What Your Client Wants (What They Really, Really Want)

You may think your agency specializes in digital marketing or web design, but what you actually specialize in is making your clients happy. And while there are some days when it seems like an elusive goal, it’s actually not that much of a mystery. Here's how to give your clients what they want and need from your company.

client deliverables they really want

8 min. read

It can be quite common within agencies—or any business, for that matter—to complain about how difficult clients are to please. And while I agree clients can sometimes be very challenging, it is, without a doubt, your responsibility to satisfy your clients. One that you and everyone on your team need to figure out if you want your business to thrive.

It’s easy to get caught up in the work and trying to grow your own business that you make a lot of assumptions about clients and what they want and need. This post outlines some of the main things clients are looking for from their agency relationship.

There are no big surprises here, no genius revelations from probing the mysterious mind of a client. These are all things you probably already know your clients want. Why? Because they’re things you would want if you were on the client side of the relationship.

But you wanna know one thing for sure that’s not on the top of a client’s want-list?


Anyway, before we get started, I wrote a post a few months ago about how we all need to stop viewing our clients like the enemy. If you haven’t read it yet this might be a good restart, a boot camp shall we say, for how we should approach our relationships with clients. You know, the people who pay us money and are the reason we have a business?

OK, so now let’s look at what clients want:

a chalkboard highlighting networking

6 things your clients want from their agency (a.k.a. YOU)

1. They want to be understood

Clients want to know that you get them, get their business, get their industry, get their challenges, and get what they want to achieve. That you seriously get it.

They expect that your team has some experience or specialized knowledge, and that you’ve conducted your own research. They don’t want you to cookie-cutter approach their project, it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, regardless of the fact you may only do one thing.

In fact, according to the Domus Client Needs Poll conducted by Harris Interactive in 2014, when clients were asked just how important it is that their business objectives are understood by their agency, 71% answered “extremely important”.

a graph explaining clients importance on objectives

So don’t go in with guns ablazin’ with your brilliant assumptions. You need to listen, ask a lot of smart questions, and listen some more.

2. They want numbers.

Not surprisingly, clients want data. They want to their agency to be able to measure and report on the success, the failure, the outcomes, and the recommendations that come out of a project or campaign.

This is a very challenging thing for a lot of agencies. Especially when it comes to soft metrics like the impact of a new logo or brand development.

And while agencies are getting better at reporting, according to Domus, 43% of clients still list measuring and reporting ROI as their #1 unmet need when it comes to their relationship with their agency.

I once had an old school client who had never really worked with an agency before and even though he knew his company needed help, he was highly suspicious and skeptical at the beginning of our relationship.

Right before he was to sign off on our very large, comprehensive proposal, the client decided he wanted a “100% money-back guarantee” built into the contract.

A 100% money-back guarantee.

Like we were a Chop O Matic or some other gadget you buy off TV.

We had to explain to him that that would only be possible if he gave us full control over his sales staff hiring, training, and management; that we controlled all trade show programs, and that he could grant us control over the extremely volatile industry he was in, including the state of the Canadian dollar. It was an impossible request on both sides.

But we realized he did have a point, he just didn’t have the industry vocabulary or knowledge to articulate it. In the whole proposal, as ridiculous as it sounds now, we hadn’t outlined any measurements, any goals, or how we might define success.

We needed to lead, be the expert and provide him with confidence in how he was investing his money. And while maybe we couldn’t put hard numbers to everything, we needed to define metrics that would give both of us some indication of what was working and what wasn’t based on his overall goals.

In the end, this was also a benefit to us because we proved that our strategy was the right one and the next year he gave us full control of his entire marketing budget.

3. They want agility

Due to their size, the internal structure of a lot of client businesses tend to be more rigid, hierarchical and bureaucratic. So they look to their agencies to be the antithesis of that.

While sometimes it can be cumbersome to make a change or a decision or switch gears on the client-side, they want you to be able to move and adapt quickly, adeptly, and efficiently.

We work in a rapidly changing industry and we need to be able to react to those changes in order to exploit it for our client’s success. It’s important that your agency’s internal mechanisms are agile to respond, and your minds and egos are open to a change in plans.

4. They want accurate estimates

According to the 2015 SoDA report on digital marketing, the #2 reason why clients left an agency was due to cost overruns on projects.

Clients don’t want surprises when it comes to anything unless it’s the runaway success of their campaign. They especially don’t want money surprises. Who does?

Agencies must be more accurate in their project estimates and more accountable to those estimates. Kyle wrote a great post a few weeks ago about how to better quote app builds that has some really useful suggestions that can work for any project.

You also need to understand how your client works and be clear about how their own behaviour and choices impact the budget. Rounds of revisions, delays in approvals, reversing decisions, stock vs custom photography - outline what the parameters are, where the line in the sand has to be drawn, and then warn them when it’s getting close.

I worked with a government department many years ago on an annual report. We had worked with this department on a lot of projects and they were brutal for needing at least 5 people to approve everything and each of them making rounds and rounds and ROUNDS of revisions.

We knew this about them yet whoever estimated the project did so as if they were a ‘reasonable’ client, an efficient client. The project went $15K over budget. But really, whose fault was it? We knew what they were like and that their bureaucracy wasn’t going to change so we should have built that into the budget in the first place.

We all know there can be lots of unknowns when it comes to projects so find ways to talk about the potential of those situations and how you’ll deal with them on the front end, not later when their jaws are on the floor from your incremental invoice.

5. They want attention

This may seem like, ‘duh’, but it is shocking how agencies can easily let this slip because they’re ‘busy’. Clients want their emails answered, their phone calls taken and returned, their questions considered, their concerns allayed. And they want it done ASAP.

Your team can do great work, have brilliant ideas but if you don’t take that call when your client really needs to talk to you, ideas almost don’t matter.

They want to feel confident that you’re going to make them look good to their boss, and their boss’ boss.

With the trend toward lean agencies, smaller staff resources can affect your ability to service your client in a way that meets their expectations. So you need to manage those expectations.

Depending on what works for your structure, let them know that all calls/emails will be returned by end of day, or within 24 hours (except in emergency situations, of course). Whatever it is, pick the highest level of service that you can consistently deliver and communicate that to your client so they know what to expect. Then deliver on it.

And be careful about bringing all your top guns into your pitch meetings when you’re courting a new client but then assign all junior staff after you win the work and they never see the creative director again. That speaks volumes to a client about how much you value their business.

6. They want a solution

No surprise here. Clients want you to solve their problems. They want the big idea, the great creative, the innovative strategy.

They want from you what they haven’t been able to come up with on their own.

According to the SoDA report, these were the top three responses when clients were asked: What do you value most in agency relationships?

#1: Expertise in emerging trends
#2: Marketing creativity
#3: Customer-centred marketing

They don’t want cool. (Unless cool is going to connect with their target and help them reach their business goals.)

They’re not looking to help you build your portfolio.

They’re looking to grow their business.


The easiest way to think about how to make clients happy is stop thinking about them as another species. We tend to talk about clients and customers like they’re the “other”.

We’ve all been clients to somebody at some point. How do you like to be treated as a client? What expectations do you have when working with a consultant or using software or buying professional services? What results do you look for?

As a business owner, you have a lot in common with many of your clients. You’re looking to grow, to keep costs down, to differentiate from the competition.

What Your Client Wants (What They Really, Really Want)

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