There’s a prevailing notion that smaller clients are more challenging and more demanding. Whether it’s a small business owner sweating every decision, a new program trying to figure out the channel, or someone with too much time on their hands, the assumption is that small = pain in the butt.

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I say, GOOD!

Whether you’re just breaking into the industry or a seasoned pro, no one will keep you on your toes better than a demanding customer. Sure, it might be frustrating at times, but nothing worthwhile is ever easy. Here are five reasons demanding is good.

Your Assumptions Should Be Challenged

I’ll admit, it feels pretty good when I make a recommendation and someone accepts it outright. Personally, I feel like I’ve achieved something – demonstrated my knowledge in a way that made perfect sense, validating my intelligence. But there’s nothing to learn. Even if it’s just to provide additional supporting evidence, having someone challenge your ideas, and winning the day, is infinitely more rewarding. On the flip side, being challenged and learning you were wrong about something means I got a little smarter on that day (hopefully).

You’ll Need to Articulate Your Position

This one feels like “showing the work” in math class. I might be able to get to the answer using some odd method, but knowing and articulating every step to your conclusion is what you should all be after. You’ll often get to the right conclusion based on incorrect assumptions. It’s important to know what the breakdown might be.

Client management is all about situational awareness. While you might not have precise experience in handling a particular matter, your experiences in similar areas should instruct your decision-making process. If you’re making decisions off of an incorrect assumption (just because it somehow worked last time), you’ll have more than a demanding client to deal with; you’ll have an angry one.

You’ll Be Held Accountable

This one cuts both ways. Being accountable means you’re equally responsible for successes and failures. It also means you can’t take credit or blame for things beyond your control.

You can’t take credit for driving more volume during peak season, much like you can’t be blamed when all your client’s competitors slash their prices. This only works if you’ve made the extra effort to demonstrate how you are influencing everything else in an account. Demanding clients will force it out of you, and it’s the type of experience you should take with you into every other engagement. Someone creating the expectation that you can defend actions should be receptive to the answer. If they aren’t, they cross over from “demanding” to “jerk”. We’re talking about reasonable people here – folks that listen to evidence and “get it” once you’ve shown the work.

You’ll Learn How to Handle Corner Cases

If you follow the 80/20 rule, you aren’t providing great service. Agency search is a game where, in most cases, either side “losing” ultimately means the agency loses. If you aren’t prepared to handle corner cases and create a service specifically meant to handle the outlier scenario – you are doomed.

Repeatable process can tackle the basics but it’s the nuance of weird little instances that separate the mediocre from the great. It seems unfair, and impossible to scale, but it’s by taking on the demanding, nit-picky customer that you’ll learn fastest. Once you a free a demanding customer to find these little quirks, you’ll learn faster. Not only that, but you’ll learn how to hedge against these odd cases in the future and potentially create a process to address it and make it scalable again. Sometimes all it takes is adding one extra check to a routine task to stay ahead. Search is inherently reactive – knowing the oddball corner cases can help you stay pro-active.

You’ll Prove Your Mettle

The toughest clients are always asking, probing – demanding. Eventually, they can all be won over, provided you address the last four points. That is the true measure of a great agency rep – tame the lion.

Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment, maybe I find client/agency dynamics thrilling. The bottom line is that challenging is a good thing. If you aren’t prepared for that, you’re probably in the wrong field. Good luck.

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  1. Shelley Ellis April 9th, 2014

    Sean, I agree 100%!! My most challenging clients were the ones that pushed me to think outside the box. Some of my most ground breaking discoveries were in those relationships and accounts.

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Sean Marshall
Sean Marshall is the CEO of Intended, an SEM agency founded in 2013 to provide industry-best service for SMB clients. Before Intended, Sean was the VP of Business Development of PPC Associates (now 3Q Digital). He is a huge Cal fan and has been known to win a buck or two playing online poker.