This week on Agency’s Drinking Beer, Kevin and Kyle chat with Ariel Castro, Director of Accounts at White Rabbit, a full service creative agency and venture studio based in Reno, Nevada. Ariel talks about the importance of managing client expectations, especially when building tech products. As anyone in the agency world has experienced, managing client expectations, regardless of the actual outcome of a project, can mean the difference between tears and beers.
As Director of Accounts at White Rabbit, a creative/tech agency, Ariel Castro is a man of a thousand faces. His job is to talk with clients, help scope projects, do direct sales, up-sell where appropriate, help clients network with each other, oversee the account team, and generally manage sales operations. But one of the most important aspects of his role is to manage client expectations.
An interesting thing about the makeup of the White Rabbit account team is that many of them are very entrepreneurial. They’ve started, owned, and sold their own businesses on the side.
They’re accomplished hustlers in their own right so they understand from a client perspective about what it is to own a business, to try to grow, and to develop new products and services.
This really helps in building a relationship of trust and thought leadership with clients.
And because most of White Rabbit’s sales come in through referrals and introductions from other existing clients, there is already an expectation of expertise in the very first meeting, which starts everything off on the right foot.
Keep it real
For Ariel and his team, it’s critical that expectation management starts from the get-go. Clients often want absolute guarantees about things but as we all know, nothing is certain, especially when dealing with tech products like mobile and web apps.
Sometimes you don’t know things until you know them and that can wreak havoc on budgets, timelines, and relationships.
Ariel begins every new client project by gathering as much information as possible to assess both the client’s needs, and their level of knowledge. This helps inform the early stage scope of work.
It’s super important at this point to explain to the client what it means to sign-off on the scope of work, and to be as transparent as possible in defining a change order.
‘It’s like building a house’
One analogy Ariel finds resonates with 90% of his clients is to describe highly technical web products, mobile apps, and online marketing campaigns like building a house.
People get this because they understand the process of hiring a contractor and having a variety of teams come in - a different team builds the foundation from the team that does the drywall, etc.
This paves the way to explaining the role of a change order. If halfway through building a house you say ‘Oh, I want to build a second bedroom over here’, it’s obvious you’d have to pay for that.
Even non-technical people then understand that what they’re asking an agency to do is bring in a whole suite of team members all over again to scope out the foundation, the wiring, everything for this new room, for this whole different thing. It also fundamentally changes the flow of the house so it might also impact other rooms.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
It’s a simple analogy for why it’s very important during the blueprint and design phase to really scope out the project and think ahead in terms of features. Both the agency and the client can save a lot of money in the long run spending the extra time during the project specification phase figuring out the next moves.
The challenge comes when the business decisions makers, the people paying White Rabbit to build something for them, are not the people who understand what it takes to develop and design something very technical.
‘But it’s just a font change!’
Clients may get the house analogy but things change as you work on the project through the process of design or usage. They don’t understand how complex the work is or why it’s going to take so long to change or fix something they think is just small, especially when it comes to QA and troubleshooting issues.
There is no silver bullet to making sure nothing changes and everyone stays happy, but White Rabbit’s long-term goal is to create great products. That means occasionally eating the cost of new development either because of the relationship with the client, or something on the team’s end means realistically it’s not possible to charge them for it.
Be the Bigger Person
White Rabbit’s philosophy is to be more generous with their time because they’ve built a reputation of creating good end products for people and that’s won them more business and likely made them more profitable than if they had squeezed the juice out of every single client.
There are lots of ways you can be right, but it’s more challenging to do right by a person or a team. That, in the long term, is more important. Click to Tweet
Ariel points out that people gravitate toward other people who make us happy. We all want fundamentally pleasurable relationships, even in business.
If you set yourself up to be a thorn in their side all the time, that’s usually not great for the long term relationship.
- Do you have a trick for managing client expectations?
- How do you handle mid-project changes?
- Do you subscribe to the belief that the customers is always right?
Leave a comment and let us know!