Agency life can be tough – budgets and deadlines are tight but expectations are high. Maintaining a good relationship with a client can be hard – especially when the pressure’s on.

Sometimes life can be made easier by just asking the right questions, which is why in this blog we take a look at some of the key questions to ask clients when you first meet.

These are the who, what, why and how questions which will lead to a tighter brief, a better working relationship and give the results everyone wants.

Remember not to shy away from asking the right questions straight off – the more information you gather, the better the results will be.

What’s the problem?

Make sure you establish what the problem is that your client is trying to solve by commissioning you as an agency. Are they trying to generate more qualified leads, increase sales, capture data, improve customer retention? If you don’t get a clear idea of the problem they’re facing or if they’re trying to solve more than one problem, then simply ask the client to clarify or prioritise. It’s important to get a watertight answer to this question and to establish a clear brief, right from the start.

What does success look like?

This can be the most important question you ask a client. It will tell you how they’ll be measuring and judging your performance, as well as giving you a much clearer brief. Is success traffic generation, sales uplift, click-through or data capture? Remember to also confirm how they measure success and make sure that it can be measured so that you can justify your actions and your decisions to them clearly. It is imperative that you both agree on how you’ll know if you’ve succeeded, and make it quantifiable where possible.

What’s the deadline?

Make sure the deadline the client expects is realistic and that you’re comfortable you can deliver in the time specified. If you can’t, then it’s best to be honest – it will save you from painful conversations later on. Be sure to set expectations and create a relationship with the client that is built on honesty and trust. Remember that it’s better to underpromise and overdeliver than it is to let the client down.

What’s the budget?

If the budget is unrealistic then you need to say so from the start. You need to focus on lateral solutions, alternatives and a budget that you’ll both be happy working with. Don’t be afraid to talk about money – if you’re confident in the value that you can provide then the client will be too. Most importantly, be transparent and keep them informed if there are any changes to cost at any point. Clients are unlikely to be happy paying out costs which are unexpected.

Why do you want to work with our agency?

Don’t be afraid to ask this question – the answer may delight or at least inform you. It may be that they admire a piece of work you’ve done already, another client referred them or it could be that you’re just one of many agencies they’re considering. Even if the answer is the latter it’s better to know that there are other companies in the running than to find out further down the line. Knowing the answer to this question will help to give you direction.

Who’s signing this off?

Make sure you know who will be signing-off the project and insist on speaking to them directly at the briefing stage. They’ll be able to give you further direction and information that no-one else is able to. It’s also important to know how many people will be involved in the sign-off process, how long it’s likely to take and make sure everyone is committed to the brief. Make sure the brief you’ve been given fits what the key stakeholder wants.

How does this activity fit with your overall strategy?

Try to get an overview of your client’s general marketing strategy and how your work fits in. This will enable you to make suggestions for future activity, tie your campaign into the bigger picture and makes sure you understand where they want to be so you can future-proof your work. Smart agencies will use this knowledge to proactively pitch new campaign ideas and generate more business.

What are the restrictions?

Sadly there are always restrictions, so it’s better to find out what these are up front to prepare yourself. Budgets, systems, stock, processes or even company culture can dictate the direction a project goes in, so find out what the limitations are and have honest conversations – getting the inside story will help set expectations and limit frustrations on both sides.

How do you feel about taking risks?

It’s important to know how conservative your client is and what they deem to be a risk. Many clients may tell you ‘the sky’s the limit’ or they want to ‘think outside of the box’ when in reality they’ll recoil in horror if you suggest something even slightly controversial. Some clients want fresh ways of thinking and to be taken out of their comfort zone, however you can’t be sure of this until you ask the question.

Whose work do you admire?

It’s important to understand who your customer aspires to be. Identify which brands they admire and what campaigns they like – the conversation may inspire you both and trigger new ideas that form the foundations for your next campaign with them.

If you ask these simple questions during your first meeting with a client then you’ll be sure to gather the information you need for a successful campaign and happy working relationship.

The answers will provide you with a better brief, set expectations and make sure you put your efforts into the right things. We promise they’ll save you time and difficult conversations later on!

For information on email marketing for agencies speak to our specialist agency team for tips, recommendations, and advice for client campaigns.

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