How Do You Handle Heavily Hands-On Clients?

When a marketing agency’s clients are very hands-on, it can be a blessing and a curse for the agency.

On the plus side, when clients are involved they offer insight that only comes from years of experience in their trades. As a writer, I know how much these insights improve the quality and persuasiveness of the content an agency produces.

On the negative side, when client involvement disrupts the workflow, detracts from the quality of creative work, or sends strategy and tactics in the wrong direction, then somehow the agency needs to persuade the client to dial back that involvement — something easier said than done.

Why Is the Client So Hands-On?

Before you can address problems caused by a hands-on client, you should try to figure out why the client is so involved with strategy, tactics, design and content. A number of possible reasons exist. These are the most common ones we encounter:

  • Maybe the client is distrustful of marketing agencies in general because it has been burned in the past.
  • Maybe the client is distrustful of your agency because of something you did or didn’t do.
  • Maybe the client simply approaches all business in a very hands-on manner.
  • Maybe the client thinks — rightly or wrongly — it has genuine marketing expertise, equal to or greater than yours.

Resolving the Issues

If you understand why the client is (from your point of view) interfering in a way that will detract from results, then you go about resolving the problem. If you’re not sure about the reason, ask. Maybe kick off by saying, “We feel like you are looking over our shoulder on every detail, and it’s making us second-guess everything we’re doing. We’d like to address this now in the spirit of creating a working relationship that is sure to maximize your results.” After positioning yourself along these lines, ask the client point blank if it is being so hands-on because it has been burned, or because of something you did, or because it’s normal business style, because it thinks it understands the nuances of marketing very well, or because of some other reason.

  • If it turns out the client has been burned, then you know what you have to do: You have to persuade the client the concern is unwarranted with respect to your agency.
  • If it turns out the client is worried because of something you did or didn’t do, once the issue is on the table, you can correct or apologize for the problem (if warranted), or explain why it’s not really a problem.
  • If the client is hands-on as a matter of business principle, then you have a difficult task. You’ve got to convince the client its normal business practice will backfire if it applies it to your work.
  • If the client questions your expertise or thinks too highly of its expertise, then you probably have to get into the technicalities of your work. Quite often clients think they know more than they do, simply because nobody has ever taken the time to really educate them. It’s also possible the client actually does have expertise that can improve your work if that client’s input can be harnessed in a way that doesn’t disrupt workflow or cause never-ending conflict.

Over to You

How do you deal with clients that are too hands-on?

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