Your Agency’s Clients Aren’t Dumb

Stop reading Clients from Hell and start selling your work.

You park your ailing car at the mechanic’s shop and try your best to explain your problem to the furrowed brow with a man behind it that greets you.

“I’ve been having trouble shifting above third gear. I think it might be the transmission shaft enhancer…?”

He takes your keys and gets to work. Later while walking around aimlessly (that’s what people do at mechanics, right?) you overhear the man talking to a coworker. “This guy doesn’t even know what’s wrong with his car! I could tell in a second it was the muffler bearing! What an idiot!” You’re taken aback. You don’t know the first thing about cars, that’s why you came here. Why are you being insulted?

But this is exactly how many of us treat clients every day. Like they’re dumb. A lower bounce rate is obviously a good thing. “Above the fold” is obviously not important. Mobile users should obviously be considered. Soooo dumb. But the simple truth is that clients shouldn’t know any of that stuff. That’s what they pay us for.

It is far too easy to get frustrated with clients when they don’t hand over the reigns and let the experts guide their fledgling online presence to glory and profit. They come with their own assumptions and hesitations, their half-remembered facts and their traditional viewpoints. They come with other people to please and budgets to tighten. They come with company partners who use Internet Explorer 6 and Blackberries.

We have to learn to empathize with our clients. To understand their position as a professional in their field who has been tasked with managing a vendor (you) whose work they don’t really understand.

A good mechanic will teach you why the work will take all week. A good designer will teach you why responsive design is important. A good developer will teach you why a testing period is imperative. There are plenty of reasons to fire a client and even malign them occasionally if it really makes you feel better. But if your client doesn’t understand your work that is your problem, and it is your responsibility to guide them.

Every client interaction is an opportunity for educating them, and in doing so proving your value and expertise. After all, you’re a partner, you’re involved, you’re knowledgeable and open about the process, and you’re looking out for them in ways they might not don’t fully understand.

Clients need you to sell them your work. They need you to sell them their own best interests. Being annoyed with clients is easy. Do the hard thing and be empathetic instead.

Jeremy Heilpern has written an excellent companion piece to this article: When to stop pitching, and start doing.