Gini Dietrich

Managing Unruly Clients

By: Gini Dietrich | June 23, 2011 | 
129

What time is it? That’s right! It’s Facebook question of the week time (clap, clap, clap)!

Before I get to the question, though, I want to say that I am so glad I wrote the Mormons Make Better Leaders post yesterday. I learned so much about many of you, including how many LDS friends I have. I had no idea! For those of you who commented and shared your stories, thank you. Yesterday was a lot of fun, getting to know you a bit better.

If you haven’t commented and you have something to share about service, leadership, or your religion, don’t be shy! And don’t be intimidated by the number of comments. I read every one of them and would love to hear about your experiences.

With that, let’s get to it!

This week’s question comes from Katie Fassl, the director of marketing and social media at KBK Communications, a company that does marketing, communication, and social media for medical manufacturers and distributors. In my opinion, there is no better firm for that line of work. Period.

This week Katie asks,

How do you manage a client who seems unmanageable? That is, someone who doesn’t approve materials or get you things so you can do your job and deliver on time.

I said, “Other than fire them?”

Yes, she is looking for an answer other than “fire them.”

I provide a few ideas in the video (if you can’t see it in your Reader and you’re dying to watch me talk for two minutes, click here and it’ll magically appear) for Katie to consider as she does the account management and client service piece of her job.

After you watch the video, I leave it to you. How do you recommend Katie manage her unruly clients? What are some of the things that work really well for you with your internal or external clients?

 

Before you go, will you do me a HUGE favor? Go back to the top and like, tweet, +1, or add to LinkedIn. Plllllease??

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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129 Comments on "Managing Unruly Clients"

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kamkansas
kamkansas
4 years 11 months ago
You can ask the client to come up with their own timeline for their part of the work. Once the bosses responsible for approval and the employees responsible for other work agree to that timeline, then your firm can gently try to hold them to those internal deadlines or use their missed deadlines as the reason your firm couldn’t meet your own deadlines on the projects. You can also tell them upfront that missing deadlines could lead to higher project costs (your overtime, making a print order a “rush job,” etc.) for them. This has worked for me, and I… Read more »
billprettyman
4 years 11 months ago
Katie, here are 3 suggestions. First, tell the customer that you want to conduct an annual review. This creates a forum for discussion for feedback to go both ways. You will have an opportunity to let them know all the things you have been doing for them and your record in meeting your commitments to them. Do not take it for granted that they know because many times they do not know. Just like you they have lots of balls in the air and it is up to us to let our customers know what we are doing for them.… Read more »
samtaracollier
samtaracollier
4 years 11 months ago

Great video Gini! I love hearing your voice in the morning. My favorite part “Just Fire them!”. That’s my kind of answer! I

This kind of client is hard to manage (as well as the ones that don’t pay!). If it were my client I would make sure I communicated the issue and hope the discussion went well. I’d give it a month or so and if that didn’t work I’d hit the road 🙂

sydcon_mktg
4 years 11 months ago
We do the same as you, Gini! Our upfront conversations strongly cover our expectations of the clients as well as theirs of us. One of the first questions we get is how fast can you get it done? Our reply is, that depends on you! In our contracts/quotes we outline specifically what the client needs to provide to even come close to a target date. We almost never commit to a solid “D-Day”, because well in development like other things you have to account for the unknown as well as things you can’t control. If we have clients not approving… Read more »
SoloBizCoach
SoloBizCoach
4 years 11 months ago
I love your videos Gini. They are always information, thought provoking, and just the right length. With respect to dealing with difficult clients, I have two strategies that I use. 1. Suggest He Delegate – My best advice is to suggest that the client delegate his work to someone on his team. This way the subordinate will feel pressure to do what his boss asked him to do. 2. Develop a Personal Relationship – I run into difficult clients all the time as a lawyer. Everyone hates dealing with legal matters because they always involve difficult decisions and the possibility… Read more »
Doug_Davidoff
Doug_Davidoff
4 years 11 months ago
We are a client of a company (Angel Vision) that I think does a GREAT job of dealing with this up front. They make very clear what they consider a “good client” to be. They lay it out in an agreement (things like, all people contributing will be on these calls, or you’ll turn things around within x period of time etc.) and then provide a “Good Client Discount.” Now, I know that their real fee is what they’re charging me after the “discount,” but I got to tell you a feel more commitment to get things done for them.… Read more »
Marcus_Sheridan
4 years 11 months ago
Some of the most powerful words I’ve learned as a business owner are, “Sorry, but we’re not going to be a good fit, best of luck to you.” I used to take on jobs,and keep clients, simply because I thought I ‘had’ to have them. But experience has taught me that always blows up in my face, and so now I walk away. As an example, I sold at swimming pool that was about a 60k contract a few weeks ago. As we were going through the process of signing the contract, the client took it upon himself to change… Read more »
jain.anjita
4 years 11 months ago

Hey Gini, a very good video. And I also read the Mormon post.
Katie,
It is always best to work with the project owner or person responsible and accountable for the initiative. I have dealt with internal client who was not willing to make any decisions but everytime we would discuss any details, he would come back with ‘Out of the Box’ idea which was not always realistic or in scope or would drag our timeline. The solution, talk to the person ultimately responsible for the deliverable.

Great Post!
Anjita

HowieSPM
HowieSPM
4 years 11 months ago
Ok I had to re-read this. I thought you typed LSD friends which did not make sense aside from they can make a lot of money….a LOT…as James Cameron and Steve Jobs have proven (and pretty sure Eric Schmidt, Sergy Brin and Larry Page as well from what I hear) This is a big deal for every business. Since most of my project management experience was with heavy industry I used to deal with clients who would be late with needed specifications to move forward on a project. But then try to keep the quoted delivery date. So we always… Read more »
DonovanGroupInc
DonovanGroupInc
4 years 11 months ago

Great points here Gini especially on the advice of having “up front” conversations designed to hopefully manage expectations on how the relationship will unfold over the life of the project.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@kamkansas I like the missing deadlines as it equates to higher project costs. We just had that situation here. Lots of missed deadlines, not getting things on time, changing minds a ton of times and higher costs. It kind of sucks because if you aren’t VERY clear and consistent in your communication, you have to eat the extra costs.

KensViews
4 years 11 months ago
For me, it gets down to two things 1) Managing expectations; and 2) Being willing to have ongoing, direct discussions between client and agency. Too many agencies build unrealistic expectations on the part of their clients because they’re unwilling to have direct discussions from the get-go. To the point in your video, have the guts to outline “Here’s what you can expect from us,” as well as “Here’s what we need from you in order to do the best job for you.” Meet with clients at least quarterly, NOT on the subject of the communications campaign, but about the relationship… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@billprettyman Look at you! Twice in one week!! Great feedback for Katie (and all of us). Thank you!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@samtaracollier I know “fire them” isn’t a real goal most of the time, but I was in a snarky mood. 🙂 I think expectations is SO important. I really do think lots of business leaders hire consultants thinking they’re just going to take things off their plate, get results, and they don’t have to worry about it. Turns out, that’s not the case at all.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@sydcon_mktg We do the same thing, Jen. In our plans, we provide timelines and show who is responsible for what and when it’s due. Then we go over all of that in our weekly meetings. Sometimes, though, you have clients who push you off or skip meetings, but still expect you to do your job. Doesn’t work that way, does it?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@SoloBizCoach Thanks! And thanks for the tweet, too. 🙂 I really love both of these examples, especially the second one with very specific thinking. You’re absolutely right – if the client sees you as a friend, they tend to not avoid you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@Doug_Davidoff LOVE THIS, Doug! Love! I’m going to implement some of these internally. Thank you!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@Marcus_Sheridan Sue you because you walked away before a contract is signed? People amaze me. You have such a great attitude about that kind of stuff. We can all learn that from you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@jain.anjita Thanks Anjita…on both accounts!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@HowieSPM You know, this is a good lesson for those of us who hire consultants and vendors, too. *WE* have to keep our commitments to them, just as much as them to us.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@DonovanGroupInc Expectation setting is SO important and a lot of time that gets lost in the excitement of doing the work.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@KensViews Between this @Doug_Davidoff and @SoloBizCoach responses, I have some work to do at Arment Dietrich! Thank you.

sydcon_mktg
4 years 11 months ago
@ginidietrich No, it doesn’t always work that way. In our experience, when it doesn’t work that way the client who isn’t upholding their end of the bargain balks at paying for work completed with the excuse “but you didn’t finish the project” or we get the “we will sue since you missed the deadline & we want our deposit money back”. We have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with both scenarios only to have a judge back us up. You can’t bail on a project and expect the project to get done. Sadly, many think that once they hire… Read more »
KatieFassl
4 years 11 months ago
Gini, Thanks so much for addressing this! As I’m sure you could tell from the CAPS, in the original question, I was quite frustrated with said “unruly client,” at the time. Things have cooled off, as I had a VERY upfront conversation with him. I like to look at everything as a learning experience, and boy have I learned with this one! I think the common theme is we, as marketing/communications/PR people HAVE to be upfront, and set guidelines and realistic expectations. Also, I just have to say– your readers are amazing. I am LOVING all of these comments! Thanks… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@KatieFassl I’m loving the comments, too. There are some really good ideas we’ll implement.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@sydcon_mktg I know the very first website I had built for Arment Dietrich, I thought the design firm did everything. I was SHOCKED to learn, halfway through, I had to develop all of the content. I had no idea that wasn’t part of what they do. I thought it was the whole getting outside perspective thing. They didn’t tell me they needed content from us, well, until they needed it. So, of course we missed deadlines because those expectations weren’t spelled out upfront.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago
This was a comment left on YouTube. I love the sales thinking in it. Possibly Katie can use an old sales tactic – tell them up front what you don’t know, so that when “that” comes up, the prospect knows “ah this was one of those things he didn’t know, no biggie.” Opposed to “jeez, he doesn’t know anything.” Similarly, communicate with your client before that “times will come up when we’re not getting what we need, how should we resolve that when it happens?”. Then, when it happens, you can say “this is that time now, and here’s what… Read more »
sydcon_mktg
4 years 11 months ago

@ginidietrich I am not surprised. Like you said the video you have to spell out what’s expected upfront, and this is a prime example of what happens when you dont!

Our contracts list exact things we will do, then it says anything additional is at our hourly rate or can be requoted to include. THere is always the client that says, whats with this hourly rate stuff, or extras? Well, its because you didnt mention you need XYZ and now we have to include it!

billprettyman
4 years 11 months ago

@ginidietrich @samtaracollier I think that is why we must have an upfront meeting that sets expectations for all parties. I would suggest documenting it and sharing it with the customer. Then you can use that document in the process of conducting an annual review in discussing how we are doing in providing the service and how well the customer is providing what they committed to do. Communication is the key for us that provide the services to the customer.

billprettyman
4 years 11 months ago

@SoloBizCoach Great thought on developing a personal relationship. It is interesting how many times we have had a distant relationship that comes closer when we get them out of the office. As a result, many times the relationship changes for the better.

KensViews
4 years 11 months ago

@billprettyman @SoloBizCoach “Make It Personal” is one of the key attributes that brands/companies which are known for providing Five-Star Client/Customer Service, consistently deliver. More and more, clients/customers want to do business with partners with whom they have a personal relationship. I believe this is particularly true in the world of communications.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago
I’m going to add comments I’ve received on LinkedIn because there is some value in them, as well: Dennis Bailen: When facing decision deadlines and getting no response or direction, I have emailed or phoned or both with message along the lines of…”unless you instruct me differently by X date, I will proceed to…..” No guarantee but I feel it best I can do in those circumstances. Elizabeth Kelley: Welcome to the world of PR-and business actually. Here are a few ideas: Streamline the process to make it as easy as possible. When you first set up the account, get… Read more »
johnfalchetto
4 years 11 months ago
Gini what I love about your Q&A fo of the week is that it goes for any consultant not just PR firms. When you are external to a firm and asked to give a service within a deadline, few clients realize that you need their commitment also to make it work. Interestingly some of the larger clients feel they can push you around if you are a smaller firm. I use to have an airline as a client in Dubai. They were doing internal coaching for all their crew who were going to work on the A380. They built a… Read more »
TheJackB
4 years 11 months ago

Gini, you are making me crazy with these Vlogs that show books in the background. I don’t know about anyone else, but I like seeing what people are reading and this video is like a tease. I can almost see what is on your shelves but not quite.

That is almost as frustrating as the client who promises me to get me materials today but then turns it in next week and cries because I can’t turn their work around in time.

TheJackB
4 years 11 months ago

@Marcus_Sheridan Marcus when I worked in construction I used to make a point of pulling out a calendar to review projected completion dates. If the client gave me too much of a fuss I would do the same thing you did and tell them that it might be better to work with someone else.

That is a very powerful tool when you use it correctly. It helps to manage expectations and sometimes it made it possible to do business with the person I was politely saying no to.

AlinaKelly
AlinaKelly
4 years 11 months ago

This is sooooo funny – I was just trying to figure out which “for dummies” book was on the shelf! future vlog: tour of Gini’s book shelf. @TheJackB

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@jeffespo LOL! It’s not THAT bad!

jeffespo
jeffespo
4 years 11 months ago

@ginidietrich hahahaha

KenMueller
KenMueller
4 years 11 months ago

@AlinaKelly @TheJackB I see a bunch of pop-up books, scratch ‘n’ sniff books, and even a Where’s Waldo!

KenMueller
KenMueller
4 years 11 months ago
I don’t think there is an easy answer. I have a client (actually a conglomeration of clients under one roof) like this where I told them up front “You will only get out of this what you put into it” And here we are about 7 months into the project, not much further than we started. Because emails go unanswered, they feed me the same info all the time, nothing new, and don’t follow through with the things I’ve asked for. The project will be done after a year, and I know they’ll look at me and my partners and… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@johnfalchetto Great point about adding penalties with missed deadlines. Honestly, I think men are better at this than women. We can learn a thing or two from you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@AlinaKelly @TheJackB It’s Puppies for Dummies! LOL!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@TheJackB OK. I’ll tell you what. I’ll do a video that shows my bookshelves, so you can read the titles, for you.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@KenMueller ARGH! That is so frustrating. Expectations, people! Commitments! Fulfill them!

Lisa Gerber
4 years 11 months ago

@ginidietrich @johnfalchetto don’t go overboard. maybe two, not more.

But I do agree wholeheartedly, it’s not easy to charge penalties – we want to be nice and liked, and that makes us seem hard-nosed. Which we have to be.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
4 years 11 months ago

@Lisa Gerber @johnfalchetto We DO have to be. Otherwise we’ll never get paid our worth or have full terms fulfilled.

Lisa Gerber
4 years 11 months ago

@Marcus_Sheridan which, in the end, validated your decision to walk away from that contract! wow.

Lisa Gerber
4 years 11 months ago

I’ve worked with a lot of associations, and “committees”, like @KenMueller a conglomeration of clients. I’ve learned to include a section in my proposal and then my contract, that states what we need from them; Our expectations.

I always say we need one responsive point person, etc. I will outline deliverables, and estimated time needed from them for us to be able to do our jobs.

It’s worked very well, and educates them up front that just because they hired PR, does not mean that they will be able to cross it off THEIR to-do list.

Marcus_Sheridan
4 years 11 months ago

@ginidietrich Yep, before it was signed. Like I said, a total nut– living in a nice house with nice stuff…but a wack-job….but I can manage a good attitude for two reasons:

1. As you know, I market pretty well, which means I don’t take every sale so seriously. One strikes out, two more step up to the plate.

2. Everything I’ve gone thru ends up being a great blog article, so by this point I smile when content opportunities shine their pretty face.

Lisa Gerber
4 years 11 months ago

@HowieSPM now you’re going to be influential for LSD. congratulations.

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