It’s simply unavoidable. If you work at a marketing or public relations agency, you’re going to run into a client that doesn’t like your idea. It has nothing to do with the quality of your work, your personality or the client’s personality. It’s simply a fact that every now and then, someone is going to disagree with you.
So, what do you do when you know you’re right?
In my experience, when a client disagrees with either my strategy or my employer’s strategy, it’s usually about one of two things. The more common problem is that he or she doesn’t think we’re approaching things the right way. The client understands the value of social media but has an issue with the timing of the posting, the content or an entire campaign strategy. The lesser common problem (and the one that’s harder to deal with) is that he or she simply doesn’t see the value in our services at all. Social media seems pointless because the return on investment isn’t abundantly clear.
Luckily, both scenarios have the same proper response.
1. Seek to understand why the client is unhappy. Before you jump into defense mode, take a step back and try to figure out why the client doesn’t like what you’ve come up with. Is it too expensive? Did you not do a good job communicating your idea? No client is going to object to your social media strategy without a reason, so first try and understand what that reason is. You’ll be better able to defend your position, if need be.
2. Decide whether or not the client is right. Again, this has to happen before you get into defense mode. Don’t simply assume that your vast experience can compensate for small mistakes in a strategy. I can vividly remember one client telling me that my posting strategy for a week had been all wrong – the analytics we sent her indicated that most of her audience was online at times that were different than when we were posting. I double-checked and found out she was right. I had mixed up the timings by accident – a quick change and her analytics were back to normal.
3. If you decide you’re right, see if you can use hard numbers to illustrate your point. If your client is business-savvy, he or she will understand the kind of logic behind numbers that indicate a return on investment. Ask your client if he or she has noticed any change in business since you started working for him or her. Have sales gone up? Does Google Analytics indicate increased website traffic? I would encourage you to use numbers like these as opposed to likes or shares, because you want to indicate that social media is increasing the business’s bottom line.
Be sure to be gentle when doing this. By politely illustrating the change in business, you’ll be showing your client that you know what you’re talking about without coming across as arrogant.
4. If you can’t use numbers (because it’s a new strategy), see if you can point to case studies as examples. If this is a client you haven’t yet worked with, a large disagreement right off the bat may indicate a larger problem. However, if you decide to go ahead anyway, or if your client isn’t numbers-savvy, see if you can point to similar examples of your strategy elsewhere. This is where experience will help you out. Have you implemented the same strategy with another client? Can you locate good examples online that competitors have utilized? Try performing a social media audit, in which you compare your client’s accounts with the accounts of his or her competitors.
5. If all else fails, it’s time to rethink the relationship with your client. This is obviously an extreme response, and you should never get to this point if you and your client have a good working relationship. But at the end of the day, one of you is wrong, and if neither one can admit this, then it will only lead to future problems.
I want to reiterate that this is absolutely the last resort. Fortunately I’ve never come to this point with a client before.
Client disagreements are rare, and they are usually easy to solve. Simply empathize before you start advising. They have a business to run, and they respect you enough to help them out. If it’s a smaller business, then you’ll be handling their baby. You can’t blame them for being somewhat protective.