A Digital Marketing Agency Perspective: Working With New Clients

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The prospect of a new client can be incredibly exciting and important for a digital marketing agency.  Although our intentions are good, developing a relationship with a new client can be a tricky balancing act. You want to start building the foundation for the long-term, but you also need to make sure early on that you’ve got the right fit.

With small business clients, in particular, there’s always some negotiating between what they need and what they can afford. It’s challenging for agencies to define exactly what a new client requires and where to put your efforts, given time and budget constraints.  Unsure where to begin? It’s all about asking the right questions, and doing your research.

Let me take you through my personal process for qualifying prospective clients and how I determine what social platforms are best suited to them to maximize results.

Identifying the “Who”

Image by Scott Pacaldo
Image by Scott Pacaldo

Having a clear definition of your client’s audience is the first step towards establishing which social media platform(s) will be best for their needs.  To start a social media strategy without this information is similar to playing darts in the dark: you have no idea if anything is sticking, you have no clear target and you might get hurt in the process.

1) Who are you speaking to?

Businesses have a tendency to tell you, “We want to appeal to everyone!” but the truth is, you can’t and you shouldn’t. Get very clear and specific with exactly who you are speaking to. A great quote from author Sally Hogshead comes to mind: “If you’re speaking to everybody, you’re speaking to nobody”. You need to dig deep and get specific to understand your target audience, or you’re going to be aiming in the dark and never hitting the bulls-eye.

For example, men between 25-36 who live in Canada, is too vague. Who is this man? What does he like to do? Where does he go shopping? Is he single? Get as specific as possible to get clear on how best to speak to your audience.  Once you’ve defined the ‘who’ it makes the rest of your job a lot easier.

2) Ask the right questions.

You’ve defined ‘who’ you’re speaking to; now you need to ask your client the right questions, to make sure the ‘who’ really makes sense and will bring value to your marketing efforts.

a) Does the product/service match the target audience’s specific needs?

Does your target audience actually need the product or service your client is offering? You want to work with clients who are setting realistic goals and expectations, to ensure you can best do your job.

b)  Do you have the right market-audience fit?

For starters, can the target audience afford this client’s product/service? Great! But it’s not just about whether the target market does can afford it. Really think about whether they need it and are willing to pay for it.

c) Do I have enough information about this target audience?

Research is of the utmost importance. You want to make sure you know everything about your target audience. For a B2C audience (my speciality), it’s about where they shop, what they like, what brands they trust, what makes them laugh, what their pain points are, the list goes on. Developing your social media strategy, selecting your platforms and creating a voice for your client requires lots of information.

d) Who are the competitors? Who are they speaking to and how is my client differentiating their product/service?

What makes your client’s products/services different and unique? How will you help to set them apart?

e) What social platforms is this target audience using and how are they using them?

Just because Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram are the most popular social sites, (currently), that doesn’t mean those are the platforms you should necessarily be using to reach the target audience.

Goals and Managing Expectations

Image by Tom
Image by Tom

Like any new relationship, two people come into it with a unique set of expectations, that may or not be inline with each other. Managing your client’s expectations is an important part of the agency process and sometimes overlooked. Oftentimes, companies understand that they need social media, but they don’t truly understand what that means.

As a digital marketing professional, we’re ready to jump in with both feet and with the best of intentions, but with a lack of understanding between agency and client, your work can end up being for nothing, if you’re not both on the same page. Establishing your client’s expectations, and ensuring they are realistic and measurable is an important part in creating a great working relationship and driving results that matter to your client.

So how do you begin this process? You need to start by asking the right questions.  It’s not always all about the followers.

What are my client’s goals?

  • To drive traffic to the website?
  • To increase awareness?
  • To improve customer service?
  • To get as many Facebook likes as possible?

You must have a clear understanding of the real goals and intentions of your client. Asking the right questions at the beginning will help you to define where you should focus your efforts and how best to utilize your budget and resources.  I’ve had situations where a client tells me that they want to get followers on Twitter and that’s their main goal, but after qualifying them, I quickly realize that although those numbers are relevant to them, what is most important is driving sales on their website. Establishing these goals ensures that you’re positioning your client properly online and helps you develop a targeted strategy that will give them the ROI (Return On Investment) they’re really looking for.

The Team

Image by Jon Wiechecki
Image by Jon Wiechecki

In addition to the client’s goals and expectations, you’ll need to have a sense of what resources you have available to you for the project at hand.  In order to determine what work needs to be done and what can be done, you need to consider who you’ll be working with, what will be provided to you and who will be responsible for what.  Make sure to get the answers to these questions before getting started:

Who (if anyone) is currently managing your company’s social media efforts and will they continue to be a part of the daily execution?

When you’re planning a social media strategy for a client, you’ll need to have a sense of who will be handling what. If there are internal employees who will be available to help with execution, you need to incorporate them into your planning process. Once you know all the players, Hootsuite can help you collaborate as a team.

Once you have role clarity, you’ll also need to make sure everyone is properly trained. Does the team have the skills to handle the upcoming strategy?

As important as it is to know if there will be others working on the overall success of the social media strategy, you need to understand their skill level. It may be a matter of training, or perhaps they won’t have the experience needed to execute at the right level. Ensure you understand who you’ll be working with, what they’re good at and what their weaknesses are.

How many hours per week will your company’s team be able to dedicate to social media?

This will help you to determine where your agency fits in and what is needed in terms of dedicated hours, for social media success.

Will our agency be responsible for creating and developing content, or will this be handled internally?

Social media is about telling stories for specific platforms. Instagram is all about beautiful images; Vine is a place for video. Is there someone internally who can get you the quality content that you need, or will you be responsible for generating this?

Now that you know what you’re working with in terms of resources, target market, and the client expectation, you can start thinking about which platforms will be best suited to your client’s specific needs.

Which Platforms Should I use?

Image by  Alejandro Escamilla
Image by Alejandro Escamilla

Understanding the digital space is of the utmost importance. Social media and digital marketing are constantly changing and evolving, as we know. The way we’re using Facebook and Twitter has changed significantly in the past few years and will continue to change. It’s important that you’re active on all current platforms and that you have a clear understanding of the latest trends in order to make the best use of your time. When trying to determine which platforms to use for your client, you must understand their goals, target audience, budget and resources for generating content. Without this information you cannot make the right choice.

For example, if my client had 30-35-year-old females as their target audience, a moderate to high budget to produce beautiful product and lifestyle photography, and their goal was to sell products and increase sales online within this market, I would choose Pinterest as one of my main social platforms. I would recommend using Instagram and twitter as tools to refer business to the client’s website and include advertising budget for Facebook boosted posts and page ads. However if the target audience were teenage boys, I would most certainly not recommend Pinterest as a platform of focus (very few, statistically are using the site). I would suggest Snapchat, Tumblr or Facebook as alternatives. How I decided to use each of those platforms would depend on my client’s goals, budget and resources.

Research is readily available about which demographics are using each of the popular social platforms and how, but that information is constantly changing and evolving. Keep checking the Hootsuite Blog for great information on the latest trends and statistics.

Now you know what the client needs; you have a good idea what they need to achieve success. Now there is only one question left to ask. That’s right, money.

What is the budget?

Image by Alan Alfaro
Image by Alan Alfaro

The elephant in the room is always money. It’s a very common thought in business, that divulging your budget is a foolish move and one that will result in getting taken advantage of. Despite this belief, one of the first questions I always ask, and one that almost always gets avoided by my clients, is “what is your budget”. It’s a common scenario that I’m sure you’ve seen before. You ask the prospective client for their budget, they look at you blankly, tell you they are looking to you for guidance, you then stare back blankly, blindly put together a proposal that inevitably gets rejected as it’s ‘not within’ their budget’.  Qualifying your client early on is crucial before you can identify whether or not it makes sense to work together. So how can you get this information from them?

Once you’ve asked them about their goals, target audience and available resources, you should have a good sense of the amount of work that’s going to be involved in a successful social media strategy. At this time, I suggest giving them a ballpark range of the cost of your services and ask them if this is within the range they are looking to dedicate to their marketing efforts.

“Based on the information you’ve given me about your target market, your goals and available resources, I now have a good sense of what will be required for social media success. More research and planning will be needed, but based on your unique situation, you’re looking at between X and X dollars to work with our agency. Is this within the range you were thinking?”

If they’re comfortable with the price you’ve mentioned, you’re ready to move forward. If they’re uncomfortable, they’ll usually let you know at this time. I have found that this approach usually works to get the information you need. There is no sense in wasting time putting together a proposal for someone who cannot afford your services or who is not ready to put in the work required for success.

When to walk away

Image by Rocky Lubbers
Image by Rocky Lubbers

I’ve taken on clients in the past that had a very small budget and high expectations. I either ended up not achieving the desired results for the client or ended up putting in countless additional hours (for free) to reach the client’s goals. In the long run, this was a hard lesson to learn as the client devalued my work and what was involved for success and I ended up making no money.

From time to time, you’ll get a gut feeling that something just isn’t quite right. As important as it is for companies to find the marketing agency that’s the best fit for them, it’s equally important that we, the agencies, find clients that are the right fit for us.  Working with a client that isn’t ready for the level of work required for success is just going to hurt you and potentially your business. Our instincts tell us to “say yes” to business and not turn away from a new opportunity, but it’s not always the right choice.  Pay attention to those feelings and listen to them. If something doesn’t make sense for you, don’t be afraid to say no thank you and walk away.

What challenges do you face as a digital marketing agency? I would love to hear your questions and comments below!