Giving partners an unrealistic goal to hit
We realize that some agency teams with which we work give us a stretch goal to achieve. This can be due to a number of reasons, including the fact that this is the agency's first time running the campaign and it has no idea what it should be. That, by itself, is not an issue. It becomes an issue when clients don't communicate progress during the course of the campaign.
Clients might choose to do that because they think a partner will work harder to stay on the plan if it doesn't know that it is a top performer. One of our contacts at an agency continually emphasized how poorly we were doing but then rewarded us a few days later with reallocated budget because, in fact, we were doing better than others.
The flip side to this reverse psychology is "the boy who cried wolf" mentality. Every time we hear from this contact, we put little stock in what she says, primarily because her criticism of our performance doesn't match her actions (i.e., awarding us additional budget, which has happened on multiple occasions). There is no credibility.
Whether similar partners are hitting a hypothetical goal doesn't really matter. What matters is communicating performance relative to others.
Advice: Communicate honestly and often with partners about where they rank against the competition. This is also directly tied to the previous two points -- using meaningful metrics relevant to each partner's role in the funnel.