How to say ‘no’ – and keep client relationships great

Let’s be honest. Building and keeping client relationships isn’t easy – and it’s usually totally dependent on the client. It’s natural that clients will push the boundaries when it comes to their demands, and it’s up to account managers to manage these demands, expectations and deadlines.

Every so often, you find yourself in a situation where you have to say ‘no’ to a client. And, it’s never easy.

I asked some of MPULL’s top dogs what they think about just saying ‘no’:

Daryn Smith, MD of MPULL

Daryn Smith, our fearless leader and MD of MPULL, says that you should NEVER say no, but instead offer an informed alternative.

“Clients are often blinded by trying to reproduce something they have seen, but you may know there is something better they can do.”

He says that you need to give good reasoning as to why your initial way is better, but also give them the option to continue as they wanted or use your alternative.

Carl Thomen, Head of Content at MPULL

Carl says that we should focus on understanding the client’s expectations and then gently educate them about our expectations to avoid miscommunication.

“I think it's a good idea to sit down face-to-face to discuss and agree on your professional and communication expectations.”

According to Carl, communication is the key to gaining a mutual understanding, so that the client doesn’t get carried away, and we aren’t forced to say ‘no’ too often.

Jess Gamble, Team Lead at MPULL

According to Jess, you can’t say ‘no’ without providing the client with alternative options or solutions. There are many ways to skin a cat, so to speak, and you need to provide all the options.

“It’s more important for your client to respect you, than to like you.”

Jess reckons that saying ‘no’, in the right way, helps to set boundaries, and builds that mutual respect that is so necessary for a strong client relationship.

So what does this all mean? I have put together a couple of short points that can help you build stronger client relationships – and avoid needing to say ‘no’.

Educate your client so that they understand how you are trying to help them

Taking time to educate your client on your agency’s internal processes and ways of doing things can go a long way to providing the clarity necessary for the foundation to build and keep great client relationships. Spend time in your onboarding process to implement this, even though it might take a bit more time and effort. You’ll enjoy smoother communication with your client, which means less time spent on admin and more time spent on giving them a fantastic service.

Always ask yourself: Does this add value to my client?

Is your digital strategy adding value to your clients? Are you adding value to your business during your internal and client meetings? Trim the fat off your strategic plans to provide a clear path towards your clients’ goals and how you’ll achieve them. Provide clarity to get everyone on the same page, and educate the client where necessary. Provide a ‘why’ for every turn of the strategy. Once you have the backing of your client for your plans going forward, you will find yourself in the position of never having to say ‘no’. This is very effective as it helps the agency take control, and provides ultimate value to the client – a win-win situation.

Of course, building client relationships and implementing tactics simultaneously can be very difficult to manage and sustain. Having a team dedicated to client relationships and using an outsourced marketing agency to implement and inform the strategy can be a very powerful way to deliver a holistic experience for the client.

Creating and maintaining strong and healthy client relationships with our clients is at the heart of what we do at MPULL. Read our guide Effectively Scale your Digital Agency - Outsourcing and Offshoring Your Digital Marketing for more information on how we help grow agencies like yours.