When you work at an inbound marketing agency, you see a huge range of clients, industries, and personalities over the years. Most of the time, these campaigns run smoothly, with clients who understand how inbound is working to grow their business and partner with our agency to reach their goals year after year. But sometimes, for many different reasons, we've seen campaigns that get derailed or never get off the ground the right way. If you're a business owner considering hiring an agency for your marketing efforts and want to avoid being a difficult client, here are some common pitfalls we've seen.
Before the Campaign
1. Being impatient
Inbound marketing is not a quick fix for your marketing needs. It takes time to grow elements like search engine rankings, organic traffic, email lists, and social media following. Any agency that sells you otherwise isn't being honest with you. When have our discovery calls with prospective clients, it's obvious who understands the time investment that inbound marketing needs to be successful and who wants everything right away. Statements like "we need to see ROI with inbound within 90 days" puts your agency in a position where they are scrambling to put together some kind of cheap results immediately, instead of taking the time to develop strategy and a process that will generate reliable results for years to come. Plus, this impatience may be a symptom of another pitfall to avoid...
2. Treating marketing as the last resort
Over the years, we've met with many prospects whose businesses are struggling, and are looking to invest in marketing immediately to resuscitate their sales, or else they are looking at closing down. This is a major red flag before a contract is signed, and an incredibly dangerous situation for any client/agency relationship. We've certainly taken on our fair share of struggling clients, and when we see opportunity to bring immediate and long-term value, we thrive in circling the wagons to drive results and turn your business prospects around. But sometimes, no amount of great marketing ability and results is going to fix the holes in a bad business model. Before you sign with a marketing agency, it's important to consider what success looks like for your efforts, and if a successful campaign is going to right the ship, or just plug the leak for a while.
3. Not connecting activity to results
When pitching a campaign to a prospect, we make sure everyone understands the logic behind all the elements we propose. We want to use SEO, blogging, and social media to reach new contacts, email and valuable content to convert them into leads, and finally nurture them into customers. So when a prospect doesn't care about the strategy around how we pick keywords to focus on, or won't invest the time into understanding how we want to use blogging to provide value, that's a difficult challenge to overcome. Obviously, the bottom line increase in sales or clients is what many businesses are most excited about, but developing the metrics we will track, the strategy behind our activity, and how that activity will lead to new business is the entire thesis behind inbound marketing. If we are having a tough time getting buy-in on this point before a contract is signed, it's another red flag for the client's investment during the campaign and how they will look at our results.
During the Campaign
1. Goals and expectations
Ideally, issues with goalsetting are made apparent before a marketing campaign starts, but sometimes, clients meet the team that will create and manage their campaign and set lofty goals on impossible timelines. If your site gets 100 visits per month right now, there's very little chance that it's going to reach 100k visits any time soon, so understanding the realities of where things stands and where inbound marketing can grow your business will put you in a better position with your agency. Using SMART goals to see how activity will lead to results that exceed your expectations will develop the roadmap to success for everyone.
2. Trust and speed
Trust is a defining part of any marketing campaign, and when clients don't trust their agency's advice, output, or direction, nothing will get done. The agency needs lots of input from the client and help understanding their business and industry, but they also need the freedom to put their strategies into action. Dragging feet and raising hell over every change to a webpage or sentence in an ebook slows down everything. Expecting all deliverables instantly and wanting the campaign at warp speed out of the gate also isn't realistic, as good campaigns follow the timeline, strategy, and pace to make sure everything is done correctly to maximize reach and results.
3. Fulfilling the client's role
In every one of our client contracts, we include a section about the responsibility of the client's role to the campaign. No matter how good we are and how amazing of a campaign we can create as an agency, we need the client's buy-in. That means time and energy spent in strategy, approving creative and deliverables, and reviewing results. When an unresponsive client suddenly has questions about results, when we've been hounding them for input and approval on critical items, it derails everything the campaign is trying to do and makes everyone spend time backtracking instead of working forward.
1. Attribution issues
We've learned the hard way that we have to make sure the client sees when our campaigns are successful, because it's not always easy to give credit to marketing. Being able to attribute where the growth in a campaign is coming from is vital, and when clients won't acknowledge that our activity is helping reach goals, it causes unnecessary strife. Newsflash: agreeing that campaign elements are contributing to successful goals won't make your agency take their foot off the gas, it will empower them to work harder and know their efforts and accomplishments are recognized and appreciated. That synergy is what creates amazing long term partnerships between clients and agencies.
2. Crying over spilt milk
Tied in with the client's role, difficult clients are the ones who will wait until a month or a year or a campaign is ending to bring up their objections and point blame. I've heard a client say "we never really wanted any of this stuff; we didn't know it was going on," after a year of meetings and deliverables and approval on all campaign elements. It's your campaign, every agency wants it to be successful and grow your business, so if you want to change direction or aren't pleased with some part of what is going on, waiting until everything is said and done is not the way to improve the campaign.
3. Not fulfilling contractual obligations
While this definitely involves the client's role and responsibilities in terms of investing time, when it comes down to it, honoring your contract is an easy way to maintain a good relationship with your agency. If you sign a contract, you should pay your bill. If you want to end the campaign, read the terms and see when you need to give notice. Handling business professionally, direct from the contract, even when there are disagreements or frustration, helps keep it about business and not personal. Not every campaign is going to be successful, not every client/agency relationship works correctly, and sometimes it's simply time for a new direction. But refusing to pay for services rendered or pulling the rug out from your agency is just bad business.
To be fair...
This all reads pretty critically of clients, and I'll be the first to admit that agencies are not perfect and we have our own quirks and bureaucracy and ways that we can be difficult too. We are fortunate to have developed dozens and dozens of amazing client relationships over the years; relationships built on trust and patience and hard work from both teams. If you feel you have been a great client, and you are dealing with a difficult agency, it might be time for a change. But these pitfalls that can create difficulty for campaigns doesn't mean you as the client needs to passively accept everything your agency pitches you.
What Doesn't Count As "Being Difficult"
1. Providing guidance
We need you! We need the client's help in every step of the campaign. Yes, we may know more about the marketing tactics and tools, but you know your business, your industry, and your customers. Your expertise is invaluable to help work efficiently to help reach goals and make a real difference.
2. Asking questions
When you aren't sure why we are suggesting something, or why we are doing something, ask! We want questions and input. When there is trust and understanding that we are all on the same team, asking questions will only refine our process and create better results by making sure we are on the same page and being effective. If we're doing our job correctly, we'll have no problem happily answering your questions.
3. Challenging ideas
While you should trust your agency, that doesn't mean you can't push back and makes sure what we want to do is the right course. We take all the strategy and information available to us, and build the best plan moving forward, but you have access to instant information from your business. Making sure that we have the whole story and we keep up to date with our strategy is vital, so if you aren't sure why your agency wants to do something, taking a timeout to make sure it's what is in the best interest of the campaign is valuable.
We love our clients at Revenue River, and many of the difficult times we have had on campaigns are far in the past. The more that businesses learn about inbound marketing, the easier it is for us to create partnerships built on trust, understanding, and hard work. Every campaign has its challenges, but when the client and agency partner to tackle them together, these sort of difficulties don't derail the efforts to reach goals.