6 Agency Pros on the Secret to Effective Client Relationship Management
One thing that can unite any agency professional is a story about a client who may have been a bit, well, misguided. Maybe the client had limited social media experience or wasn’t clear on what results to expect. Or maybe the client’s overarching charge was just “make it go viral!”

Handling these requests in a way that strengthens rather than damages the agency-client relationship is paramount to success, and saying “no” requires a tactful approach—one that makes the client feel both heard and happy.

To get a better sense of the skills and strategies that go into effective client relationship management, we asked six agency leaders to share their insights. They are:

6 Agency Pros on the Secret to Effective Client Relationship Management

Setting Strategy While Managing Client Expectations

The first step in client relationship management is understanding why an organization needs you. Every agency takes a different approach to bringing new business into the fold, but it all begins with assessing the brand’s current social media status and then outlining broader objectives.

“Everything has to start with business and marketing goals,” Schnitzler, of S3, said. “We have to ask the right questions of our clients, and those questions completely depend on who the client is, what they’re selling, who they’re selling it to, what those consumers want and need.”

“Everything has to start with business and marketing goals.”
—Adam Schnitzler, Chief Creative Officer at The S3 Agency

Teaching the Total Newbies

Most brands come in with at least some understanding of how businesses should be using social. Others may just be coming around to it and will need a little extra TLC and education in their onboarding.

“Taking on a client with low social media knowledge means beginning with education on the importance of social media for their overall marketing strategy,” Fisk, of boogie, said. “Most clients who have an apparent lack of knowledge or understanding of social media recognize that their social strategy is lacking but don’t understand why it is or how to improve upon it.”

Once you have proved how social media and marketing connect, it’s time to get your client up to speed on what platforms make sense for the brand. Svendsen said that Speak Creative often provides tutorials to guide scheduling and sharing. If clients are empowered to find their own content, they will gain a sense of what it takes to manage these channels themselves.

Data and Diligence Go a Long Way

Still, some clients may want your agency to work miracles. Garcia said data is a powerful tool for managing client expectations. In fact, Red Bamboo maintains scorecards of metrics, so its check-ins involve “looking at baselines, applying benchmarks and measuring social KPIs monthly or quarterly,” she said.

Others agreed that the right attitude goes a long way.

“Being honest and transparent is the key,” said Joshua, of The Silver Telegram, adding that being extra thorough is usually worth the time. “I just think of my parents and how detailed my phone explanation would have to be for them.”

“Being honest and transparent is the key.”
—Ronjini Joshua, President and Owner of The Silver Telegram


How to Say No to Clients

It’s one of the most uncomfortable situations you’ll find in a client meeting: They’ve asked your team to do something that, for whatever reason, just isn’t the best course of action. What do you do? How do you tell them no without jeopardizing the relationship?

Our experts were uniform in their approach to this delicate task. All of them emphasized the need to cushion a “no” with both an explanation and an alternative:

  • “The best way to say no to a client is to offer a better solution.”
    —Kindra Svendsen
  • “I don’t think we ever say no outright…I’m all about solving problems, so instead of just saying a ‘no,’ we always offer an alternative that will be more in line and meet the goals they are looking to achieve.”
    —Ronjini Joshua
  • “Create a compelling and rational argument that details the reasoning behind why, in your expert opinion, the outcome of the ask would impede on achieving the agreed-upon goals clearly outlined by the client.”
    —Casey Fisk
  • “The compliment sandwich: ‘Mr./Ms. Customer, I see where you are coming from, good idea…I think the best and most efficient strategy right now is X; let’s put our emphasis in this area first, see results and then layer in other ideas.’”
    —Jennifer Garcia
  • “Explain why we recommend that and remind them that our recommendations are rooted in best practices and our experience with similar brands/companies.”
    —Laura Knapp
  • “It’s our job to let them know that, in our experience, what they’re asking us to do isn’t going to be effective. Then, we’ll provide alternative solutions, because you’re not really helping just by saying no and stopping there.”
    —Adam Schnitzler

Whatever the solution, be sure to provide as much hard evidence as you can for why it’s a better choice. The client may have hired you for your knowledge, but having numbers to back up your experience can go a long way in persuading them to see your point of view.

Answering ‘Make It Go Viral’

Yes, from time to time, this is still something that clients bring to agencies as a main goal.

“The whole idea of something going viral is not really an exact science,” Joshua said. “We inform the client that content and creativity is key; it may not always be the thing we expect that goes viral.”

Svendsen agreed that resetting expectations often comes into play with these requests.

“When we’ve had clients talk about going viral, we like to reset their expectations and get to the goal and purpose of their desire to go viral,” she said.

Getting to the heart of why a client wants a piece of viral content can yield a product that’s more successful in achieving their goals. To that end, Schnitzler encourages clients to be more original and daring.

“That’s not always compatible with what they see as their brand image or even their best interests,” he said. “It’s almost never compatible with their taste for taking chances. Doing something original means taking a chance that it will fail, and if the client is too risk averse to try, well, as Wayne Gretzky said, ‘You miss 100% of the shots you never take.’”

Fisk said distilling the source of viral successes into a few recognizable traits can help explain the fad to clients but also have a positive effect on the business’ overall presence.

“What distinguishes viral content is that it contains at least one element of universal, relatable appeal, whether it be its ability to shock, awe, enrage or uplift,” she said. “‘Going viral’ is a fickle thing, but a surefire way to increase your content’s ‘virality’ is to consistently produce quality, engaging content that has at least one viral element to it.”

“What distinguishes viral content is that it contains at least one element of universal, relatable appeal…to shock, awe, enrage or uplift.”
—Casey Fisk, Content Strategist at boogie

Being Flexible with Clients

Despite your best efforts and advice, remember that agencies are still beholden to the old adage of “the customer is always right.”

“Assuming it’s nothing immoral, illegal or dangerous, we let them know that it is their money, and ultimately, we’ll do our best to make it work for them,” Schnitzler said.

Knapp seconded that philosophy: “If they still want things their way and don’t agree with our recommendation for whatever reason, we will do as we are asked because, after all, they are our client.”

Follow-up is Key to Client Relationship Management

Smart agencies know that maintaining the strategy for an ongoing client will require some tweaks and adjustments over time, especially for clients who may not have the most experience with social.

“Continued success for clients on social means constantly re-evaluating, revising and improving your social strategy to adopt new apps and technology available, adapt to changing algorithms and capitalize on relevant emerging trends,” Fisk said. “The most solid social strategies are actually successful because they are malleable.”