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Gini Dietrich

Managing Unruly Clients

By: Gini Dietrich | June 23, 2011 | 
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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, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

125 comments
AlinaKelly
AlinaKelly

Hi Gini - Sadly, I've had to fire a few clients over the years. I've tried many of the things people have said below - set expectations at the start, work-back schedules, heart-to-heart talks, squeaky wheel - all of which is extremely time-consuming and not particularly energizing. For me, the deciding factor has been whether the client's action or inaction would reflect badly on my company and brand. As @KenMueller pointed out, after all the grief, they may not even appreciate your work in the end. And it could well be that, through no fault of your own, there is little value to show for all your effort. So if one client is eating up a lot of bandwidth that results in a mediocre product not truly reflective of your company's true capabilities: fire them. I agree with @bdorman264 - if they don't appreciate you, walk away.

bdorman264
bdorman264

We face the same thing in our industry because a lot of times we are meeting w/ the CEO; but when it comes time to obtain all the information it gets pushed down to the CFO and beyond and then we are at their mercy and the clock is ticking........

You made a good point in the video; we try to make sure the expectations are clear from both parties. We paint a picture of what it will look like going forward and make sure both parties can complete what needs to be done within the necessary time constraints.

Having said all that, sometimes we still don't get the priority attention we need. If it gets too late in the process, we are still trying to pull information together and going forward is only going to make us look bad, we have to have 'walk away power' regardless of how big the deal is.

At the end of the day you want to do business with people who want to do business with you; people who appreciate the value you bring. If you don't have that relationship you are no more than a vendor so there is merit to cleaning out 10% of your book every year.

That's my story and I'm sticking with it.

girlygrizzly
girlygrizzly

Gini!

It's funny, because I'm the one that gets called to deal with "unruly" clients AND employees! Me?! Funny because everyone knows I'd rather smack them with a stick. (hey I can find some pretty whippy sticks out here!) But the real points are communication. The fall back, Marcus (of course), reminded us, is "no thanks". ~Amber-Lee

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

I'm still in the early stages (6 mos) of my marketing freelance biz, so I have to be completely flexible with timelines. But in my most recent corporate position, I was part of an internal creative services agency. Our internal clients often missed deadlines, forcing us to scramble. I started giving clients timeframes instead of exact dates: "Once I get your feedback I will get a new draft to you in 5 business days," or "If you sign off on the graphics, production and shipping will take 10 days." This made it clear that we had a shared responsibility to hit the deadline. This technique wasn't 100% effective, but it definitely made a difference with the tightest deadlines.

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

Now Gini, I know you were a little put off last time someone critiqued your video, but seriously, would it have killed you to throw some sheep in? I'm just saying… :)

On a more substantive note: I agree with the many great comments about setting expectations and regular communication. I think one good technique is to get clients reinvested in their own goals and deadlines. One reason this is effective is you will find out if those goals and deadlines have changed. Assuming they have not, you can then (diplomatically) show how the lack of follow through is preventing you from achieving those things on their behalf. "We just want to clarify what you are hoping to achieve… Great, we can do that for you but here's what we need from you.." and so on.

EricaAllison
EricaAllison

Katie, I just recently had to determine if I wanted to fire the client or salvage our relationship. I went with calling a few friends, ahem @lauraclick and @soulati , and came up with the plan of letting them fire themselves. I know you're trying to avoid firing the client - as was I - but in some scenarios, if you've tried everything that GIni mentions and the awesome comments below, it's necessary to gracefully get out of it.

Clear expectations are a MUST, as are deadlines and updates. I find that each client is different. So now, before we begin the meat of the work, I give them a client profile and determine how often they want updates and meetings with me, what their expectations are, their willingness to be on camera, availability, etc., their 'point person" if they are not available, and in turn set the tone for what they have to do and what I have to do. So far, it's working quite well. That's great advice for a new client; not your current one.

A pow-wow is always good and it sounds like you've had that. Good luck! It's never easy!!

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

You don't need me to tell you. So I will. That's excellent advice. It all happens upfront. And if the client doesn't commit upfront, walk away. As my father would have said, "It'll all end in tears."

And before anyone says "That's easy for you to say, smartass Curmudgeon from Down Unda,"

let me remind you'all that I've been a sole trader for 40 odd-sometimes very odd indeed-years.

One little technique that may help.....

Before client consummation-you can have that if you'd like it-gain absolute clarity and agreement about two things: what you're trying to achieve and how the achievement will be measured. And make sure that what you're trying to achieve is as precise and as measurable as possible.

That becomes the basis of who'll do what and when from then on. It also shows the client that you're serious about producing a result. If the client prefers a lot of waffle about "appreciation" and "understanding" and "insightful experiences," keep out of the bed!

Now Gini, how about a post about unruly bloggers and blog commenters.....before Marcus S. changes his name to Seth II?

Like the lady said,"I don't do fame anymore, I do "Glee."

Regards

Leon

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Some good advice here. Another thing that could be an option, if per @SoloBizCoach and other comments, the relationship is solid enough: change the point of contact person. I've learned the hard way that if my contact person with the company is going to miss deadlines, not reply.. it's all going to reflect on me at the end of the day. In the beginning of a project that chain of command needs to be specified: who's calling the shots on which part of the project; per @Lisa Gerber comment, who has which responsibilities; and per the YouTube comment you shared, you implement the agreed-upon plan so that if the point person isn't fulfilling their obligations, you can reach out to someone else and keep things moving. FWIW.

Yael Rozencwajg
Yael Rozencwajg

I love this post and I'm going to tell it the whole world !!

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

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.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@AlinaKelly So funny, Alina! That's why my immediate response was, "Fire them!" After years of doing this, you figure out what works and what doesn't work. And sometimes, no matter how much you want the client to succeed, you just can't make it work.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@bdorman264 You're in a hard business, too. One that I try to avoid. For stuff I don't want to deal with, as a business leader, but have to, chemistry is SO IMPORTANT for me finding the right partner. If they're good at their jobs, but I don't really want to go have a beer with them, I'll avoid their calls and emails. Like you said - you want to do business with people who want to do business with you.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@bdorman264 When they say talk to the CFO say 'What am I chopped liver? Your cost just went up one basis point. So again will you sign on the line right now. If you call me a PBJ that's 2 basis points'

RTRViews
RTRViews

@ginidietrich Me too. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Fire them before they burn out your team!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@marianne.worley You'll find pretty quickly that you need to do that same thing with your clients. The problem is that everyone gets busy and the squeaky wheel always gets the oil. Katie's frustration definitely stems from the client pushing her to the bottom of the pile every day and not getting to her. I like what your internal experience taught you!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Adam | Customer Experience If that video had been up yesterday when I recorded my video, I FOR SURE would have included sheep!

One of my favorites is, "We'd love to help you with that! Can you clarify where that fits with these other priorities?" But that usually comes after they've abandoned the original plan and are following the shiny new penny.

lauraclick
lauraclick

@EricaAllison @soulati Thanks for the shout out, Erica. I think consulting others and getting outside perspective is always a good idea (and not just because you called me!). Sometimes they see things that you don't.

And yes, setting expectations is important from the get-go. Your idea of a client profile is an awesome one! I might have to steal that! ;)

P.S. I'm still eager to hear how things turned out with YOUR client! You'll have to let me know!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@EricaAllison I've always believed the Jack Welch philosophy...10% of our clients SHOULD be fired every year. Maybe this client is in that 10%.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Leon I heard we received an email from you about a guest post! It sounds like you've been approved. :)

It's so important to do what you say while everyone is happy and excited about the new relationship and then holding everyone accountable. I always joke that my job these days is solely to hold our clients accountable. Gone are the days of doing my craft!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@3HatsComm A lot of times our point of contact is the CEO so my team wills say, "Can you call him/her?" And then I get to play the heavy...CEO to CEO.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Lisa Gerber That's the issue, I think...they think they're crossing it off their to-do list and leaving it in our hands.

bdorman264
bdorman264

@HowieG Hopefully the CFO is sitting in this meeting w/ you. If not, you don't always get the buy-in and it's never a good thing doing an end-around and telling the CEO the CFO is not doing their job......Sign now, the offer is only good until 2 pm and you can call me anything you want......but I still won't shave my legs.............just sayin'............

girlygrizzly
girlygrizzly

No! No, no, no!! I haven't wapped anyone in the head since...(no, that doesn't count....well, that was just a little one, well...since, Oh! no, no, well, no, sheesh!) ...for awhile! I'll hide!

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@ginidietrich @EricaAllison I am still unsure if Jack was brilliant or lucky. That 6 Sigma torched many customer relationships during implementation. I need an answer now on delivery of that product...sorry that team is in 6 Sigma training can they call you next week.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@bdorman264 I was teasing. My degree is in Finance. I tell the Ad people the CFO decides what get's allocated to the marketing budget and not the CMO who often can't prove ROI like all the other functions can. But seriously if you tell them you won't shave your legs I guarantee the contract will be signed.

RTRViews
RTRViews

@ginidietrich I seriously believe that your team is more important than your client. The team gets the job done for the client. Team first.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@girlygrizzly @ginidietrich why is there two choices for gini with 2 different avatars. Anyway jail food ain't so bad. Tattoos are cheap and usually you get at least one slice of bread and an apple at lunch which you can trade for cigarettes or someone's jello pudding at dinner. Not that I would know these things. It was @bdorman264 who told me about his experience in Tijuana back 89 I swear.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Why? Well, something kinda cool happened yesterday:  A question I asked on the Arment Dietrich’s Facebook Page was featured as the Facebook Question of the week.  If you aren’t familiar with AD’s blog, Spin Sucks, I suggest you add it to your daily reading.  And if you missed my F.B.Q.O.T.W., you can view it here. [...]

  2. [...] do you do?  Well, most will say FIRE the client but if that is not an option you could go with Gini Dietrich’s suggestion which is to outline your expectations of your client with them so they know what to expect and [...]

  3. [...] we work with difficult clients and it doesn’t always work-out, we feel [...]

  4. […] the age of the long tail, we talk a lot about focus. We fire clients who aren’t profitable, and are a drag on our time and resources. We narrow our target markets so we can be experts in one […]