If you are a freelancer, consultant or an agency, one of the most difficult parts of your job is managing expectations. Understanding what your clients expect from you so that you can delight them is key to your success. Since most of my professional experience has been working for or with enterprise retail organizations, I thought I would bring to light some of what the larger clients expect from the agencies with whom they work. I collaborated with a friend and coworker, Roger Gibson, who also has a lot of experience both at and with agencies. Together we came up with the following list, which is really what we look for in our own agency partners. This list pays no attention to the actual field of work you might be in, we’ve tried to make it universally applicable. So here we go…
#1 – We expect you to understand our business
Not only do we expect you to quickly learn our business once you are working with us, but you should come to the table with a solid understanding of our revenue model, our competition, and our KPIs. Once the relationship is up and running, your first priority should be to become intimately familiar with the ins and outs of what we measure, how we measure it, and what it means to drive success. Every business and industry has unique challenges – your first priority is to figure out what those are as it relates to your field. You have to dig deep into our priorities, and really find out what we need to succeed. Then the hard part – you should balance what we ask for (a.k.a. why we hired you) with what we actually need to achieve that success.
#2 – We expect you to bring some standardized reporting with you
When we say standardized reporting, we mean you should come with a proven set of reports and metrics to monitor and track the type of services you are offering, that you have obviously used with other clients in the past. The template you present to us is the culmination of months or years of similar reporting you had to build for similar clients. But then we also expect you to be flexible enough with your reporting that if we need to look at something in a different way or at different metrics all-together, you should be able too handle that too.
Another key point on the reporting is that when you are presenting the data, always provide some kind of context around what they mean and what insights and actions those numbers result in. We should have frequent discussions of what the reports tell us about our strategy and whether we are moving in the right direction, what else we can look at, etc.
#3 – We expect you to keep us up-to-date
We hired you because you are the experts. We hired you because you are focused in your space, and have the time to dig deep where we do not. Because of that, when there are significant changes in the industry or landscape, particularly changes that might affect our brands, we want you to let us know. It seems silly, but it’s actually a key differentiator that can set you apart from other agencies – you become worth more simply by conveying information that may give us a head start.
Along with news and landscape changes, we also expect you to be keeping your eye on emerging best practices. Simply regurgitating the recent whitepapers is not enough though – if there is a hot new tactic out there, you should be coming to us with execution strategies on how we can implement these new best practices. If there is a trend we shouldn’t be taking advantage of, come with detailed information on why it doesn’t make sense for us.
#4 – We expect you to know more than us
Along the same line as #3 – you are the experts. Unless we hired you for your grunt labor, you had better know a lot more than us when it comes to your area of expertise. Otherwise the decision to send you packing is going to come quick and without pity. If it looks like you won’t be able to bring added expert knowledge to the relationship, make sure that this dynamic is understood up front. Don’t pretend to be what you aren’t – let us make informed decisions about working with you. The fact of the matter is that you won’t be smarter than all of your clients, but you will have something of value to bring to the table. Make sure we know what that is.
#5 – We expect your strategies to evolve
Fairly quickly after we start working together, and you start to really learn our business, we expect the ideas you bring to the table to start to evolve and improve. What we started working on at the beginning of the relationship should be a step-stool to bigger ideas and accelerated growth. If we are a few months in and still working through the first phase, have a solid time laid out with phase 2 queued up. You were hired for fresh ideas and a fresh perspective – so bring it.
#6 – We expect you to have done this before
Sometimes you haven’t – that’s cool. Just don’t make us feel like a guinea pig, where you are testing out this brand new theory or practice on us. If you are really getting into something with us you haven’t done before, make sure you do the homework before we start. That way you will have the confidence and understanding to make the right decisions, and we will feel much better about trying something out with you. If it truly is something we will have to take a risk on, you should share some of that risk. It says a lot about you if you are willing to put yourself on the line.
#7 – We expect you to follow the rules
It’s often a source of frustration, but big companies have rules. Lots of rules. What keywords we can and can’t bid on, what keywords the CEO or Senior VP wants to see us in top positions for, what we can and can’t say in ad or site copy. While these things are annoying, they are not really up for much discussion. We’re happy to have you question the status quo – once. After we have come to an understanding, and if we still have these rules in place – you are expected to follow them. To the letter. Every time. We don’t want to get sued.
#8 – We expect you to be worth the money
You are probably expensive. Even if you normally aren’t, you are probably charging a premium because we are enterprise clients and you think you can get away with it. We know all about that – and we’re cool with it. We do have bigger budgets, but our problems and the attention we demand will also be bigger, so we’re happy to pay a bit more than your SMB clients. Here’s the thing though – we have stacks of resumes on our desks of people that want to work for us. If we needed to bring whatever it is that you do in-house, we could. We have those resources. So when we say that we expect you to be worth the money, we mean that you better generate more dollars than we spend on you. On top of that, you need to save us money by either having something proprietary that we need, being experts that we can’t possibly afford to hire at the same rate, or providing more man-hours than we could hire at the same rate. It doesn’t matter what the cost is at that point – you became our best option. Be that – otherwise when budgeting time comes around, it’s going to be hard to keep you on board.
#9 – We expect you to figure out #10
See what we did there? Every client is going to have very specific needs and wants – some that they are able to articulate and spell out for you, some that they won’t figure out until you are well into the relationship. We expect you to be in tune with our business enough to understand what we will expect from you as our relationship evolves, and proactively provide that. Do we expect you to read our minds? Maybe a little. But basically we are looking for you to continually try to meet our needs, especially as our needs change. Even if that means terminating the relationship because what we need is something you can’t provide.
As I mentioned above, collaboration for this post was provided by Roger Gibson – a 10-year marketing veteran with extensive experience on the agency side; specializing in media planning, digital marketing, and analytics. Follow him on Twitter: @rogergibson14.
About the author
Rick spends his days as the Associate Director of Search Marketing at 1800contacts.com. He oversees the SEO and PPC strategy, ensuring that the national consumer brand is visible and profitable across all aspects of Search. For further background, follow Rick on twitter at @RickGalan, visit http://