When I first started my marketing career, I often grew frustrated when I felt clients were questioning my expertise. These questions usually came in the form of "Is this the best way to be doing this?" or "Are we following best practices?" After a quarter-century in marketing, I have learned to accept these questions and look forward to them.
One of our company values is education. Many companies that value education as part of their culture considers only the education of their employees. These companies demonstrate their value through employee development programs and other internal efforts. Although we also feel employee development to be an important aspect of this value, we also look externally. We teach our team members that they should look at clients' questioning their work as an opportunity to demonstrate their expertise and ask themselves how they can help our clients better understand the work we do.
Every client has the same human needs as you do and seek to do the best they can to accomplish their objectives. In our company, we have a single overarching belief about our responsibilities to clients. That belief can be summarized as "We are not the heroes in our clients' stories, they are. It's our responsibility to provide the tools and services they need to achieve their objectives."
There are many reasons clients may ask questions about your work, and it is dangerous to assume every one of them reflects a negative perception of your performance. Here are some real-world examples of 'questioners' and the ways we have learned to manage them.
Note: If you are a current or past client and think that you see yourself below, rest assured that none of these describe any single customer but experiences with over a hundred different customers over my entire career.
Killing-time Kevin - Killing-time Kevins often occupy a role in their company in which marketing is not a primary responsibility. They may occasionally look at the company's website and social media when they have some downtime, such as waiting for a plane. Depending on their authority in the company, their questions may be seen as essential to answer.
By taking the time to provide detailed answers to their inquiries, you may win a new champion within your client's organization. When you respond, you not only make your direct client reports look good, but you show that you are professional, knowledgeable, and responsive. Such a reputation can never be a bad thing.
Second Guessing Susan - Second Guessing Susans are never really sure that they have made the right decision. This doubt often leads to Susans asking lots of questions to reassure themselves of their choices. If you find yourself answering many seemingly random and irrelevant questions, you may be dealing with a Second Guessing Susan.
When dealing with Susan, You must answer the questions asked and the questions not asked. Work with Susan to establishing key performance metrics and set an agreement that these metrics are the primary focus of your efforts. Agree on a consistent reporting cycle and stick to it. In our experience, uncertainty and doubt grow when communication is infrequent. By providing regular communications on mutually agreed metrics, Susan can feel assured that she has made the right decision.
The Grass is Greener Graham - Grass is Greener Graham focuses too much on what he (or you) are not doing and often too little on what you are. You can recognize Graham from questions that focus on activities you are not pursuing. For example, Graham may ask about IGTV or TikTok when neither are part of your current plan. Unsolicited communications from other vendors may also influence Grahams to ponder whether they are missing out on some beneficial activities.
Like Susans, the best way to deal with Grahams is by establishing a mutual agreement on your plan and make it clear why you are pursuing particular approaches. For example, demonstrate why IGTV and Tik Tok are not appropriate channels for their business. It also helps to share information about new channels or strategies and indicate whether you recommend them in the future. Demonstrating knowledge of available platforms or approaches will reassure Graham that you see the 'grass' and have the experience to let him know if it is really 'greener.' If appropriate, it also allows you to provide additional services that Graham may not have known you could offer.
Inquisitive Isacc - Isacc likes to learn new things. His questions are rarely related to your performance; instead, they reflect respect for your skills and experience. You are their go-to for anything marketing associated, no matter how remotely related.
I must admit that Isacc's continue to cause me issues, mostly because I am one myself. I was a college instructor for several years, and people often accuse me of being too professorial. I usually answer all of Isacc's questions when the answers are easy to communicate. For more in-depth questions, I typically send them to our company blog. A well-developed company blog can not only deal with Isacc's immediate question but also demonstrates your company's commitment to educating the public, something Isacc's respect.
These are the most common types of 'questioners' I have experienced. I hope this blog helps you perceive client questions in a new light and see them as opportunities to remind your clients why their marketing is in good hands.