Client fires—there's always a chance for them to happen.
A client fire is a conflict that catches in a partnership. Like any other fire, they all start somewhere, often where you can't see them. A big part of fighting fires is preventing them before they begin. Prevention takes up a great portion of the battle.
Although you might not be able to prevent every fire–because let's face it, accidents happen—you can do a whole lot to prevent them. In fact, I think by following five key prevention techniques, you can prevent somewhere around 98-percent them.
Here are five client fire prevention techniques to practice in your agency:
1.) Take on the Right Clients
This is a colossal fire prevention technique.
There's nothing worse than a client that isn't a good fit. It's not good for you, and it's certainly not good for them.
Identify Your Ideal Customers
We talk a whole lot about this around here, but it's important to identify your ideal customers. Selecting verticals is encouraged, but I definitely can sympathize if you're an agency that specializes in a service set instead.
If that's the case, you have to still do the same thing—identify your ideals. In the case of a specialized service offering, your qualifying factors could be based on business sizing (revenue, team size, etc.).
Identify Those Not-So-Ideal Customers
Another important activity is to identify you don't work best with. Again, you're doing yourself and those prospects a big favor.
When I've been working with clients, I've found this to be a practice as important as identifying ideal customers. If you know who you don't want to target then you'll avoid showing up in those places and taking on those clients.
What the Wrong People Do
Bottom line is this—if they're not your tribe there's going to be more likelihood for problems. Thus, more chance for client fires.
Do some prevention and be careful who you're working with.
2.) Set the Right Expectations in the Sales Process
New client relationships are susceptible to client fires due to poor expectations set in the sales process.
Sometimes sales teams are only focused on making the sale with disregard to the project management team. By promising the moon, which at the end of the day will never be delivered, you're setting up the client relations teams up for failure. They won't be able to fulfill those promises. They'll be playing from behind the entire time. It's just not good.
Reign your sales team in. Get everyone on the same page. Don't promise the moon if you can't deliver the moon.
Come to the Table with a Process
The smartest move you can ever make in your agency is to come to the table with a roadmap. A process.
We talked all last season about the inbound client journey and how powerful it is for long-term relationships.
With a process driving how you handle your services, you're casting expectations and a clear vision for your clients. Clients often get frustrated when there isn't a clear vision. If they have to ask where you're going, while you're on the journey, then there's bound to be trouble down the road.
Be transparent about your process. Share it with prospects and make sure they're on the same page before they come on board.
It's better for them and it's better for you.
3.) Write Rock-Solid Contracts
Good fences make good neighbors.
Verbal expectations are one thing—written expectations are another.
From a legal standpoint, you're setting yourself up for pure destruction if you don't have rock-solid contracts. You need them to protect your clients and your agency.
A contract serves as an operating system to guide the partnership. It should detail out situations, the scope of work, and worst-case scenarios. If it's not in the contract, you're left improvising. If you're left improvising, you have nothing to back you up. There's a lot of guess work that will occur and that could end up ugly.
Quick Note: Be sure to go over your contracts with clients before they sign. Don't just send it over and have them sign without a review session to get you both on the same page.
4.) Set Up Regular Meetings
Regular meetings are everything. Sure, you might not be within spitting distance from one another, but make sure there are regular "meeting" like communications. Do a conference call or Skype call. What's important is that you're both continuously sharing updates, progress and concerns.
At the bare minimum, you should have three meeting types on the books at all times:
- Weekly status meeting
- Monthly progress meeting
- Quarterly strategy meeting
These meetings are your smoke detectors. Through them, you'll be able to be alerted to any issue through regular conversation. You'd be surprised how many small flames you can catch with these meeting types.
This one's simple—overcommunication is a great prevention technique.
Even as marketing-ish people, we can tend to communicate poorly at times. Always be checking yourself and making sure the lines are open and active.
If you've completed something, say so. If you have a question that has some stake behind it, ask. If you have a concern, talk about.
Go Prevent Fires!
Remember, most of the fire fighting battle is prevention. Use these simple techniques to lead your way to happier, fire-free client relationships.