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Regardless of whether your agency does a billion dollars or one thousand dollars a year in revenue, you’re bound to run into difficult clients. Your best bet is to learn how to navigate turbulence that comes with the agency territory. My suggestion is to learn how to negotiate, and learn how to do it well.

The good news is that you don’t need to do client negotiations without help. I’m here to give you my five best negotiation tips. They’ll help you iron out any difficult situation and leave a lasting impression.

1. Don’t Get Your Back Up Against The Wall

The best thing you can do when dealing with difficult clients is to take a moment to take stock of the situation.

If this is your first encounter with this client and they’re already jumping down your throat, you should ask yourself why they are coming on so strong.

It’s probably because this isn’t their first rodeo. You might be their second (or third) attempt at working with an agency who is “willing to put their needs first.”

Even if you’re willing to go to great lengths for them, they might be hooked on bad memories.

Solution:

Rather than get your back up against the wall when a difficult client appears on your doorstep, remember that they think you can help them. So help them.

Do your best to delight and deliver service to the best of your ability (even if they are in your care for a short period of time).

It might turn out that they aren’t the best client for your agency, or that you’re not the agency for them either. You should do everything to start the relationship off well or make amends when it’s failing.

2. Ask the Right Questions (About Them)

Most agencies make the mistake of talking about themselves and their accomplishments too much.

If you have a client in front of you, they probably already know a lot about your team, your wins, and your services. After all, they sought you out!

A difficult client doesn’t want your meetings to be about putting you on a pedestal. Sometimes, all they want is someone who will listen to them, consider their problems, and provide apt solutions.

Yes, sometimes they just want someone to commiserate with them or someone to aim their anger at. Treat them personally, but don’t take it personal.

Solution:

Don’t bombard your client with information about how you can help them right away.

Instead get to know them first. Ask them about how they like to work, what kind of results they want, and continue to approach the conversation from their perspective.

Give the client plenty of room and time to describe their situation. Don’t assume anything. Failing this step could lead to unrealistic expectations and problems down the line.

3. Ask For Samples

The more you focus on creating an outcome that your client wants, the more relaxed and open your client will be.

Your clients have a lot on the line. They might be in a position of vulnerability or despondency. This could make them recalcitrant, aggravated, and difficult to work with.

By understanding your client’s marketing history, you can get a better picture of who they are and what they have experienced. This helps you develop a trusting relationship, and it shows them that you’re not just trying to get the job done and move on.

Solution:

It might seem strange to ask your clients for samples. They’re the ones who need your services!

…But it’s not crazy.

Ask them for previous versions of their website, social media posts, blog content, and analytics. Facilitate a discussion about what works and what doesn’t.

Knowing more about the work completed by a previous agency or their in-house team can help you gauge their standards and far exceed their expectations.

It also displays a sense of commitment and care that will ease your client’s mind.

4. Assess And Address From Start To Finish

Good agencies will continually approach a difficult client with a sense of compassion and empathy. It’s possible that other agencies your client has worked with until now have been total gong shows.

Clients become less hostile when they realize you’re in their corner and you can relate to their problems. They let the guard down and warm up to you as colleagues faster.

When they see you as colleagues, they are much easier to work with throughout the creative process.

Solution:

Let your client know you’re committed to continually assessing and addressing the issues that come up. Emphasize that this is very important to your agency.

Constantly check in with your client and openly ask if they are satisfied with how things are playing out. If they address an issue, then make sure that you resolve it in an amicable way or ask them how they would like you to proceed.

Be patient with assessing and addressing issues and quirks. It may take time to sort these things out and make progress together.

5. Set Boundaries And Parameters

Difficult clients tend to be the way they are because nobody has taken them seriously.

Previous agency partners might have given them run of the mill service (poor communication, undelivered promises, and faulty projects, etc.). They may have had to assume the “(angry) ringleader” position for their previous agency partners.

Solution:

You could let your client run the show. However, a better approach is insisting on taking the lead. Do this by:

  • Being clear about how you work and what the best way to work with them is.
  • Clearly explaining what you can do for them by setting parameters and boundaries on a project.
  • Discussing your working hours to them and work out any kinks based on unrealistic expectations. (Your client might be angry that they can’t reach you on the weekends. Assure them that your excellent project management skills enable you to deliver projects before the weekend, for example)
  • Walking through your revision/creative process before you start working with them.

Summary

If you manage your relationship properly, you’ll be able to negotiate with difficult clients in a way that leaves you both happy and feeling like winners.

Regardless of your agency size, you can handle difficult clients by giving them an opportunity to express their concerns, needs, and desires related to the project you’re working on.

Setting clear boundaries, taking charge of the project, and assessing and addressing their concerns every step of the way will help you come out feeling like you’re a master of your own domain.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR, John Packham

John is the Content Director at Karass, a negotiation consultant group that helps train you how to be a better negotiator.

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