New Prospect, Bad Client? 7 Red Flags for Marketing Agencies

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New Prospect, Bad Client? 7 Red Flags for Marketing Agencies

Every advertising and marketing agency is in a constant search for new business.

But as a marketing agency president, I’ve learned the hard way that not all prospects should become clients.

Even if you’re a marketing agency looking to grow, sometimes it’s smarter to walk away from prospective new business than enter into a bad relationship.

How do you know when to stay or go?

Here are 7 warning signs that a new prospect could become a bad client for your marketing agency:

  1. Extremely short timeframe: Successful marketing campaigns are rarely done overnight. Avoid prospects with a timeframe that makes it nearly impossible to complete a marketing project effectively.
  2. Limited understanding of the value of marketing: If a prospect seems skeptical about marketing or wants you to convince them why marketing is a good idea, you can expect the client to challenge or doubt everything you recommend.
  3. Internal dissent: If a company’s executives disagree about the role of marketing or the need for marketing, that dissent is sure to continue throughout your assignment. Be especially leery if sales and marketing disagree, which can be a recipe for disaster.
  4. Unrealistic expectations about results: When a prospect expects a marketing campaign to produce an unrealistic number of leads or sales, ask if they’ve gotten results like this in the past. If not, help them understand what they can expect and that marketing is an investment with a long-term payoff. Otherwise, any campaign you create is sure to fall short in their eyes.
  5. Can’t describe an ideal customer: A client should be able to tell a marketing agency exactly whom they are targeting with their marketing campaigns. If the client can’t describe an ideal customer, they probably don’t have a good understanding of their current customers. That makes it very hard for a marketing agency to recommend the right media or develop creative marketing messages that resonate with prospects.
  6. Committee approval of creative concepts: Be cautious about clients that have a complex creative review process. If a big committee has to approve creative concepts, creative is likely to go through many rounds of revisions and ideas may get watered down to the point of ineffectiveness.
  7. Negotiating price in the first meeting: Money is the trickiest part of any discussion between a prospective client and a marketing agency. Clients usually have a budget in mind and smart clients ask for a ballpark idea of the cost to develop a marketing plan or campaign. But if they start trying to negotiate price before you’ve written the first word of your proposal, you can expect disagreements about rates, fees, and invoices throughout the project.

When It’s Worth Staying in the Game

Creating a smart marketing strategy requires a real partnership between a marketing agency and a client.

While most companies have good intentions when they seek guidance from an external marketing expert, some have such a limited or misinformed understanding of marketing or the role of an outside marketing resource that they are unable to gain real value from engaging a marketing consultant.

Yet in my experience, such prospects have the potential to become good and even great clients if they:

  • Show a sincere willingness to understand how to use marketing effectively;
  • Are open to new ideas and excited about trying new marketing approaches;
  • Have a cohesive team, a great product or service, and excellent customer relationships;
  • Are willing to invest the resources needed for skilled external marketing expertise;
  • View their marketing agency as a valuable partner.
  • Craig

    Excellent points, all. It would not be unusual to find some level of friction between sales and marketing, even it they are directionally in agreement. That’s typically a love/hate relationship in my experience.

    Another warning flag, on the creative side anyway: Potential client says “I learned Photoshop in my spare time so I will tweak the files for the website. Sometimes I do that for hours getting just the right shade”. Step away from the mouse.

    Sometimes a potential client spends more time pitching you their vision for the third project down the road when they haven’t even determined what they need done today. “Give me a break on the price because that third project is where we all make money!” Er, let’s determine what this project looks like before we talk about pricing…

    March 30, 2011 at 8:59 am
  • Gill Hunt

    Very true – and if you replace the word marketing with ‘IT’, ‘accounts’, ‘training’, ‘web sites’ or almost any other area the same red flags apply. If the client can’t explain what they want and doesn’t think the service you offer is inherently valuable you’re likely to spend a lot of time convincing them of that it is – and often failing!

    April 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm
  • Ignacio Carrion

    Thanks for a great article. I just dealt with a client who landed on six of your seven points. My biggest worry on our first meeting was that he couldn’t describe his ideal client. When asked, I could tell he had never thought about this. Huge red flag.

    I had two subsequent meetings and submitted a proposal. After another couple of short conversations, I received an email advising me that he was going with YellowBook because he “has a friend there.” The worst part? I have it on good authority that he has taken my proposal and is using it as a guide for a marketing plan that he is implementing. I was very careful to not give him any specifics and just touched on the general areas of the work I was proposing. And still… Have you written anything about this topic? It would be interesting to get your take. Thank you!

    September 15, 2011 at 10:23 am
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