With Clients, You Must Sometimes Be Cruel to Be Kind

With Clients, You Must Sometimes Be Cruel to Be Kind image shiny 300x2323shinyI recently worked on a client’s blog post that discussed how an IT project can easily stray far from its original problem statement as it moves through an RFP process and the creation of a statement of work to the point where it finally reaches the implementation stage. What seemed obvious at the outset sometimes gets lost in process and procedure and in the desire of any external vendor to protect its own interests.

Does this sound familiar?

The thing is, it can happen just as easily in any kind of marketing campaign or content-development project. Initial planning sessions must address a variety of considerations: the audiences to target, key themes and messages to be conveyed to those audiences, the channels through which those themes and messages will be disseminated, and, lastly, what metrics will be applied to measure success.

All of which provides ample opportunity for the best laid plans to skid off of the rails. It can be a form of Broken Telephone, in which what began as a clear game plan becomes warped into something that is barely recognizable at the end.

There are countless reasons for this. A significant one is senior executives who suffer from what has been referred to as a “shiny object syndrome” – they abruptly change course after the marketing ship has already left port.

As Francis has written in a past post:

“I’m not saying that course corrections aren’t in order as market winds buffet and blow. But in the main, once a strategy has been properly developed, persistent and steady adherence to the objectives, messaging and tactics it sets out is essential if the company is to arrive at its desired destination — more leads, higher sales and improved revenue and profit.”

As a content developer, I often end up at loggerheads with a client (usually a senior executive) who agreed in a verbal briefing on telling a certain story and in telling that story in a certain way. We’ve discussed the message they want to convey and to whom. But when they see that particular vision realized in the Word doc before them, they ask for wholesale revisions that contradict what we had discussed. I sometimes wonder if I am now in fact dealing with some duplicate of my client who has slipped in from a parallel dimension through a crack in the space-time continuum.

Now in any creative process, there is merit in sober second thought. And sometimes, there is no better way to clarify a thought process than by having words on a screen that serve as fodder for a straw-man exercise.

But this is a process that should be carried out before your marketing resources have put time and effort into creating polished content for your review. More often than not, I find that marketing content is eroded by second guesses and a design-by-committee approach involving too many managers and other stakeholders, which only serves to dilute its original crispness and clarity.

The most common example of this marketing sin comes when executives and managers bring too much of their own agendas to the table. They need to consider what is relevant to their target audiences – what excites them, entices them and hits them where it hurts. The conversation about the company, its products or its services that is carried out through the marketing content should only focus on these audience priorities. Too often, executives and managers will attempt to shoehorn in tangential information that is shamelessly self-promotional or self-congratulatory and adds no value to the target audience.

The result is marketing content that has opposite its intended effect: it is too long and verbose to hold readers’ attention, or the meaty good stuff that would have has been edited out in favour of vacuous fluff.

I once worked with a wise woman who said, “The customer is always right. But these aren’t customers, they’re clients.”

In other words, as a consultant or pen for hire, you’re not doing your clients any favours by telling them what they want to hear. This is a collaborative process that demands some measure of compromise. On the other hand, to serve your client’s best interests, you have to have the grit to dig in your heels and staunchly defend your position on the grounds that it is ultimately in the their best interests, even if they don’t immediately see it that way.

It’s easy to say “yes” to your client, submit the invoices and cash the cheques. But to provide real value and earn their respect and long-term patronage, you have to focus on what will drive the strongest return on their marketing investment. Sometimes that means, politely, but firmly, quashing that eureka marketing moment they had in the shower this morning.

Image: The Parm Farm

Francis Moran and Associates is an associated team of seasoned practitioners of a number of different marketing disciplines, all of whom share a passion for technology and a proven record of driving revenue growth in markets across the globe. We work with B2B technology companies of all sizes and at every life stage and can engage as individuals or as a full team to provide quick counsel, a complete marketing strategy or the ongoing hands-on input of a virtual chief marketing officer. 

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