The Customer’s Always Often Right

Often when agencies get feedback from clients, the feedback is legitimate and you need to take action. Feedback should first be looked at as an opportunity to fix or improve your agency and you should welcome it and take it seriously when you do get feedback.

But sometimes, you’re getting the raw end of the deal. The client’s not always right and here are some of the red flags to look out for:

1. They want to prescribe a strategy

The client started the engagement looking to you because of your great portfolio and experience in their industry but after a while, they’re getting their grubby little fingers in everything! They want to dictate keywords used, they have opinions on bid strategies, and they’re constantly trying to control marketing strategy that is outside of their depth.

In these cases, it’s best to be up-front with your concerns directly with the client. They hired you in the first place because you’re the expert. What you may find is that the client can’t easily see the impact you’re driving or they have doubts about your abilities and that’s why they’re trying to recommend courses of action. Both of these causes are probably your fault. You need to be clear about the business impact your marketing drives and make your reports easy to understand. Set the expectations on how long it’s going to take to see results and report clearly on the results your marketing has. If the client sees good things happening as a result of your work, they’ll be less likely to pretend to be a marketing expert and more likely to just let you do your thing.

2. They’re burning PM time

You started the project with some basic communications in mind: maybe a couple of emails here and there, a call or two, a meeting at launch and you’re good to go. But then the project starts and the client keeps asking for more communication. They want weekly project updates, they want to have a meeting for milestones, they provide feedback at weird times that force you to go back and re-do work, and maybe they even request daily scrum standups. Eventually, these extra comms eat into your profit margin and turn a great project or retainer into a profit-loser.

These things don’t happen if you have solid project management and solid proposals (read about our proposal tips here) that set out clear expectations. Maybe your original proposal under-estimated the PM required to properly do the project. Part of the reason that medium and larger-sized agencies quote higher prices on projects is they provide better project management BECAUSE they’ve been bitten by too little PM too often. If you choose to under-bid and cut costs on PM, make sure that your proposal sets out reasonable limits that keep your clients from burning up comms hours, such as:

  • Requiring consolidated feedback at milestones
  • Specifying project update timing
  • Estimate total project time

Ultimately, it’s up to you to change request your client when they ask for more than what was originally proposed. Consider they may be asking for more comms time because they’re losing trust that your agency can do what you said you’d do.

The client isn’t always right. And we must do what’s in their best interest, Even though it may not be what
they want at the time.
-Zach Braiker, CEO, Refine and Focus

3. They’re burning your employees

That client that just made your senior employee cry at their desk: not only are they terrible human beings, but they’re also doing more harm to your agency than good. Yeah, the money might be good but if the stress of dealing with asshole clients causes your best employees to move on or burn out, you’re losing money on them. These days, agencies have to fight for the best talent and offer good environments for those employees to thrive.

You have to fire your asshole clients. You probably saw the red flags on the way in but you ignored them because the project looked so tempting. A lesson learned for next time. Firing asshole clients will earn you the loyalty of employees who see that you’ll stick up for them.

4. You’re the wrong agency

You took the client on despite knowing little about their industry or you took on a service line that you don’t typically handle. The client keeps getting upset because you’ll never be able to meet their needs. You’re not geared up for it. If you have been around for a while and you know the niche your agency fits, maybe it’s time to turn away that poor-fit client. You’re the wrong agency for them, time to admit it. Refer them to a friendly agency that is a pro in the area.

*Note*: if you’re just starting, you may not have the luxury of only taking on the best-fit clients. Learn fast.

5. Customers who use abuse to negotiate the price

Some customers use head games as a strategy to make you and your employees feel like crap and lower your price. Some amount of grievances and negotiating is always going to happen, but if they get into mind games and try to make you take a loss doing their project, you’ve got to examine whether the relationship is worth it.

It’s helpful that you outline solutions to these common problems! Jill Wallace, Director of Marketing and Operations at eMotors Direct Inc.

6. Clients without clear end goals

Submitted by Alex Morrison of Boundary Equipment:

Those customers who engage with agencies because they feel they “need” marketing but don’t have any specific goals or results they want to see. Also, the double-edged sword of the “expert” client or their opposite counterparts. All 3 can be equally dangerous to ensuring successful, collaborative relationships. No goals can lead to a never-satisfied client or constant pivoting of direction leading to no real work being done. The over or under-educated client causes obvious problems.


Your agency can only work with a limited number of clients and you can only onboard so many each month, so you must be bringing on and retaining the ones that matter. Your portfolio of clients should be strategic: maybe they’re great brands that look good in your case study area, they give you a chance to create award-winning work, maybe they’re super profitable, or maybe they’re giving you a chance at developing a new service line. Misbehaving clients will kill your profitability, cause your best employees to quit, force you to do embarrassingly bad marketing, you’ll gain experience in services that don’t matter, and sink your agency. Always consider whether your clients are worth it or whether you’re working with the wrong clients.