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In this week’s PPCChat session, host Julie F Bacchini helped PPCers to express their views on the processes they use to try to filter out problematic clients, things to know to spot potential awful clients, do they have a standard way to back out if they do not get desired client and more.

Q1: What things do you consider to be “red flags” as you are going through your sales or prospecting processes?

Asking for more and more free stuff (audits, recos, creative, etc). Have seen so many prospects use the sales process just to get free work. @beyondthepaid

Goals are great, but demanding guaranteed results, or asking for special favours from platforms tells me there are unrealistic expectations, and possibly ethics issues. It’s an auction I play in. I’ll work my butt off, but there are no guarantees. @JuliaVyse

Pay per performance only. Unpaid or low-paying test projects. Sh*t-talking their previous agency. Needy or icky vibes. @CarolynLyden

When a potential client interrupts our presentation every 2 or 3 minutes-I start to think that we are not a good fit for them. @PPCKenChang

Nickel and diming on price is another red flag. @beyondthepaid

“We ended the relationship with [old agency name here] because they didn’t deliver performance quickly enough” Quickly enough being very short, often unreasonable timelines with low budgets. @AzeemDigital

This is often hard for me to pinpoint, because often it’s just a gut feel. But attitude, not respecting my time, lack of kindness or empathy. @ynotweb

Clients who expect a lot for a little. Ie why am I only getting 3 conversions for £100 a month. I want 50 conversions with a £5 CPA even though I only have a basic website that has had no CRO work done. @tiffanyjshears

Going on and on about other providers they’ve worked with and how terrible/crazy/etc. they were. Requesting essentially a full blown strategy in a proposal. @NeptuneMoon

Some red flags: (1) urgency is attached to every conversation. (2) They never seem organized when you speak to them. (3) They complain about being “so busy”. (4) Unrealistic expectations for their market. (5) Their general personality vs. yours. @lchasse

Balking at the budget and scope and asking for more and more (not the same as asking what it includes as that’s reasonable!). Asking for weekly calls with a small budget. Wanting to be pay-for-performance. @amaliaefowler

Impatience Unreasonable goals (seemingly) When they say “we have been through 6 agencies in the past year” – At some point, you may be the problem A very well managed account – why are you leaving your other agency? @selley2134

Cont’d – we’ve had a few people want us simply for what they assume our relationship with Google is. @amaliaefowler

General attitude towards digital marketing How they speak about their previous agency Expectations vs budget. @BrettBodofsky

Part of it is a gut feeling & the other is really listening to what they’re saying in the meeting. Are they working with another agency? WHY are they leaving – the answers are super telling. Are they paying attention during the call, or are they distracted etc. @ameetkhabra

It’s been a while since I was exposed to the sales/acquisition process but a few major ones that I would watch for: – Lack of transparency wrt internal data or processes – Unclear or unrealistic expectations wrt communication or results – Not respecting your time. @akaEmmaLouise

Lack of history if it is not a start-up. Unsecure cashflow. Any contact that doesn’t want to be an actual “partner”. @JonKagan

Biggest ones so far: 1. Refusal to give access (post-NDA) for a review prior to proposal 2. Excessive haggling on price 3. Lots of agencies/freelancers or many internal parties involved 4. Unreasonable, rigid expectations 5. No clear goals or directives. @DigitalSamIAm

Weird emails – Circle talk – Paying for email lists – Sketchy or outdated websites. @GreenRope

Also, any person who is in any way inappropriate with me or anyone on my team. Zero tolerance. @NeptuneMoon

6.Lack of collaboration – want to “set + forget” vs. being an actual partner 7. Frequent agency changes – if you’re changing agency partners more often than a Kardashian changes significant others, you might be the problem. 8. Lack of discipline or focus. @DigitalSamIAm

Our sales team is good at scoping out projects and sorting through those that aren’t a good fit for us. We work best with collaborative and participative clients, so wanting to set it and forget is not our jam. @snaptechmktg

When someone totally depends on PPC to run their business without doing any other activity. These are the people that put you in pressure because their survival depends on how PPC results fare. @bufoting

Agency hopping (frequently changing partners more than once a year) & not giving enough time to go through the sales process properly @ClixMarketing

Let me count the ways 1. Wants the cheapest price 2. Micromanages 3. Isn’t open to constructive feedback/criticism on site 4. Demanding of more time 5. Won’t take no for an answer 6. Thinks telling me X agency will do it for cheaper will get me to lower price. @duanebrown

Red flags: When someone is too concerned with what “% of spend” our fees are AFTER I show them, during the audit, how they wasted 2X+ the cost of our service. I’m 100% good with anyone who wants to get MAX ROI, not so much who only want to pay MIN FEES. @yaelconsulting

And also the ones that say budget is not an issue. Major red flag. @yaelconsulting

“What does success look like for you?” – great way to find out how much they care, if they’re performance/data/sales driven, or just solely focused on the bottom line. Bonus points if they mention their people/staff too. @AzeemDigital

To add to what others have said about gut-feeling/personalities, I think the attitudes brought to the relationship are important. Ideally, it should be a partnership with both sides equally invested in shared success, not adversarial or competitive.@akaEmmaLouise

9. Asking for guarantees or pay-for-performance contracts — I don’t control your business. I’m not going to wager my company on your team doing what they’re supposed to do. 10. Asking for a strategy or executers to be in the pitch meeting. @DigitalSamIAm

I’m staying out of this conversation for the most part. But, there is a type of human that thinks everything is negotiable, there is always someone that fix the unfixable & you should never take no for an answer & they shouldn’t be your client @jstatad

They want to move too fast. If they’re ready to start too quickly, they’ll be ready to cancel just as quickly. @MenachemAni

Q2: Do you have any questions or processes that you use specifically to try to root out potentially problematic clients?

The question “tell me about your past experience with marketing agencies or your internal processes” unearths a lot of talking points @amaliaefowler

Yes, at my current agency & my prior one, we set size limits. In both cases, spend under a certain amt per month went to a different team built specifically to help that kind of business. My team does enterprise, multi-channel work. We start there. @JuliaVyse

All pitchesrequire a “chemistry check” where we more or less sit and talk more casually with the clients, to try and feel them out. Clients that make it past that, but prove to be problematic later, will be required to adhere to professionalism claauses in the MSA @JonKagan

Outside of the agency setting, when deciding if I’d be open to taking on a freelance client, I often ask about their budgets, expected outcome of the partnership, and more information about their industry before I explore any deeper. @sonika_chandra

We are Uber-picky. I literally need to know someone else who does business with them. Also, we sometimes apply the”Margarita match” rule. If I wouldn’t want to have margaritas with you, then I probably don’t want to be in business with you. @ynotweb

Ask what the goals are for the program. The more detailed their answer, the more they have thought about it. Ask what they are looking for in a freelancer/agency partner. Tell them your processes like answer emails within 24 hours, number of meetings, etc… @lchasse

Present campaign proposals and management fees in detail before signing client so that all stakeholders are on the page and have the same expectations. @PPCKenChang

I always ask about budget. I have found when they have no idea about their budget for PPC, things often don’t go well. Only exception is brand new to PPC, but they should still have a range in mind! Agree on the goals questions too @NeptuneMoon

Our sales team @mstew206 & @Diana_Kohan_ do a great job of getting to know the company rep, company goals, and overall building of relationship & trust. It goes two ways, we must trust our customers & they must trust us @GreenRope

These high level questions help me understand if we’d be a good fit for each other before getting into the details of the data, expected time investment, etc. @sonika_chandra

I recently change my contact form to an “Apply to work with me” form. But I ask things like, what their goals are (is it reasonable?) Who do they think their top competitors are (are they?)? Who is their target audience (do they even know)? @CarolynLyden

Once past the ‘are you the right fit’ question, we ask about what they want to accomplish and if they have preferred approaches. Right away I can see if there’s a mismatch there, vs if they just need more help. @JuliaVyse

The biggest one for us is a thorough discovery process pre-proposal. We say “no thanks” to about 50% of inbound because they aren’t a fit, don’t have budget or tick off one (or more) of my “Sam’s Top-10 Red Flags” list. @DigitalSamIAm

I ask them their goals on our very first call. I ask them their goals again as we go through the audit to see if they changed – Also if the audit shows these were unreasonable I take this time to talk & see how they came up with the goal. Are they willing to listen? @selley2134

We talk a lot about our processes – how our team communicates, what is included, what isn’t, and what they can expect. Some people will then self-select out at this stage due to lack of fit. @snaptechmktg

That includes a review + audit of current paid media accounts prior to proposal. Yes, I know that’s unpopular among some people. No, I don’t care. I take every business relationship seriously. And I want to know exactly what I’m getting into before we sign. @DigitalSamIAm

Qs probably need some wordsmithing (just thinking out loud) but maybe – What are your goals for this partnership? – How does PPC fit into your larger marketing strategy? – What access will we have to your team? What level of access/availability do you expect from us? @akaEmmaLouise

Be honest about fees up front. Ask more questions before we do the proposal to get a full picture. Give them an idea on the full process and what the next steps are. @tiffanyjshears

Just basic questions – why do you need us? – what are your objectives? – what does success look like? – who will be our contact persons? @soanders

Getting access to the paid accounts can often tell more than the contact may even know. @ClixMarketing

We use an in-take form on each prospect. In fact, trying to not fill it out is a red flag and we will pass on your business. We ask all the basic questions to help understand the business. Plus if we can even help their brand. @duanebrown

Then if we like what we see and the numbers & KPIs make sense. We do a 30 minute phone call, which is just to judge personality and get a read on the person and brand. We do all this even with it’s a referral lead. @duanebrown

Saying “no” is INSANELY valuable, because that’s how we can say “yes” to the clients where we can make a difference and who really want to work with a true partner. @DigitalSamIAm

We start all conversations (before the call) with an email letting them know how much our minimum ad budget is to work with us. Aside from the actual call, we don’t have anything specific we do to root out potentially problematic clients. @ameetkhabra

Q3: What could happen during the sales process that would make you walk away from a potential client?

Ghosting and constantly rescheduled meetings. I literally do not have time for that. @amaliaefowler

In my world, finding out the rfp is just a formality and they’re planning to stay with their current partner. There’s plenty of individual things that could happen, weird business practices, weird budgets, weird structure. it depends. @JuliaVyse

Wanting a Cadillac for a Yugo price. So important to understand the client budget right off the bat to avoid wasting everyone’s time. @beyondthepaid

Late to meetings, unprofessional conduct, and excessive use of absolute business BS phrases like “blue sky thinking” etc. No. @AzeemDigital

If the client is not data oriented and refers to “best practices” over data backed decisions!! it’ll have to be a no for me. @sonika_chandra

Not being willing to grant any read-only account access. (I gladly sign NDAs). Going radio silent after the initial communications. Any hesitation overpaying for things upfront. @NeptuneMoon

It’s rare for us to walk away outright; we usually come to a mutual agreement that this isn’t going to work. However, outright red flags like ghosting and inappropriate comments, are a big one. We protect our team first and foremost. @snaptechmktg

Sooo many things. If a client acts inappropriately, airs their controversial views, snafu in press, goals aren’t aligned, signs they will require more effort than they will pay for, and sooo many more. Learned long ago, not every dollar is worth the mental health. @JonKagan

What makes me walk out? No, really, I don’t. I can have a bad feeling about a project but I am well-behaved and polite while I might be swearing in my mind. But flags will be up and I may politely turn down the process saying “I won’t be able to deliver” @soanders

Haggling on price or trying to go month to month from the start. This can mean they are close to done and this is their hail mary. Have had a few clients not let us know that they only had a couple months left to make it work and it always sucks – for everyone. @selley2134

No-showing for a meeting THEY requested, learning they are involved in a lawsuit (of any kind), asking questions/making statements like “is there a money-back guarantee”? @ynotweb

Let Me Count The Ways 2 1. If my gut says walk away. We walk away. 2. Only cares what the agency fee amount is and not actually performance 3. Unrealistic expectations 4. Anything with smoking, guns, Uber.. aka making climate change worse @duanebrown

I use to think on-boarding brands the week before Black Friday. We took on 2 brands last year and they have been some of our best and most chill clients.@duanebrown

Brand A was doing it in-house and wanted an audit. We did our deep audit and then they asked if we wanted to business. We said yes! Brand B. 2nd pair of eyes audit. They realized their agency was taking the piss. They hired us to consult and tell them what to do.@duanebrown

Q4: Has an experience with a nightmare client changed the way you do business in any way? If so, how? (We will be sharing stories in a subsequent question)…

Every not ideal experience (because they aren’t all worthy of the word ‘terrible’ or ‘nightmare’) has adjusted how I suggest we do things, establish boundaries and scope and how we even package our offerings @amaliaefowler

Yes It is like a Google Ads campaign. You test and tweak and improve your parameters over time. @soanders

Yes! Decided to eliminate a whole service offering after a nightmare client. Thank GOODNESS for contracts. Whew.. @CarolynLyden

Since stories are later I will just say “yes”. LOL every change over 20 years has been due to a learning experience @ynotweb

Yes, but we’re always able to gather takeaways (even from the best client relationships) to improve our work. @ClixMarketing

Again on the freelance level, I have been more diligent about discussing rates upfront, budgets upfront and communication cadence immediately. I used to fall into the “doing a favor for a friend” trap a lot and have learned a few lessons from that as well. @sonika_chandra

Yes, I purposely limit meetings now and set expectations on response times. I always tell them, if we are in meetings, who is doing the work? @lchasse

All the time. Most of the changes we make are in our discovery questions; occasionally we add new clauses to our contracts in response to particularly problematic behaviors. @DigitalSamIAm

Yes. Being clearer about project scope, specifying reporting and meeting cadences, laying out “rules of engagement” (how quickly we will reply to emails, etc. ) @beyondthepaid

Yes. Always honing the characteristics of a good client fit. @robert_brady

Such an important and often overlooked point! @cartooninperson

You learn something new from every client that you work with. We don’t hesitate to adjust our internal processes based on what we’ve learned in every experience, from the great ones to the… not so much. @snaptechmktg

Very clear scope of work – What is covered, what isn’t covered. @selley2134

Don’t answer emails right way and set better expectations. Repeat things until clients can recite it back to me and understand what I’m saying. Saying our team’s mental health comes first. @duanebrown

Yes, but perhaps not in the way you’d expect. Results: – I will ALWAYS be *there* for my team, and make sure they know it. – I invest a lot more energy in setting expectations and communicating inevitable uncertainties. – I will choose less stress over more $$. @akaEmmaLouise

Re: expectations and uncertainty – shameless plug for the two recent tools I shared at SMX Advanced last month, which evolved from this particular passion. Downloadable (for free) here:…@akaEmmaLouise

Don’t answer emails right way and set better expectations. Repeat things until clients can recite it back to me and understand what I’m saying. Saying our team’s mental health comes first. @duanebrown

About 3 years ago, we an agency fired our largest revenue generating client. Erratic behavior (unbeknownst to us was later diagnosed as serious mental health condition), constant abuse, passive aggressive attitude, irrational deadlines & what I can only describe 1/2 @JonKagan

My first real client turned into my first lawsuit, so YES. Listen to them. A lot of these problematic clients give themselves away in the conversation. I was just too eager to start freelancing & really wanted to land a client that I ignored it all.@ameetkhabra

Q5: Do you have a standard way of backing out if a prospective client reveals themselves to be the type you do not want to work with? How do you handle this – email, call, etc.?

Yes a phone call to explain everything, and to point out some agencies that will take those accounts. Sometimes those clients return and see things our way eventually, and we do end up working with them. Being respectful goes a long way. @PPCKenChang

The only thing standard about the “not a good fit” conversation is being VERY clear and FINAL. If you aren’t clear enough, people try to negotiate their way back in. And that sucks if you are an empathic person who likes to help people.@ynotweb

Yes, but luckily I don’t have to do that by myself. We agree on next steps as a team and create an off-ramp. Sometimes it’s more sudden than other times, but there’s always an honest conversation. @JuliaVyse

@PPCKirk had a perfect example of this last week. And we should all take note:… @TheMarketingAnu

It’s clearly spelled out in the contract that either party can disengage with 30 days notice – I think that gives them enough time to find someone else. I would send them an email letting them know they have 30 days & offer a call if they want. @selley2134

Are we talking pre-contract or post-contract, because they are different! Pre-contract, let them know it isn’t a good fit and wish them luck. I don’t refer because that’s being a jerk to my friends. Post-contract, fulfil our duties, end it, and handover @amaliaefowler

Classic “it depends” answer. If it is something egregious during the sales calls, I will do it right then. Otherwise, it is usually a thoughtful email declining the work. Once they are a client, contracts spell out termination processes. @NeptuneMoon

Yes – we are extremely transparent (and maybe a little blunt, but : shrug — we raise the issue(s) with them and see if they have a good reason. In many cases, they either (a) don’t or (b) get defensive/accusatory, in which case we say we’re not the right fit. @DigitalSamIAm

If it is before we have started working together I have zero issue with just saying I will not be a good fit for your needs. My agreement with clients is all we need is 30 days and an email to terminate a relationship. @lchasse

Tell them as simply as possible. The decision should be final at that point, so make that clear. @robert_brady

Yes a phone call to explain everything, and to point out some agencies that will take those accounts. Sometimes those clients return and see things our way eventually, and we do end up working with them. Being respectful goes a long way.@PPCKenChang

Because of my previously noted client in my prior tweet, all clients now sign a MSA that has a professionalism clause. Failure to abide by (both ways), allows for an exiting of the relationship, with duration being at one sides discretion. @JonKagan

Email. I hate phone calls in general, so email is my preferred method. Also, I want the paper trail. @ameetkhabra

Depends on what the collateral damage could be. I’ve had the phone call to avoid the bad Google review. Sometimes I email. @amaliaefowler

Q6: Let’s spill some tea… Tell us about a nightmare, difficult or poor fitting client you once worked with and how you handled that situation. You, of course, need not name any actual names!

We aren’t going to spill any tea over here, but we’re learning so much from this chat today – thanks for sharing, everyone @snaptechmktg

Offered probono work for 7 months. One month in of paying, takes everything to a new agency. @amaliaefowler

Clients who treat us like their assistant or employee, throwing tasks at us randomly and wanting them done in an hour. No respect for our time. @beyondthepaid

Fast casual restaurant chain and marketing vp screamed at us during a meeting, I waiting for the rant to stop but took notes during the rant to address a possible solution. After that, we became very, very selective about our future clients @PPCKenChang

I had a client who would always be 5 minutes+ late for calls, reschedule, because of other work emergencies. I was also asked for data I had already provided and they wanted impromptu meetings almost every week. @lchasse

“We love what you do, can we be up and running tomorrow. You have carte blanche and here is a cheque for 50% of the campaign, just invoice when the campaign is done” Fell for that one once. Just once. Cost: a few thousand bucks @soanders

Insistence/demand that we use prescribed structure/tactics vs our reco. I tend to offer lots of advice, caveats, forecasts, then review results when their approach doesn’t work. Sometimes with a different/new client contact after things really go sideways. @JuliaVyse

Had one client at a previous job who constantly went in and made changes in the account, undoing work we had done. We finally fired them b/c we couldn’t be responsible for performance under those conditions. @beyondthepaid

One client when I worked at an automotive agency brought his wife in so he and the ‘men’ could talk marketing and she and I could talk car colors and cupholders. Same client told me he thought I was the secretary (we had no reception desk) @amaliaefowler

I worked on an events client that totally depended on PPC for lead generation and would never be happy about the results. He’d micro manage everything from ad copy, keywords, bid, campaign structure. He’d pause campaigns if they didn’t perform on one particular day. @bufoting

“We love your innovative ideas and state of the art processes, but can we just run the campaign exactly the way the former agency did this and then revise next year.” Next year never happened. Because “do like they used to” @soanders

Oh I’ve had that. We had one client (attorney) who went into his account and changed the daily budget from $500 (or so) to $5,000, then screamed about how much money the campaign was spending. Thank heavens for change logs. @DigitalSamIAm

Poor fitting client examples: Client A had no method of converting clients online and didn’t answer their phone, 3 million-revenue Client B had NEVER had (or felt the need to have) a marketing budget before, Client C only had used Fiverrs previously @ynotweb

That was one of those “particularly problematic” scenarios where a contractual change was made. You own your account 100%, but if you change stuff, then you pay for stuff. @DigitalSamIAm

Luckily the # of nightmare clients in the past 16 years is only a handful. The most infuriating I had was a client in ATL that insisted we have a 9 am monday meeting in person to begin a 3 day in person summit. I flew down on a Sunday, with a 4 nights planned 1/2 @JonKagan

A6: I’ve actually had multiple clients that would not allow me to restructure the accounts. So I had to work in the terrible structure of the previous agency. One also had me recreate the last agency’s report – If you want their report & structure, Why did you leave!? @selley2134

The first account I ever onboarded as a new account manager. They were a startup w single-page site & I had to build the account from scratch. They had a large budget and high-value product offering. A week after the campaigns went live, I got yelled at on a call… @akaEmmaLouise

Client was upset that they hadn’t gotten any qualified leads yet & couldn’t believe we’d spent so much money (less than 20% of stated monthly budget). Lots of red flags/lessons learned that aren’t part of this story. I don’t think I handled it well but I survived. @akaEmmaLouise

I don’t remember much of the nightmare call tbh but I DO (and will always) remember how shook I was afterward and how it felt to have our agency VP (shoutout @The_Hootman) come to me after he learned of the situation and tell me that the agency had my back @akaEmmaLouise

I don’t remember what exactly was said in that brief exchange, either, but I recall the sentiment was that it is not okay for clients to treat us that way and that the higher-ups were dealing with it. I cannot overstate how much loyalty was built in that moment. @akaEmmaLouise

(Returning to my A4) Moral of the story: value your team. Train them well, trust them, and take care of them. That was so early in my career and I like to think that the impact and revenue I contributed in years following more than made up for any $$ we lost then. @akaEmmaLouise

Q7: What is something that you know now, that you wished you knew then when it comes to spotting potentially awful clients?

Plan out who will work on the business before it is signed. Have every member of the team meet them. Then compare notes, if someone isn’t comfortable with it, do not sign the business. @JonKagan

Awful clients show themselves almost immediately because they don’t think they’re awful. I know I’m repeating myself, but listen to what they say super carefully. @ameetkhabra

Awful clients come in all shapes and sizes. As I get older, I’m glad I learned early on to say no and also fire bad fit clients. No is the most powerful word in the English language. @duanebrown

Trust your intuition. Every. Time. @robert_brady

When they don’t have any questions for you during the initial calls – run. When they don’t ask you if you have additional questions, that makes me pause too. I also really like potential clients who want to clearly define next steps even early on. @NeptuneMoon

When I first started, I did not weigh the personality as much as I should have. Now the personality of the person I will be working with has a lot more importance than a lot of other factors. Also, learning to set expectations (response times, meetings, etc…) @lchasse

It’s easy to be in awe of large clients, large brands, and large budgets but do a gut check to see if your team and their teams are aligned with marketing goals @PPCKenChang

Never make a decision based on fear (fear of lost income, fear of not having enough work, fear of the economy declining, etc) @ynotweb

Trust your gut. If it’s good enough to keep me from getting in sketchy cabs in NYC, it’s good enough for this @amaliaefowler

Trust your gut. Even if things look right, if it feels funny, you’re probably on to something. and for the ladies – you know what I mean. When a dudebro client -or anyone – talks to you a certain way, you WALK. @JuliaVyse

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