Agency Unfiltered - Beth Carter from Clariant Creative

Finding and Keeping the Right-Fit Clients

Beth teaches us about the importance of finding right-fit clients. She shares why it’s so important to qualify for fit, how she identifies if a potential client is a right or wrong fit, and what impact this has on the client experience. We also talk about when and how it’s appropriate to move on from bad-fit clients.

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Episode Transcript

In this episode of Agency Unfiltered, we have Beth Carter, chief strategist of Clariant Creative Agency. Beth teaches us about the importance of finding the right fit clients, and how you can maintain great working relationships. She shares why it's so important to qualify for fit, how she identifies if a potential client is the right fit, and then what impact that has with the client experience. And how she ensures each relationship remains positive. On the flip side, we talk about wrong fit as well. What impact it could have on the agency. And when needed, how agencies can part ways with those wrong fit clients. Are you ready to build remarkable relationships with the right clients? If so, let's jump in.

KD: Hello, Beth, thank you for joining us today.

BC: I'm so excited to be here.

KD: We are excited to have you. And I'm excited to talk about finding, or discovering who your right fit clients are, who the good fit clients are for you and your team and your services. And then what sort of impact, benefits, and kind of, why would you define who right and good fits are versus maybe who isn't the best fit. So we'll unpack all of that. But let’s first just start, for contextual reasons, how you go about defining who your right fit clients are, who your good fit clients are? So just give us an idea of who that is for you and your team.

BC: As a HubSpot agency, we go through this, the agency partner training, and maybe you've gone through some of the sales training.

KD: I'm familiar.

BC: Yes, I feel like I know you even though we've just met. And you know there's all this talk about BANT, Budget, Authority, Need, Time. And that's important, that's like table stakes almost. But that just gets you to a certain point. That is not the end all, be all of a right fit client. Some of it is really just a cultural fit. Do you get along with this client? Do you enjoy working with this client? Does the client enjoy working with you? Can you help the client? And it's not just, you know, do we have the capability, but are you going to mesh and really work together in a way that's going to be beneficial for their company and for your company as well?

KD: So it's not just company size, vertical, revenue size, etc. You're talking about almost personality makeup or communication style. And that actually plays a factor in determining if they're going to be a good fit for what you offer.

BC: That's exactly it.

KD: Why is that so important? Why do you need to have a finger on that sort of pulse? What are the repercussions otherwise?

BC: Well, as an agency what we do is not easy. And if we're going to be doing something that is so hard with somebody that we don't like working with, what is the point? As a small business owner, you know, life is too short to work with people that you don't genuinely like.

KD: People that stink.

BC: And it's not: I don't want to work with anybody like that. But sometimes it's just, sometimes you're just not the right fit, for lack of a better word, and it's a very wishy-washy, vaguely defined kind of a thing. And you know it, a lot of it is gut, you know? It's not like there's a set of questions. I don't have a checklist that I can, you know, oh, yes, she laughs at my jokes, okay, I want to work with her.

KD: That's actually a big thing for me.

BC: Actually, it is kind of, it is a little bit, right? But you need to be able to have fun working with this person, and you need to have a sense that they're having fun working with you too, right? Because if you've gotta be building a relationship with this client, and it's not just about the funding, you know, we're going to run a campaign, we're going to do blogging, we're going to do this, we're going to do that, but we are trying to actually help our clients look like heroes, right? And if we don't, that's a very personal thing, so you have to have that personal relationship for you to be able to, for the client almost, to be able to trust you in a way that you can make that client look like a hero.

KD: You mentioned too, you have to trust your gut, right, or it's a gut feeling. So, when do you know, like, this is an aspect where I trust my gut, or just like, how do you actually begin qualifying somebody? Like, what's that process look like to say, okay, yeah, they are the right fit? Like, what is that process, when do you know these are the personality attributes or communication styles, like these are the ones that I'm looking out for? Like, what does that process look like, if there's a process?

BC: You know, the sales process is long, is the good news, so you're never, well, wow, if I could sell a huge retainer with one phone call, that'd be fine, and that would, wow—

KD: I'll take that every time.

BC: I'd probably make sure they're a good fit client, right? But that's not really how it works, right? So, you've gotta, you're having several, multiple interactions with the client or the prospect, at that point, and so you get a sense of how are we communicating. Is it, you know, sometimes it's as simple, we actually lost business not too long ago, and in hindsight, it was a really good thing, and just everything, we are a remote agency, and everything we do is by video camera, or zooms, and you know, video calls. They would not turn on their video camera in any of the calls. Which is fine, there's nothing wrong with not wanting to do a video call, but it was not the way we work, you know? It was such a little thing, but that was emblematic of just multiple ways where, they didn't laugh at any of my jokes, so you know, yeah.

KD: Get rid of 'em.

BC: Right, you know? And I just, I knew we just weren't clicking, and that's such an amorphous kind of a thing, but we just didn't click, and we didn't get the business, and we shouldn't have gotten the business. And probably there was some subconscious aspect of it where I maybe, I don't know, maybe I would've approached it differently if I felt we were a better fit, but none of it felt right, and I was not heartbroken when we found out that we didn't get it.

KD: So it's never the one big thing, like it's not a singular checkbox where you're like, okay, they didn't log into Zoom so they're not a fit for us, but it's almost like a death by 1000 scratches, right, so it continues to stack up, and once all of those things complete the larger picture, it might be time to move on or go in another direction.

BC: That's a really great way to put it. You know, and it's funny, I have been running this agency for not quite four years now, but I've been in this space for a very long time, and you know when something is right and when it isn't right, and sometimes it's really easy, especially as a small business owner, you know, it's hard to say no to revenue. Oh my God, it's so hard. But you know, and any time I have ever regretted, you know, there's that voice in your head, and any time I've made a decision where I've ignored that voice, 100% of the time I regret it. So, the older I get and the, you know, the more my career progresses in this, I listen to that voice.

KD: Trusting your instinct, right? And so, being more intentional about what makes up the right fit, or maybe a bad fit or a wrong fit for your services, like, how does that conversation go? So, whether it's at some point in your sales process, or maybe it's decide to part ways with an existing client. Like, how do you approach that conversation, what does it sound like, what does it look like?

BC: When you realize you're not a good fit? Yeah, so we had a circumstance almost two years ago now, it's never easy, really. You know, and if it's during the sales process, it's actually, that's the easy part, when it's the sales process. And I have even had occasions where I maybe purposely priced us out of business, you know, because I knew. And actually, that even belies a better point there that there's, I believe there is no good reason to ever burn a bridge, right? You know, so just because we aren't a good fit, it's not a judgment, it just is. You know, so what? No big deal, you know? So, I always want to make sure that I'm saving face, both for my own agency and for the other company, 'cause no one wants to be told, like, oh, you're a jerk, you know? It kinda doesn't go over very well.

KD: So I've been told, yeah.

BC: There have been certain circumstances where I purposely, you know, knowingly, like, this was my exit route that, you know, I presented a proposal that I knew would never fly, and oh, gee, darn, too bad. But we did actually have a circumstance a couple of years ago where we did have to, what was the Gwyneth Paltrow? Consciously uncouple from, isn't that how she...? Anyway, I'm sorry.

KD: 100% that's what it was. Yeah, definitely, yeah.

BC: We had to, we had to break up with the client. Um, in this particular circumstance, the company had always been very dysfunctional. But the Vice President of Marketing was phenomenal. And she shielded us from all of the dysfunction from the rest of the company. Well, she could only take it for so long and she eventually left and then they brought, the CEO of the company hand picked her replacement and the personality just, we just did not click. It was not going well. I could see the, you know, the wheels flying off this train and it was, we were heading for some place really bad. Fortuitously, it was right around the start of a new year and similar to my brilliant strategy for proposals, I let them know that, you know, while in the start of the new year, we're going to be raising their prices for everybody and right away said, "Oh well we can't do it". And I was ready that, I knew that was going to be his answer, I was like, "I understand and let's talk about to, you know, help you find another agency". So it was like the perfect segway into this breakup. I believe that they think that, you know, we were just kind of crazy about it, which was fine, you know, had I tried to be confrontational, it would have been horrible, and there was no need for that, so it was a very safe way that he felt like he was saving face. I knew that it was working out very, you know, that it was the right decision to make, um and that was how we went about it.

KD: Great, it's a sly approach. I like that. One question about trusting your gut, and then I want to move over, maybe we'll talk about the positives and the great relationships you've been able to foster with these good fit clients, but, when you go back to trusting your instinct, trusting your gut, and all of a sudden the flags go off that maybe this isn't the right fit. I'm not sure how big your team is, but is there any weight you apply to whose gut is being trusted at that moment, right? So if you here from your account level folks, or anybody, like a junior employee that is raising their hand, saying, "Hey, I don't think they're the best fit", where does that fit into the whole process?

BC: You know, we're a small agency. We're a core team of five, and we have sort of a bubble of support staff around us, and freelancers, and other network resources around us. I pay very close attention to how my team is reacting because it is not just about making the client happy, but my team has to be happy. If my team isn't happy, I don't have a company, and, you know, goodbye, right? They are almost more important, in fact, they are more important to me than even the client happiness, and the client happiness is really important, right? So I am constantly paying attention to that, and even when we bring out a new client, and I'm trying to think of who do you assign it to, some of it is technical capabilities, and some of it is personality. Who do I think is going to gel better with a particular client. So I have never yet had a team member say to me, "Wow, this relationship isn't working", and perhaps that's because I'm always watching for it.

KD: You try to solve it at the top, right? Like you wouldn't put them in a tough position where I don't think they would gel in the first place.

BC: Right, right. And then they are forced with some, you know, where is their loyalty, right? That would put my team members in a difficult position, and I don't want to do that.

KD: That makes sense. So this being intentional around good fit clients, so, we've turned away, or priced out, all the bad fit or wrong fit folks, so now all we're working with are folks that we've deemed, like this is going to be the best fit, this is the right fit, we mesh, we gel, and so, once they come in with that in mind, how do you lean on that, or leverage it, to maintain a great working relationship, or how do you see it influence the results over the work that you do? So how do you take the definition of a right fit, or a good fit client, and then how does that impact the full customer service experience with your team?

BC: So there's a couple of things that we think are very important. At least in our own unique, quirky, weird way that we work. First of all, regular check-ins. The communication is so important, and it's not just about the logistics of, you know, "Oh hey did you approve this blog post?" you know, whatever, and that is actually a lot of what our call, so we have a particular cadence of check-ins. I will usually have weekly, maybe biweekly calls, depending on the client. Monthly calls, quarterly calls, and each type of call has a different type of agenda. The weekly calls do end up being very logistical in nature, tactical in nature, but that is almost the best opportunity that we have to eliminate, first of all, a few hundred emails that you might be sending back and forth, trying to get things done. And it's that constant check-in, and that is really where I can start to be taking the temperatures. Not every single one of them, but most of them I'm sitting in on. I don't have the time to sit on every single one, but I rotate around and make sure that I'm regularly sitting in on them so I can observe how the client is acting, how my team member's reacting, and vice versa. Just making sure, generally speaking, all of that is flowing exactly the way it should be. So consistent, predictable communication has solved an enormous amount of potential problems where things were just devolving into a mess of emails that nobody could keep track of. That was huge. Transparency in everything that you do, so, and it goes both ways. One client, for example, and they're a phenomenal client, and they were so late with all of their approval. The review process was taking so long

KD: Chase them down, and never got them back over to you.

BC: It's not just an inconvenience, it's a problem.

KD: Everything that builds on that.

BC: Exactly, campaigns can't launch on time, and you know, they're hiring us to do a certain amount of work, and we can't get it done. You know? Help us help you. We actually sat down and had that conversation, that you know, we know that this is not your fault, but, let's reiterate how this is impacting, the cascading impact that it has on everything. What can we do to help you make this easier? We sat down and we brainstormed solutions, some options and ideas, and truth be told, it's still probably not perfect, but it's better. Just the act of us talking in this very candid manner, not in a way that was like, "You gotta get it to us faster", but it was "how can we help you?". You know, the nature of the conversation made it feel very safe. Which was then interesting because fast forward a few months after that conversation, and I had handled something.

We were introducing a new service, and it was going to change their cater arrangement, which is always a little bit dicey, and the client was actually not super happy with the way I handled it, right? I was so excited though, and you know, nobody's excited to get that kind of phone call, but he called me with this information. We had a team call, and we were talking about this change, and afterwards, he called me privately, and was like, "Beth, I have to say. I'm not loving the direction this went" and right away I said, "Oh my god, thank you for calling me!" Thank you so much that we have this safe relationship where we can be transparent and communicate and, now we can work through this problem. Now I know what the problem is, and let's figure out a different approach. And we ended up not even needing a different approach. The ability for him to talk honestly

KD: Just express those concerns, yeah? It's almost like the long and short of it is being able to just say, alright these are right fits, we mesh, we gel, they're good fits for our services, opens up the lines of communication, builds trust, and allows both sides to just be transparent to how they're feeling. If this is a bad fit client, and we don't gel, both sides might be nervous or anxious, and they wouldn't want to have those conversations. But it sounds like you've been able to remedy that.

BC: Yeah. You know, when we were getting ready to break up with that client, it was funny, it was going badly and going badly, and it got to a point where when the client would call me, I could see in caller ID, like, Oh... And I realized, you know what, I created this business. I am a business owner and I am not killing myself to go, "Oh", when a client calls. Something is broken here, we need to change that. And the day that I made that decision was hands-down, the most empowering day of my entire professional career. It was the most liberating and empowering moment when I realized that, you know, not everybody is a good fit.

KD: And then if I'm an agency watching this, and as to your point, you know, I'm in a hard place to say no to revenue, right? So what would be like the biggest or greatest impact on the bottom line for the business. Obviously, it empowered you as a business leader, it changed the communication styles, but is there anything, you know, what is the biggest, largest impact that it has had on your agency. Again, being intentional by turning away, or saying no to clients that might not be the best fit.

BC: Well in that case, when that particular circumstance happened, we were in the process of hiring somebody. And I made the decision not to hire the person because I knew we were losing that revenue from the client. And it still ended up the right decision.

KD: It made a major ripple effect, right? Um, final question. What do you find is the weirdest part of agency life? Totally caught you by surprise.

BC: It's hard to pick just one. But, I'm going to, and I don't know if it's weird, but just that you can have your day, I sit down at my desk, sometimes early, 7 or 8 in the morning, Oh, I know exactly what my day is, and I've got all these open blocks, I'm going to get so much done, and that first email that you open, and poof! Your day is just destroyed.

KD: Alright, too real. This is just too real!

BC: The other weird thing about agency life is the crazy things my team members put up on slack.

KD: It's a good answer. A lot of GIFs, do you have a lot of custom emojis?

BC: We dabble with trying to do employee scorecards, like, you know, an EOS kind of thing. At one point actually, the number of crazy GIFs was one of the metrics on the scorecard, for a while. It's um, yeah. They're funny.

KD: That's great! Well thank you so much for coming on. We appreciate having you. Let's all give Beth a round of applause!

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