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Avoid Overwhelming Your Marketing Clients

Jan 26, 2008
Business owners and marketing directors hire marketing consultants, publicists and copywriters either because they don't know how to attract new customers or because they don't have time to do the work. It's essential to keep this in mind in dealing with new clients to avoid getting started on the wrong foot or worse, sabotaging the relationship.

Don't make the following four mistakes, which are unfortunately commonly made by many neophytes (and some veterans) in this field.

1. DON'T give a new client a long standard questionnaire to fill out. Of course you need to understand the client's business, but this is the worst way to gain the understanding you need.

For one thing, the long standard questionnaire is impersonal and therefore gives the client the impression that you have a formulaic way of thinking and performing. Second, it's insulting to them and a waste of their time when the questionnaire inevitably asks for information that doesn't relate to the client's business. And third, it imposes an undue burden on them when they've hired you precisely to lift that burden off of them!

Instead of using a standard questionnaire, I request the client's existing marketing materials and/or background information. I study those and create questions that clarify confusing points, supply missing data and provide helpful perspective. Clients love this.

Even if the questions take some time to answer, the clients feel challenged in a positive way by such requests. Because the questions get them thinking and may reveal significant performance gaps, clients feel they are already beginning to get their money's worth, even at this early stage.

2. DON'T expect the client to understand marketing jargon. Unless the client is as marketing-savvy as you are, which would be quite rare if they're hiring you as their consultant, you can't ask them questions like, "What's your ISP?" "What are your keywords?" "What publicity angle are you thinking about?" or "Who are the stakeholders for this project?" Ask any such questions and you deserve the rebuke, "Isn't it your job to know that?" Instead, be careful to word your questions in terms that any business owner or manager understands, regardless of their familiarity with marketing. For instance, the questions "How is your business different from competitors?" and "Who needs to be consulted before this project can be finalized?" are fine.

3. DON'T assume the client can analyze their business intelligently. Even when you don't use jargon, beware of asking questions that require marketing sophistication to answer. Just about all the copywriting students I have trained are shocked to learn that the typical business owner cannot rattle off the benefits of their product or service.

I have seen smart business owners totally stumped when asked what advantages their product or service gives users. They just don't think about what they do in that way because they're in love with the advanced features of their gizmos. However, if you ask them a series of pointed questions, such as "Do you save customers time? Money? Hassles? Help them get ahead of their competition? Help them improve relationships?," they can answer.

So I advise you to do the analytical thinking for your client the best you can, share your thinking with them and then ask them to correct you or elaborate on what you've surmised. That way, they catch on without the embarrassment of being asked questions they don't know how to answer.

4. DON'T send off an overly complicated contract for the client to sign. For every project over a certain monetary threshold, I get the client's signature on an agreement. But I don't call it a "contract" (which would make them think they have to show it to their lawyer first - which can painfully lengthen the getting-started process). I call it a "simple agreement" and I keep it as simple as possible, in ordinary language, no longer than a page. No client has ever delayed on it or declined to sign it.

When you've handled all the preliminaries appropriately, you've set the stage for a productive, fast-moving project that makes both sides happy.
About the Author
Veteran copywriter and marketing consultant Marcia Yudkin is the author of Persuading on Paper, 6 Steps to Free Publicity and 9 other books. She runs a one-on-one mentoring program that trains copywriters and marketing consultants in 10 weeks. For more information: http://www.yudkin.com/become.htm
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