When to push back on clients

Every agency professional has been there. You’re working with a client you love, you’ve developed a great relationship and the results are exceeding their expectations. You’re building momentum and the account is running like a well-oiled machine... 

But even when things are going really well, you have to take a step back and take stock every few months. You need to look at whether the programme is delivering against the agreed objectives, if your strategy is still working, and that it’s delivering value to the business. And of course whether the work being put in, is reflected in the monthly fee.

This is an important exercise, but nine times out of 10, it results in having to push back on your client – either to realign the programme with their objectives, refresh the strategy or revisit the time your team’s spending on delivering activity.

When it comes to initiating an open and honest conversation around what is and isn’t working, it might help to consider the following tips:

Demonstrate your value
Every cloud has a silver lining; difficult conversations give you an opportunity to show your clients how valuable you are to them. Draw on your knowledge of how their business operates, its commercial objectives, your client’s specific role and what their targets are, and use these insights to frame your suggestions. It’s important to show your clients that you’re not pushing back for the sake of it – you’re doing it because it will ultimately benefit them and deliver greater value to their business.

Be solutions driven
As American entrepreneur Jim Rohn said, “focus on the solution, not the problem”, and this is true of everything we do as agency professionals. If you’re suggesting any changes, always have an alternative solution up your sleeve – otherwise you’re just giving your clients a problem.

Focus on the positives
You never want to leave a bitter taste in your client’s mouth after you’ve had to push back, so positivity is key in these conversations. Use them as an opportunity to reiterate the value that the programme is delivering to the business, but remind your client that you’re always pushing for improvement.

Be transparent
Transparency is one of the most important things in any relationship, especially when it comes to pushing back. We all appreciate honesty and feeling like we’re included – and clients are no different. If you’re pushing back, talk them through why you’re doing so and what the consequences may be if you stuck to the status quo.

Know your clients
An important exercise for any agency team is getting to know your clients; what makes them tick, what motivates them and what keeps them up at night. For example, do they want to know about the detail or are they happy to see top lines? Are they motivated by data or words? Do they want to innovate or are they happy with how things are? Understanding all of this will make conversations about pushing back more comfortable for both parties involved.

Written by Sophie Paterson, associate director at PR agency Vested