Stop Working with Difficult Clients: 10 Questions for Prospective Clients

Stop Working with Difficult Clients: 10 Questions for Prospective Clients

Last updated on by Twila Liggitt in Marketing Agency Tips


Prospective clients are constantly asking questions to you the digital marketer to determine if they should work with you. However, it’s just as important to identify ahead of time if the client will be a good fit for your agency.

Much like dating, it is necessary to have the right answers to client questions. It’s also up to you to ask the client the most important questions to understand their business before agreeing to partner with them.

Most agencies have dealt with difficult clients, and it’s not an enjoyable experience for either the agency or client. To help avoid uncomfortable scenarios, it’s your job to ask the right exploratory questions, receive detailed answers, and ensure that both the relationship and subsequent campaigns can be effective.

Before you dive into interviewing prospective clients, it’s imperative that you have a few things well defined for your agency to set yourself up for success.

Have clear declared agency values.

Knowing your values and having them stated will help the client understand if they align well with you on that front. Buffer, although not an agency, is an excellent example of this with their 10 core values.

prospective client Buffer

Buffer shared their rationale behind building a strong foundation of values: “Your values tell the world what you’re about. They give your employees a reason for what they do — and your customers a reason to cheer for you.”

Have defined buyer personas.

Knowing who you work best with will help you identify the right client fit right from the start. If you primarily work with luxury B2C brands, chances are you’ll struggle to produce positive results for a B2B enterprise client.

Often agencies will make the mistake of being generalists, but it’s important to clarify what the ideal client looks like for your agency to market to and sign them. Demonstrating industry knowledge and expertise will help ease the client’s concerns and help build trust over time.

Make the “why us” (or “why not us”) be very clear

What makes your agency an excellent choice and all relevant experience should be spelled out on your website. Include the background of your team, the type of work you have done, any proof points such as case studies and testimonials, and any articles, blog posts, podcasts, and webcasts.

Bluleadz does an excellent job of outlining who they are and why some prospective clients may not want to work with them. They understand the importance of good client/agency fit and aren’t willing to compromise:

prospective clients bluleadz questions

Once you’ve defined who you are, who your ideal client is, and clarified points that may be roadblocks, then you can dive into researching everything about the prospective client before your initial meeting. Some necessary preliminary information to review before meeting with a prospective client includes:

The more you know about the prospective client, the better service you can provide them. Be diligent and dig as deep as possible both before and during the initial meeting.

The 10 most important questions to ask prospective clients during the discovery meeting

1. What are your objectives/goals?

There are a lot of different elements that go into a business’ overall success. Having an understanding of what the prospective client is focusing on will help you understand what their expectations are and how they define success.

Are they primarily focused on rankings, conversion, traffic, or brand awareness? Defining the scope of work right up front will play into how you quote them in your proposal as well as define KPIs, and what success looks like. When a client and agency aren’t aligned on these metrics, the relationship often struggles to succeed.

2. What’s your budget?

While talking money right off the bat isn’t always the most fun way to begin a potential relationship, it’s also one of the key indicators of success. Leading with this question once you have an understanding of the client’s goals/objectives will give you a good idea of how realistic the prospective client’s expectations are.

Many clients will throw the question back at you by asking what you suggest, but it’s important to at least get a ballpark idea of how much they’re willing to spend. Additionally, discovering if there is there any budget allocated to invest in charity, sponsorship, and contests will help you understand their priorities as you develop a marketing strategy.

As a specialist in the client’s industry, you likely have a good idea of the amount of investment it takes for any given client to succeed in your niche. Should you want to double check your updated numbers, Webstrategies shares the current spend on the marketing industry and even a budget calculator to help you plan accordingly.

It is imperative that the client’s budget and timing expectations are well aligned with reality for the relationship to be successful.

3. What does the competitive landscape look like and how are you unique? Do you anticipate any upcoming changes to the landscape?

Even though you looked into the competitive landscape before this meeting, asking them this question helps ensure they’ve done the foundational research for themselves. If they are solving a real problem, and have the data to back it up, this will make your job easier.

Understanding their unique value proposition is also invaluable as you develop strategies that best represent them to prospective customers. If they are in a volatile industry such as technology or finance, it’s important to be anticipatory when developing ongoing strategies.

Competitive analysis can additionally give you ideas of how to work with them based on what others in the industry are doing.

4. Why are you hiring an agency instead of an internal team? Have you partnered with an agency before? If so, what led to you ending the relationship?

The more you can be aware of challenges the client has faced in the past, particularly with other agency relationships, the more likely your agency will be to avoid encountering those same points of contention.

It is also useful to understand why the client is outsourcing to an agency rather than working with an in-house team. If they don’t have experience working with an agency before, it’s good to be aware and highlight the importance of laying out the scope of work and managing expectations clearly before agreeing to partner with them.

5. What is the decision process for approval of work? Walk us through the relevant parts of your organizational chart.

Workflow is consistently a challenge in client/agency relationships. Getting on the same page quickly can often take a volley of a thousand emails, leading to missed deadlines or endless revisions which are likely to leave a bad taste in your or the client’s mouth.

To avoid this, first, seek to understand their process and what will be expected from your team versus theirs. If you clarify this at the outset, it will be easier to avoid that workflow slow down that clients and agencies so often complain about. Tools such as Slack, Google Documents, and Asana can also assist with streamlining and staying on the same page as your client.

It’s also crucial that you know who the key decision makers are and make sure they’re always included in all work seeking approval (including in this initial discovery conversation.)

Finally, lay out how your agency-client team will work together. If clients believe their marketing efforts completely stop once an agency is hired, it’s likely the relationship will fail. Define this ongoing relationship and manage expectations as soon as possible to avoid this future problem.

6. What percentage of all conversions are you receiving from your website?

The overall conversion rate is another key success metric and understanding where the prospective client is currently will set a benchmark and allow you to measure success going forward.
Are they leveraging landing pages to increase their CRO? At Instapage, many customers see conversion rates much higher than the average 2.7% by leveraging landing pages in ad campaigns.

If you are unfamiliar, a landing page is a standalone page which visitors arrive at after clicking a Google paid search ad, social media ad, etc. Landing pages have proven to convert at a higher rate than a homepage since landing pages speak to only one offer, rather than presenting an entire product page where a visitor may get lost.

For more on that, check out this AdWords for agencies ebook so you can learn to leverage landing pages for both you and your clients.

adwords agency ebook

7. What is your past work on SEO? Have you ever been penalized in any Google algorithm update?

Google ranks the best-designed websites along with great content. Understanding the weight the prospective client has put on optimizing their website along with any past penalties will help you assess how much work needs to be completed to improve their rankings.

Additionally, with so much weight being placed on mobile and overall website optimization, knowing if the client has prioritized design and mobile friendliness will make ramping up with great content that much easier.

8. What online marketing channels is your business using currently?

Getting a rundown on what channels the prospective client is using, what tools are in their marketing toolbox, and how they are tracking any current or previous campaigns will help you ascertain how you will best work together. For example, your agency may specialize in Facebook ads, and they may not be leveraging this channel at all. This information is easily discovered; you just need to ask the right questions.

What is working for them (and what isn’t) will help you better understand the landscape they’ve been operating in. Additionally, this information will supplement the development of your strategy should you decide to work with them. Questions about how long they’ve been in business and what kind of traction they have had in that period are great metrics to understand.

Getting a clear picture of client’s openness to testing and current commitment to data integrity will also help you ease into the working relationship and grasp what will work best in your prospective partnership.

9. What is an example of a time when a marketing campaign didn’t perform as expected? How did your team react?

How they answer this question will help you evaluate how well their team works together and how well they understand the marketing landscape overall. Learning from how the team came together (or not) in an unexpected failure or time of crisis can be a good indicator of what they’ll do against other unknowns in the future.

It’s also useful to get an idea of what programs they executed in the past so you can bring your agency’s expertise to the situation. Some campaigns can either be improved upon, or you may decide it’s something not worth replicating. Transparency from both sides on what is — and isn’t working — is vital to set a precedent, right from the beginning.

10. What do you want your organization to look like in one year, two years, or five years?

This is helpful to understand if they have a particular vision of what they want for themselves. If they are just knee-jerk reacting to competitors or simply chasing market developments as they happen, it will likely be a challenging client/agency relationship.

The greater the vision and leadership they demonstrate in their response to this question, adds to the likeliness that they’re in it for the long haul. This will be a key indicator of their willingness to invest in long term relationships (including with your agency), so you are less likely to outgrow them.

Turn prospective clients into current clients

Anytime your agency considers partnering with a new client you’ll want to confirm that your values are aligned. Are they ethical? Do you share their passion? Are they too controlling? You will be able to have a better grasp on these questions after going through the above list with them.

Remember, regardless of the quality of marketing efforts, a bad product/business won’t succeed. So before you partner with a new prospective client, it’s important to ask the client interview questions as well. Successful pitching is a process of discovery, not of exposition, so let them talk. The more you understand where they are coming from, the better you will be able to connect with them.

Having challenges finding clients in the first place? Consider using landing pages for your agency. By developing personalized messaging for each of your customer personas, you’ll see increased conversions and earn higher quality business.

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