Understanding and Achieving Your Client’s Goals

I recently was asked by an agency advisory client to help them understand why the majority of their clients did not renew their projects with them.

My first question was, have you asked them? Surprisingly they did, and the answer was, “you are not meeting our needs.”

My second, has anyone tried to reconcile this answer? Did you review what was delivered vs. the expectations? The answer was no, that “we did all of the actions they paid for, so we are confused as to why they were not happy.”

That is often the disconnect for many agencies and consultants and their clients. They view their efforts as “monetary value,” where the customer pays for knowledge and activities that they believe are more valuable than spending that money on other activities. It is a simple transaction. What is often not realized is while the client agrees to the details of the project, they almost always do so, assuming it will help them meet or exceed their actual goals. Unfortunately, it is these expectations or perceptions that are not often provided to the agency. 

I learned the concept of “Economic Value” when I was young. My father had a side business welding metal strips on plow blades for farmers to make money for his hobby of restoring old trucks. I told him once it seemed like he was paid a lot for a relatively simple task. He told me that the farmer was willing to pay him for this service since it extended the life of the equipment, which was far more expensive to replace. So the perceived value of this service to the farmer was far more valuable than the monetary value.

Shortly after being acquired, I was in a critical pitch meeting with our parent company for Agency of Record for a Fortune 50 brand. The client’s executive leading the pitch team wanted to improve overall marketing and advertising performance, so she gave specific criteria for success they required from their agency partners. She also provided four key targets, including revenue, CRM leads, ROAS, and expense-to-revenue targets. Our pitch team clearly understood these goals as they took the time to put those target numbers in large font on a board in the front of the room. Over the next 8 hours, more than 30 people went to the podium, explaining how the agency team was the best solution, and showcased previous work and other grand pontifications. It was odd that no one addressed these numbers or how their solution would meet the change and performance requirements. 

My presentation was last and given 10 mins due to the need for getting to the wining and dining part of the pitch. I jumped over all of the what we do filler to the last five slides. The first was their goals, the second and third were data that supported that an organic search program could reach a contributing share of those numbers, and the last two were how we were going to do it and what we needed from them to achieve it. The Senior VP thanked me and commented that at least one person understood why we were here today. In the end, the agency lost the business, but we did gain them as a client and kept them for over ten years.

In SEO, most projects start with a detailed technical audit, followed by some form of keyword research and then a content audit. This typically takes the first quarter’s budget, meaning results may take another quarter or two to be realized. An agency recently bragged their audit process resulted in over 500 tickets being added for IT. During this first quarter, the client still has goals to meet, and since all the work is being done on the discovery, few efforts are made to increase traffic, leads, and sales. If you add that IT has its own goals and resource requirements, it is challenging for IT to resolve that avalanche of tickets. You also need to hope you are not going into a seasonal or migration code freeze, as that adds a new level of challenges.

You must understand and articulate how your activities will contribute to the client’s actual goals. Many projects have been derailed due to misaligned goals. Yes, you need to do various audits to identify the problems, but you also need to understand the current goals and ensure some of your actions can help move the performance needle quickly.  It is critical that your efforts can demonstrate a real contribution to sales or lead generation. 

A recommendation I give to my advisory companies is during your audits, look for low-hanging fruit where you can make quick changes that increase traffic or sales and gets some quick wins immediately after you are engaged.  Optimizing SERP snippets to increase clicks or ensuring the best landing page is the one ranking. We once got a significant win when we found a PDF ranking for a product and when we swapped it for the actual product page, the client generated $30k in revenue and saved $10k in paid search in the first month. This bought us a lot of goodwill to do more administrative work like audits that generate the tasks that ultimately result in the desired performance improvements.

I also recommend looking at the current client sprints to see if they can action SEO tasks during current or upcoming sprints and now waiting for a dedicated sprint. If they are editing a template for a conversion optimization test, this is where you can get them to make speed improvements. Also, ensure all of your recommendations are crystal clear with valid references and, if possible bit sized chunks so that the team does not get overwhelmed with the scope and push to a later sprint.

Interestingly, I posted an abbreviated version of this post on Linkedin, and the two responses I received both suggested ensuring clear goals and not engaging the client if the client’s goals and your services were misaligned. While I agree it is better not to take on a client with that you don’t have alignment, and the best part of that method means you do have a solid understanding of their goals. However, the point of the post is what happens when at the end of the contract, you find you were not actually aligned?

Do you have any additional tips or experiences with mismatched client expectations and deliverables?