Interview: What Makes a Great Client?

At Setfive, we provide strictly B2B services. So, all of our work is client facing. Like any relationship, the appropriate response to each circumstance is situational. Thus, I composed three interviews centered around some essential factors and things to consider when handling client relationships. The three stars of my interview are: Kim Donlan, Adam McGowan, and Chris Merrill. Each of these interviewees has a different background, but is very familiar and experienced in client relationships. To learn more about these individuals, a short background can be found below.

Kim Donlan

Current Position: Agency CEO, Creative Director and Strategist, at RedSwan5 and Professor at Bentley Graduate School

Kim is an expert in messaging and digital strategy. Kim helps companies and individuals establish a go-to marketing strategy that gets them to a #1 position fast.

Adam McGowan

Current Position: Founder and CEO at Firefield

At Firefield, Adam primarily takes part in growing new relationships, building the customer base, and maintaining existing customer relations. Adam also does advisory work in product leadership.

Chris Merrill

Current Position: CRO for JBarrows Sales Training

Two of Chris’ main roles at J. Barrows include: providing sales training and driving and navigating revenue for companies.

Q: What are some characteristics that you look for in a client?

Kim: I look for similar values. It is essential for my clients to be aligned with my company in their thought process. I prioritize clients who are honest, not afraid of hard work, and listening to both their customers and in-depth research.

Adam: The company’s values must align. An ideal client is someone who respects the field in which they need assistance. To do so, this client needs to be open and self-aware of their abilities. This way, they can respect the decisions and expertise, on your end, without trying to override you.

Chris: Collective values and general ethos. Mutual agreement upon what is important to both of you is a necessity. Similar values and understanding come first, but it is also mandatory for a client to possess both passion and respect for their industry. A client needs to be happy current position and line of work or they will not be happy working with you.

Q: What are some red flags that a client can possess?

Kim: It is essential to take into consideration what a client is going through on a personal and professional level. When considering who is in the startup phase, you must account for the high-stakes environment. Entrepreneurs are under personal and professional financial stress, and feel enormous pressure to meet funding deadlines. In this state of uncertainty, a client can start to change the deliverables. This makes for an increasingly difficult situation to work in, especially if they do not have a clear idea of what they want or what needs to be executed. Another red flag is when a client does not have the authority to implement decisions. Without this ability, the process can be slowed down, or grind to a halt.

Adam: It is nearly impossible to work for a client when they do not fully understand their own needs, or they don’t appreciate the relative value you can provide them. Working with a client that believes they can do what our company does but does not have time / resources is extremely difficult. In addition, I caution you against working with people who lack deep experience in their own domain. Another warning sign is when a client does not have clarity on what they want to accomplish, or possesses a lack of seriousness / commitment to their idea.

Chris: The way a potential client expresses their current situation, can tell you a lot about who you do and don’t want to work with. Someone who passes blame, or does not take responsibility for their current situation, is likely to do the same in your partnership. If this potential client is overly negative on a vendor, you can anticipate that they will treat you with the same negativity and criticism. Lastly, value proposition can present as a major barrier in the service industry. Often times, people that do not have experience in a vendor’s domain can have a poor understanding of how much things should cost. This can eventually lead to disagreement and even improper compensation.

What is your idea of the “worst” type of client?

Kim: The worst possible situation I put myself, or my company, in, is working with someone that has no real plan or goal. This is less of a reflection on the person themselves, rather a scenario that can be a potential recipe for disaster. It is important to be wary of a client with no real plan or team, that does not have proper funding. I also try to avoid clients who can only offer equity for my work rather than payment.

Adam: I face difficulty partnering with someone that lacks understanding in the complexity product. It is also taxing dealing with a client who tries micromanage outside of their area of expertise. Lastly, someone who does not trust your team will probably not treat you like a partner. An example of this is when someone continues to refer to you as a “vendor” after partnership has been established.

Chris: I struggle to work with clients that do not provide feedback. When a client does not communicate openly, this can lead to surprises and unpredictable situations. It is very difficult to coordinate with someone that contributes limited to zero communication. Another major challenge can present when someone is indecisive or does not have the ability to make decisions.

Thank you to Kim, Adam, and Chris, for providing a us with a range of perspectives and experience in client relations. Keep an eye out for our next article, as these experts talk about the do’s and don’t’s of firing a client. Thanks for reading!