So I was recently chatting with FM Byers of SM Digital Partners, Aaron Metzger of Genius, and Dani Martindale of Mannix Marketing, Roger Parent of Digital Position and Nathan Pabich of Digital Third Coast on our private Slack for PPCs and an interesting question came up: how do you deal with a client who has an established business that is successful and growing and with a $50k/month ad spend–non-trivial numbers by most standards–and yet the founder has been running the campaign himself since the beginning and is having a difficult time understanding why it makes sense to hire a professional to do it?
And add to the mix the challenge of a founder not understanding performance based marketing and thus wouldn’t entertain commissions based on the success of the campaign. How, just how, do you make someone see the value of a service like this?
Well! While I have no idea who the man behind that company is nor any other information, he is an archetype I know far, far too well. We can all that archetype:
The Know-It-All Founder.
The Know-It-All Founder! The superman who saw a video on a topic and now is sure he’s an expert. The superman who has never delegated anything in his life. The superman who, the less he knows about a topic, the more he trusts his opinion.
A type, I know too well. (I may or may not have actually been this type at some point in the past.) Having experienced and succeed working with the most challenging clients you can imagine under the most adverse conditions, I had a bunch to say on the this character and how to manage him. And indeed, I even wrote a whole book about charming the hardest to please clients in the world. and I’m getting ready to launch a new podcast on the same subject.
Here are some of the tips that I’ve shared with them.
1.) I try to convince them how easy it is and that they don’t need me. (The most annoying and worst ones go away at this point. Seriously: “why do you need to spend so much money on me! You can just open a Google Ads account yourself and watch YouTube videos about how to do it!”)
2.) I tell them, “I know that I’ll be able to [double / or whatever] your performance over the next six months. Idea. You should spend the next 6 months doing it without me and let me know how it goes. I’ll still be here and happy to help in 6 months!”. In my personal language, I call this The Godfather Maneuver.
3.) I use phrases like, “You only need to hire a specialist when you’re serious. You’re doing fine on the amateur level. Let me know when you’re ready to get serious.” Note: I find the professional/amateur distinction powerful. If an someone sues you, you can read the Wikipedia page about the relevant law, or you can hire a lawyer. And even if you read the Wikipedia page and think about it and you come to the right conclusion, it’s the lawyer, not you, who knows the tons of tiny little details that separate failure from success (when to file what paper and what words to use on such paper etc.)
4.) I let them know that the strategy is the easy part, and the most fun part, but the hard part is implementing it. In fact, it’s so easy, you TELL THEM the strategy–at least your first instincts for a strategy, and at a high level, and with all the qualifications, “This is just my first instinct without having dived in” because you don’t dive in until they pay you. And of course, you tell them the HARDEST TO IMPLEMENT parts of your strategy. “Yeah, we’re going to integrate this with a feed for GMC but we need to run it through an algorithm to clean up the data etc etc etc” — shit that it will take him forever to do. And of course you only give him the one-sentence version of the strategy so he can’t actually implement it on his own either.
5.) If he’s not sophisticated enough to understand performance-based marketing, he’s probably VERY unsophisticated. And those are, very often, when you get to complex matters, the most challenging clients. Maybe that extra few dollars a month just isn’t worth it.
That’s the long and short of my advice. What’s powerful about this advice is: it applies in lots and lots of different client and potential client situations. And these attitudes are more emblematic of bigger attitudes about work and how they will treat you that you should recognize in advance, so you can be prepared for what is to come. And is it worth it? Maybe, maybe not–only you can decide what’s best for you.
Like these ideas about managing challenging clients? You can learn more about Beloved by Clients.