miss deadlines, they ignore them. And even then, most clients understand that not giving the necessary feedback or deliverables on time impacts the project schedule.
Like I said, "most" clients. The Your Deadlines Matter, Mine Don't client wants to keep the original schedule even though copy hasn't been delivered, design is not approved, video assets aren't ready, and they've rescheduled the next meeting three times. They view their deadlines as optional and yours as handed down by god, written in stone, and with the penalty of death or dismemberment if not achieved. Dependencies? What are those?
Beware the red flag: "I just need you to make this happen." Actually, it's not just a red flag; it's more like the Jolly Roger of a quickly gaining pirate ship. You've been sighted, so prepare for combat. Your deadlines are past.
Client type No. 4: Never satisfied
If the adage "less is more" brings a blank look to the face of your client, you may be working with a Never Satisfied. One of the most frustrating types of clients, you will recognize this type by their innate inability to accept your successes.
For example, with a traffic increase of 300 percent during the last three months, you may expect your client's response to be ecstatic, but in this case the more likely retort will be "but it was only a 25 percent increase last month."
Whatever you do for this client, it will never be enough. Like some undead being, it will always be waiting to squeeze the last drop of effort and creativity from everyone it comes in contact with. When this client has occasion to converse with your team, you may notice expressions of dread and panic crossing their faces, combined with the universal motion to indicate "not me, not me, tell them I'm not here."
Bad for your team's morale, the never satisfied types are one of the worst a marketing firm can experience. Almost nothing is as terrible as eagerly calling a client to report your unbelievable and hard-earned results only to hear new, more-torturous expectations in return.
Like a hardened drill sergeant, the Never Satisfied will never relent, budge, smile, or give you a pat on the back. He may yell, scream, or degrade you. He may smirk at your definition of success. Unlike the drill sergeant, however, the never-satisfied usually doesn't speak from a position of experience, knowledge, and battle-tested wisdom; the never-satisfied usually speaks from a position of ignorant expectations.
Fortunately, there are rewards to enduring the tyranny of the Never Satisfied, just as there are rewards for enduring the drill sergeant. When faced with a Never Satisfied you can only do your best to encourage your team, put your head down, and keep going. As they say, you'll laugh about it someday.
Client type No. 5: Illogical
A lack of logic in a business relationship may as well be the kiss of death. Most people, whether in discussions with family, friends, or business partners, base their arguments on logic. It's not always good logic, but at least it has some grounding. Even in tenuous relationships, this helps.
Non-logicals, as we call them in the office, are free to say whatever the hell they want. They don't believe in the comparative peace and tranquility that logic can bring to the table. They'll say things like "I don't like this concept, but I had a dream, and I can't describe it really, but I think our website should be like that."
Or, more commonly, they'll say something like "I realize we're a newspaper, but I really want our site to be more like Apple."
Clients like this leave you feeling dazed, as though a whirlwind has just torn through your campaign, creating new combinations and destroying carefully crafted designs at random. Just like a natural disaster, illogical clients can be devastating and unpredictable to all of your well laid plans. Unfortunately, there is no insurance for illogical clients.
Rather than close with a standard article summary, here are the top 10 dumbest things we've actually heard clients (or those who were almost clients) say:
- I don't know what I want my site to look like, so stop asking me these questions. The important thing is that it's something that's never been seen before.
- The goal of this project is to make the CEOs of my two competitors jealous and say "What did he just do!" I really don't care about what our clients want.
- I don't know what I want, but it should look like Apple (said by multiple clients, unfortunately).
- I want our keywords to be at the top of the Google results, but I don't want to pay as much as our competitors are, because that's ridiculous.
- I want to build a social networking site, like MySpace, but really focused on music.
- My goal is to have someone working on my site 24 hours per day. Stop asking me about goals. That's it.
- I want to rebuild our social media site. I don't care about our members, I just want it to be on Joomla. It's ok if all of the member data is deleted, they can rejoin. (This was a client with over 40,000 members).
- I really like the site you did for (unnamed client). I don't have much of a budget though. Can you just change the green to blue and sell me the design for a steep discount?
- Can you remove my competition's website from the search engines?
- We have a new mission statement to include on our homepage about improved efficiency. I need to send it to you, but I won't be able to get to that today.
Brian Easter is the CEO of NeboWeb.
Other contributors to this article include Chris Allison, SEO and social media specialist, and Emily McClendon, search engine marketing specialist.
On Twitter? Follow NeboWeb at @NeboWeb. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.