How to manage client expectations

Effectively managing your client’s expectations throughout the duration of your working relationship is a critical component of running a successful digital marketing agency. We’ve spoken with a panel of industry experts and compiled a collection of their top insights when it comes to successfully managing your client’s expectations.

  1. Have a discovery process

Ivan Asem of InstaSense says “The best way to manage client expectations is to spend plenty of time in the discovery and design phase of the engagement process and to provide a range for results based on their constraints. For instance, if you have a client that wants to run a campaign with Google Ads, you need to ensure that your clients goals are clearly stated at the beginning of the project. This could be generating 80 leads through Google Ads. As a marketing expert, you have gather relevant keywords with tools such as Google Keyword planner, get the estimated cost of those keywords and match it to your client’s budget and timeline. At that point you can return to the client and show the new results estimated within a range based on the budget, timeline and keywords. You also have the opportunity to express what changes could be made to achieve their result (higher budget, longer timeline) as well as make them aware of any potential risks and the magnitude of those risks (iPhones being updated with software that could affect 30% of the potential leads leading to a loss of 25-30 leads). At this point, the client can sign off on the expectations that they and the agency agree on.”

Omer Menashe of eMojo shares “Ask your client explicitly one simple question – what does success look like? Too often an agency assumes the answer to that question, and the client assumes the agency understands exactly what they want. By asking the above question, everyone gets on the same page from day one. It’ll decrease client churn significantly!”

  1. Educate your client 

Madeleine Costa of Succeeding Small shares “We work with small businesses exclusively at our agency. We’ve found that informing our clients about how SEO works, our internal process, and when they can see results is one of the best ways to get everyone on the same page. Education can lead to a better relationship between you and the client, generate more satisfaction with your services, and lead to less turnover.

However, when you educate clients on your service expectations, it’s imperative not to overwhelm them with an excess of knowledge and complex jargon.”

Charles Demarkles of Demarkles Digital says “Agencies can optimize how they manage client expectations by thoroughly explaining the ROI behind any action & showing their work that they did to come to their conclusions (at a high level, of course.) This way, most if not all inputs have been covered for the client, and they will have a better understanding as to why things did, or did not work out as intended as you previously educated them about it.”

  1. Set clear expectations

Isa Gautschi of M.Isa Messaging advises “Clients will default to expecting quick, exaggerated results unless you set expectations from the beginning of how much consistency, quality content, and time is required before a significant return on investment. Particularly new business owners or business leaders who don’t have much experience with marketing will need this explained for things like content marketing and SEO.”

Digital marketing expert, Kevin Miller advises “If you want a successful marketing campaign, it’s crucial that both parties have an open conversation about what they expect from each other. The first meeting when you’re pitching for a new client should lay out all your expectations of the project clearly so everyone knows what they’re getting into right from the start.”

Harrison Baron of Growth Generators says “When it comes to managing client expectations, my one tip would be this; sit down with them and have them understand exactly what they are getting into. When you, the expert, show them what they are getting into, and showing results, it helps to manage their expectations. Then they shift their thinking and realize how they can realistically grow their business at that very moment. Then they won’t be surprised if not all of their expectations are met because they have changed their expectations to be more realistic.”

John Rodgers of The 215 Guys advises “In our experience, the most important aspect of managing client expectations is to actually set expectations. We’ve taken over many relationships, and we’re consistently thanked for clearly communicating 4 things: 1. What we’re going to be doing, and why. 2. How we’re going to be doing it, and why. 3. How things are going on a weekly basis. 4. Communicating when action items are completed. This allows the clients to see every step along the way, and prevents them straying off of the path. Without that roadmap and a good guide along the way, clients are bound to get lost: which only leads to problems and delays.”

Brenton Thomas of Twibi states “Sometimes there can be a little friction when it comes to results vs. deliverables but, in our experience, the best thing any marketing agency can do is being very clear from the beginning, and don’t promise things that are impossible to deliver (for example, #1 rankings overnight, thousands of sales automatically or even a big following on social media in days). We have also found it useful to send monthly reports to clients, even if they don’t ask for them, with an open line of communication so they can ask all the questions they might have.”

Elizabeth Weatherby of Youtech says “Setting clear goals at the beginning of any campaign or project helps to alleviate the possibility of project scope creep. Scope creep in a project refers to some miscommunication in the project, usually due to stakeholders (in this case, clients) changing the scope of the project. If a project ends up requiring more work, or if the client requests certain aspects of the project to be improved, changed, or built upon, clear goals help you to refer back to what was agreed upon. Clear goals help to set a benchmark and help agencies vouch for the value of their work and their time.”

Alan Attias of Net Sixty Six says “In my opinion, it is vital to make any client realise that any Organic keyword ranking positions will tend to fluctuate i.e. their website is just as likely to move down the rankings as it does increase its positioning. Google carries out daily algorithm updates and are constantly testing their results pages so the SEO landscape is constantly evolving. Also, to achieve the desired results for the Organic listings often takes time which is due to the need for constant crawling and indexing being necessary by the Search Engine ‘bots’ or spiders.”

Kim Del Monico of BE INFLUENCE advises “One tip for managing client expectations is to let them know approximately how long it takes on average to see results. For example, most subject experts say that it takes between 4-6 months to see results when you begin working on SEO. This way, they won’t be disappointed if they don’t see results in the first month or two.”

  1. Be clear about the objectives

Madhura Moulik of Skilfinity says “Long term/short term as well as the tactics and strategy with clear deliverables is a must. Educate and explain without confusing (be careful about sharing too much and intimidating the client) about the process and best practices. Also, measure (although everything isn’t measurable), suggest metrics that align best with the objectives.”

Margaret Ozella of Trusted Search Marketing shares “I think a lack of transparency is the number one issue that most digital marketing agencies fall into. Digital marketing concepts can be confusing and difficult to understand when you’re not familiar with the terminology or industry. That’s why it’s very important for digital marketing agencies to focus on transparency. They should explain in detail (and laymens terms) what exactly they will be doing to help their client better understand what they are paying for and answer questions as they arise.”

Lane Burns of Your Marketing People states “When managing client expectations it’s important to be transparent with what realistic goals your agency can achieve. We’re always honest and upfront about what goals we know we can hit, and what are reach goals. It’s important to have these expectations set on the client strategy meetings, even before they sign the proposal so they are fully aware before they sign up. Once you start be sure to outline the targets again in your kick-off calls. We report bi-weekly so clients know exactly where there ROAS stands mid-month and include pacing so they know what to expect at the end of a month, quarter, etc.”

Daniel Phung of Full Books Marketing says “Rather than focusing on what they *do* get on the service, what we do for our clients is clearly defining what they *aren’t* getting in the service.

For example, for lead generation/digital ads, we ensure the client understands that the service will bring them hot leads, not converted leads. It is their responsibility to have the systems in place to convert the leads into customers.

As a bonus tip, we usually set the expectations low and then overdeliver. For example, when a client purchases lead generation/digital ads from our company, we’d often tack on extra ‘surprise’ services like a featured press article on their business.”

Marcus Miller of Bowler Hat advises “The simplest way to manage client expectations is to use SMART Goals for all your KPIs. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic & Timed so the very process of using SMART Goals for your KPIs forces you to review if the goals are realistic and to set a timeline for achieving those goals. Working through this process your client will ensure you are all on the same page and have a set of aggressive, yet realistic goals to work towards.”

  1. Document expectations

StevenTait of Online Marketing For Doctors says “Our best tip is to make sure that you document your discussions clearly, especially follow-up online meetings with an email of notes about your conversation and how you’ve detailed what realistic expectations should be.  This will come in handy months down the road when reality materializes and the client doesn’t seem to recall those previous conversations anymore.  Everyone seems comfortable with outlined expectations in the beginning, it is later on when these expectations will often get challenged, and that you’ll want this documentation for clear proof of our previous discussions.”

Madison Gorn of Maddie Girl Marketing advises “An essential tip for managing client expectations is to be upfront and honest from the start. Setting out the rules, expectations, timeline, and strategy is vital during the client onboarding process. As an agency, make sure you take out time to bring clarity to the client of what you can guarantee and what you cannot promise. It is always better to underpromise and overdeliver. Taking the time during the onboarding process for your client will give them trust in you as well as give them realistic expectations so they will be satisfied with the completed work and become a long-term client.”

Elyse of Elysium Marketing Group adds “Spell out exactly what your client is getting and exactly what they are not getting in your Statement of Work.”

  1. Create an agreement

Daniel Sarao of Macaw Digital Marketing advises “In order to keep clients within the project scope and protect your agency and resources from being taken advantage of it’s critical that you have a solid agreement with the client. This agreement should outline very specifically what services you are being hired to perform and how other services will be handled in order to prevent scope creep and frustration.”

Amy Roberts of KNB Communications says “Stick with the SOW. At a restaurant for example — when you order an entrée, you don’t expect an appetizer, dessert, and a few drinks to be included at no cost. Why? Because you only ordered and agreed to pay for the entrée. It’s no different with your agency. Understand the scope of work (SOW) you approved, and don’t request deliverables outside of it.”

  1. Set up key contacts

Rahul Kumar of RankSoldier shares “Set up key contacts between your client and your team. We know being very clear about the project with your client is vital. But an excessive amount of communication can be as bad as it can result in inefficiency. Decide on who you want to be the key contacts in your team who can handle this position. It will help every team member to go along with the same agreement.”

  1. Focus on building the client relationship

Odette Peralta of The Social Savvy advises “We have authentic client relationships that are built throughout our time with each client. This allows us to truly know our client and how we can authentically represent their business/brand tone through content marketing. Building these unique relationships allows open communication with our clients ensuring that all expectations are being met. We encourage feedback from our team and work together to make the goals and vision in mind, come to life.”

  1. Have regular communication

Jessica Blackshaw of HAVEN Creative Agency shares “Be proactive instead of reactive. By creating regular touchpoints, you can stay ahead of client questions and manage project updates or timeline shifts. One way we do this at our agency is to send a Monday status email on things in progress during the week as well as questions/requests we have for the client that are awaiting a reply.”

Amanda McCrea of Online Optimism shares “The best tip for managing client expectations is to communicate clearly from the start. This focus on effective communication will allow you to understand the client’s goals and determine what actions you can take to meet those objectives. If you then articulate the client’s goals back to them and explain your plan for addressing them, point by point, this will ensure that your client’s expectations are calibrated to your capabilities.”

Justin Morgan of Dental Marketing Guy says “Regular communication is key. Once you are on the same page, it’s a way to lose track. We provide updates often, and I like to make sure the client is aware of all deliverables promptly. It’s critical that we’re responsive to customer service related emails. We tend to respond within two business hours to all paying clients. We respond faster to paying clients than we do to sales leads. I feel like this sets us apart, and clients are unlikely to leave when they realize this.”

Simon Wardropper of Realtime Agency advises “The best way to manage client expectations is to create and maintain transparent, shared spaces between your agency and your client. Whether this be investing in a performance dashboard software that your clients can access 24/7, a slack channel where small updates can be dropped, an asana project where clients can see progress as it’s made, or a simple shared Google doc that your team updates once a day, transparency is key.”

Laurel Mintz of Elevate My Brand says “In order for marketing agencies to manage successful relationships with their clients, they have to foster trust. Transparency is key. Agree on KPIs up front so your clients have reasonable expectations, and then constantly communicate accurate metrics on those KPIs, even if you’re not driving the outcomes you’d hoped to see. Clients don’t expect perfection; they expect results and solutions.”

  1. Go above and beyond

Dimana Markova of Down to Earth Marketing says “Tell your client when you go above and beyond. Sounds obvious but it isn’t. Many times I’ll do something extra that isn’t part of the contract but they might not know. I used to think that telling them would be somehow unprofessional but learned it is quite the opposite – it illustrates what a great professional I am and what great service they are getting with my agency.”

Kyle Börner of White Buffalo Creative shares “We’re proactive when it comes to meeting and exceeding expectations. Before we lift a finger to design a website or perform SEO, we perform extensive research into the client’s industry so as to set expectations at a realistic level—both for them and us. For example, the client wants to rank on page 1 as soon as possible, but we at White Buffalo need to understand how they measure up against their direct and in-direct competition, so as to provide *the most realistic expectations* on where they can rank on page 1 faster, and where it will take some time to rank on page 1. We compare, analyze, and report on such things as domain authority, historical trends in organic traffic and organic rankings, and especially marketing budget.”

  1. Refer to previous results

Joe Fisher of OptiClick advises “You must back it up with tangible evidence. Setting expectations and forecasting results will only get you so far, you need to show results for previous clients that haven’t happened overnight. I have a case study that I like to show to new clients to show exactly how long it takes to get results and it does tend to let off a lightbulb moment in their head when they realise SEO does work, but it can take time.

And if the client starts to waiver and look like their expectations are changing, keep referring to previous case studies and good results e.g. remember when it took 6 months to get that page to rank in the top 3 for xyz keyword? It’s all about reinforcing.”

Alison Johnston of Electric Alley states “We have a strong focus on data driven marketing, that is using data where ever possible when making decisions and planning campaigns, and robust testing of results. Some of the tools we use include data studio, SEMrush, google tools, consumer trends and good old fashioned searching.

This really helps us manage client expectations as we have the evidence to back up what we’re saying. Nothing is based on a hunch, and we can measure our results against what we forecast, which helps build trust between us and the client.”

Ryan Thomas of Explorer Marketing cautions “Clients always want to know how much money they will make when they hire you. It’s tempting to give them a figure by referencing some of your previous cases, but this can hurt your relationship with the client right out the gates if you don’t produce the same ROI.

The hard thing about marketing for a new client is that you have no benchmark data from how your tactics will impact them personally, so making promises of dramatic increase in ROI in the first few weeks of working together may be your own downfall.”

From educating your client, to being upfront with the scope of work and the deliverables, to going above and beyond- Managing your client’s expectations throughout the duration of your working relationship is a critical component of running a successful digital marketing agency. We hope this list of tips and strategies will maintain more happy clients in your agency, ultimately leading to more referrals and future growth.