Thursday, August 5, 2010

Coping when clients will not take your advice

"As anyone who consults to brands via an agency or consultancy can tell you, companies often hire experts... and then don't follow the experts' advice."1

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="240" caption="Don't Do That by jemsweb, on Flickr"]Don't Do That by jemsweb, on Flickr[/caption]If you're considering a career in... hell, just about anything; get used to the aforementioned fact. It will happen. And a heck of a lot more often than you expect.

It happens to editors when authors balk at their suggestions. It happens to designers when clients insist that they get rid of all that wasted space. It happens to brokers when clients want to hold onto a stock for sentimental reasons. It happens to waiters, plumbers, doctors, trainers... everyone. And it's not changing anytime soon.

So how do you cope? Start by accepting it. Develop a "I'd advise against that course of action for these reasons, but it's your money" script. It'll largely go unheard, so you'll want to find a way to fix it in something a bit more tangible than a conversation. Email is good.

And don't get cocky: You could be wrong. You're a fool if you think you understand your clients' business, intent, desires and goals better than they do. Granted, you may understand the landscape and environment better than they, but don't confuse the two.

And develop a thick skin. Sometimes you're being paid to be a comfort to someone. To make them feel like they've gone through the motions by asking your advice, then ignoring your advice. Don't take it personal. You were compensated for the delivery of the advice. That's enough of a reward. If they actually follow your advice, that's just icing on the cake.

But don't be complacent. Sometimes, wrong is just wrong. Wrong tends to be cloaked in statements like this: "I don't care how shitty it looks. If it gets the phone to ring, it works!" Your clients expect you to point out when their short-term goals may displace more important longer term goals, or when the measured outcome doesn't match with their prior stated objectives. If they are caught up in the moment, you must remain objective.

Finally, make sure you're in the right relationship with your client. You know if it's not working out. You know when it's past the point where neither of you are getting what you need. You know when it's time to walk away. Of course, knowing when it's time and actually acting on that is another thing all together.

So take my advice... please?

1 - Taken from a post by B.L. Ochman. She writes on a variety of really smart topics in the social and digital space. If you're not reading her, you should.


  1. I've been in everyone of the above situations and wanting to scream at various points of the engagement. I think the best piece of the post is evaluating the right relationships for you business.

    If I am being compensated but not being listened to - I am not doing anyone justice. My business will suffer due to the amount of the time invested that can be applied to more productive relationships, my name is attached to a project doomed for failure and the client is wasting his budget.

    For GRT2 Studios the right client fit is very important. Being a new player in the Arizona Digital Marketing landscape it's hard to walk away from business but if it's not the right fit it's not going to work for either parties.

    Great post. Thanks.

  2. I think agencies and consultants get trapped by the retainer model, or by recurring revenue. Maybe it would better if every engagement had a maximum time frame -- say 6 months. No evergreen. Force both parties to come back to the table and say "So... do we wanna keep doing this?

  3. I deal with this type of thing every day in my day-job as an account manager. So many of our customers purchased our product, then forgot about it. When they don't use it to bring in the ROI it's capable of, they're not happy and it looks bad for us. One thing I've found helpful is automating as much as possible. If I can get them to register for scheduled reports delivered to their email, I have a much higher success rate of getting them to pay attention.

    Thanks for posting this. It's important to keep a level head and a frame of reference when entering business relationships. I'll probably refer back to this as I work my way into consulting for nonprofits.

  4. Thanks for pointing out the power of automation, Jessica. It also divorces you from being "the supplier of data" so you can be more "the supplier of strategy". The latter gets listened to more. Always.


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