Thursday, 2 September 2010

The nice things clients do

We all have favourite clients. And when you really like a client, you put in extra effort. You’ll stay late to finish a feature to make certain it hits deadline; you make sure the copy for an article is perfect; you think of them whenever an opportunity comes your way to get them extra coverage; you’ll brainstorm new ideas to get them better exposure; you point out details on their blog or website that could improve their positioning. It would be lovely to say we all do that for all our clients - but the truth is there are some that get special treatment.

A new client asked me recently in the pitch process what would make them an important client to us. I think they were expecting me to say the usual ‘we grow with your success’, ‘we value all our clients’ or even ‘increase your fee’. While I suppose those things do matter - cheesy as they sound - they’re not really what make a team go the extra mile for a client.

The beauty of having your own business is that you can choose your clients, and it really isn’t just the financial stuff that matters. Sometimes, it’s worth taking a hit and not working with a client you know is going to be a nightmare.  (I’ve worked with a few of those in the past, and I’m never doing it again, if I can possibly help it.) Some people don’t need to like their clients, and they’re luckier (and probably much richer) than I am, but to me, it matters to get on with someone you’re working with.

The things that make a client really important to me are:
  • I care about what they do. They don’t have to be earth shattering, just interesting.
  • I get on with them, and they’re decent people (I’d find it hard to work with someone who was racist, or homophobic, for example). I think it’s a fact of life that if we like someone, we do more for them, fee or no fee.
  • We can laugh together. That might be on a conference call, or over lunch, but a completely humourless client is very hard work.
  • You get the occasional ‘thank you’ when something’s worked really well. It goes such a long way - if you’ve slogged over something it matters that the client appreciates it. I know it’s what we get paid for, but we’re people, not machines.
  • They treat us like grown ups. They pay us for our skills, not for their ego. There’s nothing worse than giving your best advice for it to be ignored, or your best copy for it to be massacred, or your best ideas to be nicked and passed off by someone else. If they ask advice because they want it, and listen to it, and even act on it, it makes us much more likely to give it our best consideration.

It’s hard to know whether the relationship’s going to work at the pitch stage. I always think the best clients start with meetings that don’t involve creds presentations, or pitch ideas, but just a conversation. You get a feel for whether the relationship is going to work or not.

Maybe we should build some more ‘gut instinct’ stuff into the pitch process (maybe the lead qualification checklist should start with ‘can we spend time with them without wanting to self harm?’). Do others do this already? Does it matter if you like a client or not?