Managing Client Expectations: A Guide For Agencies
A friend recently broke up with her boyfriend. It was a short lived romance. You know the kind, it starts with a rush of excitement, followed by the first sign of differences beyond repair. You have a creeping suspicion that maybe it won’t work out or maybe you just know it. Eventually something happens. And seemingly, overnight, the whole thing implodes like a black hole and sucks up your emotional availability until further notice. I’ve thought for many years that the source of most conflict is a break in expectations. One person expects one thing the other expects something else than both of them are disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Yes, complete opposition is possible. But it’s incredibly unlikely. Chances are their expectations that haven’t been met in the conflict remains unaddressed and unresolved. Leaving the situation to fester or resolve itself on its own is not a solution. In fact, it’s the road to a dysfunctional relationship. While client relationships don’t have the emotional weight of a romance, they still come with loads of financial career and mental health implications. Managing client relationships Then, can mean the difference between a deeply satisfied referral happy, profitable lifelong client, and one who is well, the opposite of those things. In today’s episode of the serve, don’t sell podcast, I’ll be covering what it means to manage expectations. Well, why it’s so important to manage expectations, where they come from the types of expectations you can set, and how to set boundaries early and often. Welcome to the surf don’t sell podcast, a show about revenue strategies for creative firms, consultants and independent experts, because your expertise won’t sell itself. I’m your host, Liston Witherill. And I’m on a mission to make 100 million people, world class ethical communicators, because the world needs more good people. Yes, even in business. If you like what you hear, sign up for my email newsletter at serb don’t sell.com. And you’ll immediately get my top 10 podcast episodes and articles right when you sign up. Now to the show. Let’s start with what it means to manage expectations. Well, the problem with managing expectations in your client relationships is that clients don’t necessarily know what they expect. You have some control over that. But the thing you can really control is knowing what you expect of yourself and of your client being clear about it and drawing a firm boundary. Now back to the issue at hand. I think about expectations is falling on a spectrum between known and unknown. That much is obvious. If you ask a two year old why she’s crying, you might be surprised to receive an articulate rational answer to the question. I know I would. And yet despite having a fully developed prefrontal cortex, many adults have the same limitations in certain situations. It’s not a judgment, just an observation about human behavior. That’s why I think expectations all fall on a spectrum. And by the way, if you want to see a graphic about this, make sure you click the link to the original article in the show notes to check it out on my website. The spectrum of expectations is all about clarity, and it has three opposing forces spoken versus unspoken expectations, what’s been explicitly talked about and agreed to, versus hidden expectations that haven’t been verbalized. Number two, active versus dormant expectations. Sometimes situations trigger new things that were previously unforeseen, whatever expectations are formed as a result, they were already there, they were just dormant at the time. And number three, known versus unknown. Sometimes people just plain don’t know what they expect. And they’ll need help in understanding and surfacing those expectations. These three opposing views of expectations begin to lay the groundwork of how to better manage your client. Before we go there, though, let’s talk about why it’s so important in the first place. If you’re interested in what I’m saying here on the podcast, then you’ve certainly experienced the difficulties that unmet expectations can create. Perhaps the client was disappointed despite your best efforts, perhaps a project was more difficult than it needed to be, or even a disaster. Either way, you’re in the client service business. And life is a whole lot better when there’s a healthy working relationship built on mutual respect. setting and meeting expectations builds trust and understanding. underpinning my view of expectations is the broader requirement of trust. Build it, keep it strengthen it. It’s a key ingredient all through your business. Your sales process is more efficient when expectations are clear. It’s easier to navigate your full process reach an agreement a whole lot faster. And you may not need a negotiation strategy
because there Maybe no need for negotiation. If you don’t have a sales process now, make sure you check out my serve down sell method to see how important communication is throughout projects will be more profitable. There are a lot of factors that influence project profitability. A big one is the ease of working with the client, and the clarity of communication throughout. Another important factor is how the project was priced upfront. If you use value based pricing or some version of it, then you’re more likely to keep your projects profitable. Projects move faster, the less revisions changes and misunderstandings, the faster your projects move. Some of this can be controlled through scope, pricing, and packaging, all of which are important tools in setting client expectations, time and effort become less important than results. This is a big one for me. It is dependent on your business and pricing models. But I prefer to sell results as opposed to inputs or outputs. Some clients may have the opposite expectation, which may require proactive correction on your part. A value based sales process can help your client focus on results. And so can the expectations you set along the journey from marketing, to sales and through to delivery. Now let’s look at where expectations come from. If you understand nothing else from this episode, understand this, you’re not the sole source of how clients form their expectations. clients will have existing expectations and new ones once they enter a conversation with you, let alone begin working with you. Existing expectations come from market norms, previous experience, personal preference and company culture. Like it or not, clients will hold you to the same standards they have of other firms in your category. A stronger positioning strategy can do a lot of heavy lifting to escape this unfair comparison. For instance, a prospective client may expect you to deliver your work or bill a certain way based on their understanding of the market. Show them why you don’t do it that way. Then there’s the issue of personality types and company culture. Is your client the impatient type? Does your client work in an environment where they’re expected to respond to emails in one hour? Well, if so, they might extend the same courtesy to you. I’m being sarcastic, of course, tell them you won’t comply and why. Now the things you can control your firm sets expectations and the way you market sell and deliver your services. I’m not a fan of TV personality, Dr. Phil, but I do wholeheartedly agree with this statement. You teach people how to treat you. What you allow, what you don’t allow, and the behaviors you reinforce, will make up the collective set of expectations you have control over. Keep in mind that the expectations you set will have a huge influence on your business development strategy. Because the likelihood of referrals and especially good referrals to the right people is impacted by your ability to deliver value. And of course, your ability to deliver value is impacted by what your clients expect of you. Here’s the big idea. Focus on what you can control and let go of what you can’t. For what it’s worth. This is a life lesson we’ll all be practicing for the remainder of our lives. Me included in maybe most of all types of expectations you can set. You have no control over the expectations your clients bring to you and your firm, you have plenty of control in how you modulate those expectations and set new ones. Here’s a partial list to get you going. results you can provide in the range of results that are likely communication styles, including how you’ll communicate, how often typical response times point of contact and your preferred channels. For instance, my communication style largely depends on lists if you ever email with me, management styles and processes to run your engagements, decision making requirements for who will be involved deadlines and styles of decision making like will your client be making unilateral decisions? Or do they expect you to make unilateral decisions? Do they make consensus driven decisions, who’s involved in those start and end dates for the project timing of deliverables and project duration, access your client will have to your firm and to whom And finally, payment and requirements all of which should be in writing and delivered to your client in the form of a contract that they’ll sign. Of course, there are many more types of expectations you can set and manage, but this is a good place to start. Now let’s talk about how to set boundaries early and often. This is the tough love portion of the podcast. You only have control over yourself and your firm
and the ultimate way to exercise control. To draw and stick to permanent and unchanging boundaries in your client relationships, let me get this part out of the way, bad clients should be avoided at all costs. One of the easiest ways to avoid shitty clients is to have an abundance of opportunity, so that any client who can’t get with the program is shown the door ideally, early in the sales process before you go to the trouble of writing a proposal, or God forbid, letting them sign one. This is where pattern matching experience and Moxie all play a role. pattern matching is about your ability to identify good and bad clients and turn your three and four star clients into five star clients. You can identify difficult people and projects based on subtle cues and obvious red flags during the sales process. Call out what you see and dismiss anyone who’s non compliant by choice or predisposition. Experience allows you to collect all of the unspoken dormant and unknown expectations clients may have and address them directly. I’ve provided many different ideas here to get you started, but your specific situation will have its own demands. And I know I’m covering a lot in this episode, so feel free, click the link in the show notes to grab the article and start building out your list of expectations you want to set. Moxie helps a lot in setting and controlling expectations. But it is a little less transferable outside of having an abundance of opportunity. Meaning you care less if you turn anyone away. If you have more people than you can service, people scoring high in agreeableness on the Big Five personality test will generally have a harder time setting and sticking to boundaries. I’m not one of those people, I score in the 40th percentile in agreeableness, making me quote critical and aggressive. As Lady Gaga says, I was born this way, my wife can confirm this assessment. You can see my full personality test scores in the article linked in the show notes if you want to take a look. And another note on this. If you’re not someone who has the Moxie, or the criticality and aggression, to tell people no or draw boundaries, let someone else do it. But whatever your disposition, it’s certain that you need at least a little bit of swagger to set and stick to boundaries. For instance, I won’t respond to client messages on the weekend under any circumstance. If it’s that much of an emergency. It’s a reflection of their poor planning, not the necessity of my involvement. I work on important and non urgent priorities. I’m not in the emergency response business. If you have similar boundaries, say what they are and have the hutzpah to stick to them. The time to set and manage expectations is always now later and repeatedly. The point here isn’t to hand over a giant list to your client and say this is how I want you to treat me. Instead, cascade your expectation setting and management from your biggest to smallest issues and get the deal breakers out of the way right up front. More important when you see a red flag, address it directly or just walk away if it’s too big. And now the how part use car car to set expectations. Clarify, agree and reinforce Andrew Sykes of habits at work proposed a model of expectations based on the five W’s who, what, where, when, why and how I recommend the same thing. But the car model goes a step further, requiring you to secure agreement, then consistently reinforce it. So step one, clarify, tell your client what your full expectations are, or help them clarify yours and make sure that you understand number two, agree, get verbal agreement from your client to trigger the consistency principle. All that means is people tend to remain consistent with their prior actions, statements and commitment. So if you ask someone, do you agree to what I just said? And they say yes, they’re going to be likely to follow through on that commitment. And number three, reinforce, strengthen and support boundaries through positive reinforcement. Give them praise when they honor a boundary and remain committed to your boundaries when one is broken. In conclusion, I just want to say that improving the quality of how you and your agency manage client expectations can have a huge impact on your entire business. It’ll make you happier, it’ll make your client work more enjoyable. And it starts with a commitment to yourself and to your clients. Then taking the time to follow through on the expectations you have. In order to better set expectations with clients do this next, make a list of the spoken and unspoken expectations that your clients are likely to have and that you have,
then have a process for when you’ll introduce Which expectations, marketing sales delivery client management, and then apply the car model car. Clarify, agree and reinforce the next time you set expectations with your clients. As with everything I do at serve, don’t sell. I’m secretly attempting to make you a better communicator in all aspects of your life, not just in business. It just so happens a better communication also makes you more money. So here’s what I want you to do today. When you’re talking to a family member or your spouse, or your children, or whomever else, try the car model. When you do write me and tell me how it goes. That’s it for today’s episode of the serve, don’t sell podcast. Once again, I’m your host, Liston Witherill. And if you want to improve revenue strategies at your firm or in your solo practice, head over to serve, don’t sell calm, to sign up for my email newsletter, and get my top 10 podcast episodes and articles when you sign up. No matter what you do. I hope you keep going and I hope you have a wonderful day.