Business Services, Thought Leaders

How to Keep Clients Happy, Even When You Disagree

November 14, 2019

by Cory Hedgepeth

Staff Writer, Direct Online Marketing

Agencies and their clients often disagree. It's important for account managers and strategists to know how to handle these disagreements professionally to avoid losing valuable customers. 

A couple of years ago, I found myself in a common struggle. One of my major agency clients was happy, but it was making me miserable. 

Despite boasting about my efforts to other businesses and paying their monthly service fees like clockwork, I struggled with the happiest client I’ve ever had.

The happy client ultimately left, I assume, because I was doing a great job. Making sense of that experience and its impacts, however, is complicated.

Sometimes there is a disconnect between a digital marketer’s expertise and a client’s wishes. Because of this disconnect, some marketers take a passive role in strategy consultation that leads to an unsuccessful partnership.

In my case, my fear of pushing back on a client led to a happy client, but poor results.

In agencies, we can feel we have little choice in such situations, so we choose the passive route. 

But there are usually more options that we don’t realize. What we really need to do is get creative. 
Today, I want to examine not only my company’s perspective on what to do when client happiness runs counter to digital marketing best practices but what other major companies do. Ultimately, this isn’t a digital marketing issue, it’s a B2B industry issue. 

How to Keep Clients Happy, Even When You Disagree

  1. Avoid being a “client pleaser”
  2. Use “The Rule of Three” to XYZ
  3. Define key performance indicators (KPIs) that drive revenue
  4. Reinforce your value

1. Avoid Being a “Client Pleaser”

I shouldn't even write “client pleaser” in a negative way. It’s my job to please clients, after all. 

There are times, however, that a client wants to pursue long-term strategies that don’t make sense. If we choose to appease the client when this happens, we risk poor long-term results. 

But we perhaps keep the client longer by not generating friction in the short term.

Agencies, contractors, and all client service companies are built on reputation. If your reputation as a water delivery company sours when unhappy former customers voice their displeasure, you will have a difficult time acquiring new customers. 

If you challenge your client, however, you risk negative reviews online. Prospective clients considering your company for a project won’t know that a former client requested a strategy that led to unimpressive results. 

Updating reviews to provide your side of the story will just make you seem defensive. 

The key is to strike a balance between making clients happy and ensuring their long-term success. Let’s explore how best to approach the issue of client happiness.

2. Use “The Rule of 3” to Balance Clients’ Requests and Your Expertise

DOM founder Justin Seibert developed a simple, but effective, approach to the client happiness conundrum. He teaches the method to all client-facing strategists at the company.

“I believe in giving clients feedback three times, but no more,” Seibert says. “We don’t want to overwhelm them, but we want to deliver the best practice. We also understand that oftentimes, a client is right. They know their business.”

Seibert instructs client-facing strategists to dissent three times before agreeing to a client’s request. 

At its core, Seibert’s policy of giving clients feedback three times achieves two things:

  1. It gives digital strategists direction.
  2. It reminds digital strategists that they could be wrong.

This “Rule of 3”, shown in the infographic below, prevents client-facing strategists from prematurely disregarding client feedback. Seibert understands that the client knows their own business better than anyone, which is something every agency needs to consider.

justin seibert founder direct online marketing quotes

Agencies should prepare their client-facing account managers to address their disagreements diplomatically, explaining that they are acting in the client’s best interest. 

Professionalism in disagreement will help your relationship with the client regardless of the outcome.

3. Define Essential KPIs That Drive Revenue

Service providers should define essential key performance indicators (KPIs) for clients during the sales process.

Netomi is a San Francisco-based technology company that provides artificial intelligence customer service software to large-scale companies. Can Ozdoruk, vice president of marketing, ensures alignment between agency and client during the sales process.

“We work with our clients to pinpoint specifically how AI will work with human agents and how best to delegate responsibilities, to provide the immediate, convenient and personal customer service their customers expect,” said Ozdoruk.

“We ensure every stakeholder has aligned on the KPIs that matter most, especially as AI in customer service is measured much differently than how companies typically measure the success of new technology.”

Defining goals clearly at the beginning of the relationship helps manage client expectations about your services.

can ozdoruk vp of marketing netomi quotes

KPIs, when established early, help the client focus their goals and focus their strategy.

4. Reinforce Your Value

Miscommunication is at the heart of many service provider problems and client issues. 

Steve Jones, vice president of marketing at Corporate Visions, a Bay Area marketing company that helps companies like Oracle create customer value, believes that you don’t have to challenge customers to promote your value. 

“Existing customers now drive as much as 70-80 percent of the average company’s revenue in the form of renewals and upsells,” Jones said. “But that doesn’t mean you can simply sit back and coast through the customer lifecycle. You need to guide those renewal and expansion conversations in a way that continually reinforces your value.”
Driving more loyalty and revenue from existing customers requires a tailored approach to your messaging.
Research from Corporate Visions shows that the best upselling techniques involve agencies showcasing their results and the opportunities, as opposed to trying to drive big changes or challenge customers’ status quo.

Help your customers to evolve their vision and buying behaviors. A successful upsell message ensures your client will choose the best and boldest innovations over outdated methods.
Avoid challenging your customers so much that they end up with one of your competitors. You also need to speak up, however, and let your client know how much your services are worth.

Keep Clients Happy Despite Disagreements

The relationship between the service provider and the client can turn sour in the face of strategy disagreements. There are ways to work through disagreements and discover winning strategies. 

Business owners and executives know their businesses. It’s imperative never to disregard their thoughts and opinions. They are right about strategy more often than not. 

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