There has been much written – and rightly so – about how ‘suppliers’, or agencies, should treat their clients. Some is serious, some is tongue in cheek, but all have an important message about how to be successful in business, when your business is delivering something to another business.
This success becomes harder when what you’re delivering is intangible. You can’t, for example, rock up with a ten ton weight of websites, neatly boxed up with a delivery note and appended invoice. It’s even harder when the client doesn’t understand what they’ve asked you to deliver. There may be grand, aspirational references to using an open source CMS in their requirements document (if you’re lucky enough to get one) but ask for a definition of ‘open source’, or indeed what CMS actually stands for, and the chances are a blank look of panic will flit across their face, followed by some coughing, spluttering and defensive mumbling about ‘IT’.
That’s fine though – you don’t want to know the ins and outs of how to rescue raccoons from near extinction in urban environments, nor the finer details of how to design a multi-storey car park. And by the same token, your clients don’t need to know precisely how a CMS is built, the minutiae of setting up a disaster recovery plan on AWS, or the exact combination of caffeine, nicotine and sugar that gets your most talented developers out of bed in the morning.
What they do need to do, however, is respect the fact that *you* know how to do all of these things, let you get on and do it, and show you some respect while you’re getting on and doing it. I never cease to be amazed by clients who go and search for a ‘specialist agency’ – presumably because they have a specialism and expertise to offer – and then promptly spend the entire project overruling and second-guessing the decisions made by those specialists.
Think about it this way: I don’t take my car in for an MOT and then tell the mechanic what he does and doesn’t need to do to fix it. Or, worse, randomly take things off the list of things that need fixing to bring it within my budget; invariably these are the big things too, because they’re the most expensive. By the end of the exercise my car may no longer have an engine, but boy-oh-boy is the windscreen clean and shiny. (That’s the bit my boss is going to see, so of course it has to look the best…)
Absolutely, there is truth in the epithet that the customer is always right. They’re paying the bills and they can choose what to spend their money on. I very strongly believe though that a good working relationship, where the engine -vs- a clean windscreen conversation can happen in a frank, open and honest environment, is just as much fostered by the client as by the agency. It’s about having a mutual respect and understanding for each other’s position and expertise, being prepared to listen to those positions, and deciding together what is the best option for meeting the client’s objectives.
If the client expects to be able to shout ‘JUMP!’ and demands an immediate response of ‘How high, guv’nor?’ from their suppliers, then the end result be will a breakfast of half-thought through ideas that doesn’t meet any of the original objectives (if, indeed, any objectives were set in the first place).
In fact, in the next financial year, shiny new budget grasped tightly in their clenched paw, I can guarantee you that the client will be sending out ITTs all over the place… Yep, you guessed it – with the key aim of fixing everything not done ‘properly’ by the original agency the first time around.