There’s often a disconnect that happens between agencies and clients.  We’ve seen it happen more than once.  And that disconnect often leads to disappointment, dashed expectations, and yes, sometimes even drama.

In my experience, this happens because of a communication breakdown.

And I’ll admit, it happened to me.  I went from working as a sales manager to a job as a marketing manager at a time when digital strategy wasn’t really being discussed in my workplace.  It took some trial and error for me to get up to speed on digital; fortunately I was working with some really great (and patient) agencies.

What causes frustration in the agency/client relationship?  And what can you do about it?  It’s not always easy to pinpoint, but here’s my two cents:

The Puzzle (and It’s Pieces) Are Not Obvious

When first entering the digital marketing landscape, many companies know that they need a website and a Facebook page.  Should be easy, right?  But what they don’t realize is that successful websites are constantly being tweaked for search and user navigation (at the very least).  Not to mention that there’s a lot of work that needs to happen under the hood to make that pretty website functional and findable.

On the flip side, we’ve had clients tell us that they want their site to rank for certain keywords.  Yet they couldn’t understand why we needed to change their content to help with the rankings.

A good rule of thumb, I believe, is that you can never give a client too much explanation.  Go through your proposal with clients and explain what you’re planning to do, why you’re doing it, and how you’ll both be responsible for execution.  Use charts, illustrations, slide decks – whatever it takes to communicate the value of each part of the strategy.  If you can help clients understand how each piece of the strategy impacts other initiatives you’re proposing, you’ll have a much happier client (and a greater chance for a successful project).

“What Does API Mean?”

There’s a lot of webby tech-speak that many marketing managers just don’t use in their daily work life.  Seriously – how often does the phrase “put the notifications in an xml feed and then parse them in a local notifications loop” cross the average marketing manager’s lips?  So when agencies start spouting off about native applications and QR codes, chances are good that a bit more explanation of what these things are is crucial.  Or at least an explanation of what they’ll ultimately do and why they are important.

Stop and think like your client.  Speak in terms that will paint a picture for those who are deciding whether or not to work with you.  Be aware, look for clues that clients might not be grasping what you’re saying, and adjust.

Heck, I think you should even include a glossary in your proposal or contract.  What can it hurt?

Clients Don’t Know What They Don’t Know (And Don’t Want to Admit It)

It’s such a change in mindset for some companies to start building a digital presence.  So much so, that it often doesn’t occur to clients to strategize with their digital agency on how they can marry digital with their tried-and-true traditional tactics.  This can often create a lack of consistency, a disconnect in strategy, and can lead to frustration for everyone.

So, tell your clients from the very start that you will help them build digital strategy into their marketing plan.  Don’t assume that they will know to consult with you.  Be proactive and offer to help.

Plus, no one really likes to admit that they don’t understand certain initiatives or strategies.  Clients may say that they understand what the digital strategy you’re proposing means when they really don’t.

So agencies, it’s up to us.  If you want to avoid a bunch of mid-project changes or ‘a-ha’ moments, you should do your very best to educate clients from the proposal stage.  Maybe it will even spare you from venting on Clients from Hell.  And once work begins, there’s a whole other set of guidelines agencies and clients should keep in mind for success.

In your experience, what else can cause frustration in agency/client relationships?