Characteristics of a Great Client



From professional communication to accountability, participation, and just plain kindness, here are some attributes that make a great client relationship work.

By Lisa Heay, Marketing Planning Manager at Heinz Marketing

My career began as an in-house marketer. Prior to my consulting days, I didn’t know how consultants did what they did.  I had this misguided vision of consultants being these experts that knew absolutely everything about their field. There must be some kind of agency handbook for each industry they could reference with all the answers, right?

But now, being on the other side, I know that’s silly.  We don’t know all the answers.  There is no handbook—much to my dismay.  We’re just regular people with experience and interests in a certain area.  Sometimes we get asked tough questions and must tell clients, “That’s a great question – I don’t know the answer right now, but I’ll look into it.”  That’s our job – we turn around and put in the work to figure it out.  Sure, we pick up some expertise along the way, but we aren’t these magical all-knowing creatures.

My entire career leading up to this point has been in in-house marketing departments.  So, taking a consulting role was shift in not only how I think about projects, work pace, and learning on the fly, but it shed light on how I have previously been as a client myself – having worked with several vendors and agencies in my previous marketing roles.  It’s showed me that at times, I, in fact, wasn’t always a good client.

And as a result, I didn’t get out of the relationship what I wanted.  Makes sense.  You get out what you put in.

Maybe it was my misguided viewpoint that the people I’d been working with should know it all.  Maybe it was just easy to take frustrations out on the voice on the other end of the phone that I didn’t have to see face to face.  But, being on the other side now and having worked with many companies in my short tenure here at Heinz Marketing, I’ve made some observations on what makes up the characteristics of a great client – having not always been one myself in the past.

More importantly, displaying these characteristics ensure you’ll gain value from the relationship, as well.

  1. Sponsorship and Accountability. It is so important for clients to have an executive-level sponsor on their team to keep everyone accountable and driving towards the same goal.  When leadership isn’t on board, it’s very hard for the team to devote the time needed to get the most value out of the project.  And even harder to convince the company to adjust to the potential change that could come as a result.
  2. Participation.  It’s a two-way street.  You must participate.  Often, consultants make recommendations or propose strategies and the client doesn’t want to do the work to make it happen.  This stuff is a lot of work.  It’s disruptive.  But that’s how change happens.  Put in the work today to make your tomorrow a little easier, more efficient, or more successful.
  3. Thoughtful feedback. It takes time, but it’s necessary.  Consultants and vendors are on the outside.  No matter how much research and immersion we’ve done to understand your business, it’s not the same as you living and breathing it every day.  If we’re missing the mark, we want to know about it so we can provide value – otherwise, we’re wasting everyone’s time.  If we don’t hear feedback, we assume you’re on board and we’ll continue down the same path.
  4. Communication.  We’re all human.  Things come up, deadlines are missed, priorities shift.  We understand that.  It happens for us, too.  But keep the lines of communication open.  As consultants, when a client goes silent, we’re often unable to proceed.  It affects timelines and how we’ve allocated resources to accommodate a project.  The last thing we’d tell a client is “Sorry, we don’t have time to do this anymore because we have X number of other client projects to work on” because we are committed to the success of your business.  But often, that’s the truth.  In this line of work, we must be accountable for every hour of our day in order to support the portfolio of clients that we have.
  5. Humility.  We’re not here to tell you all the ways you’re doing things wrong. We want to work with you to improve your marketing and sales because we’re convinced it will make an impact to your business.  We believe in the power of marketing.  If we’re proposing ideas or ways to do things better, we’re not trying to attack the work you’ve done leading up to this point.  And we’re definitely not trying to create busy work for you and your team.  We just want to enable you to do it a little bit better.  We want to support you.
  6. Commitment.  “This is all great advice, but I just don’t have the time to implement.”  Or, “The sales team will never buy off on this change.”  We’d be doing you a disservice if our recommendations revolved around what would be comfortable for your organization.  Yes, some things really can’t change, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get there…but let’s keep an open mind to the possibilities even if it makes people a little bit uncomfortable.  If it was easy, you wouldn’t need us!
  7. Kindness.  We’re all adults here and for 99% of us, I shouldn’t have to remind you to be professional and kind to one another.  But there are those that find it easy to take frustrations out on a third-party.  I only say that because I’m guilty of it.  Many years ago, I’d been under pressure from my manager and I took my frustration out on a vendor I was working with.  That wasn’t fair, and it’s truly one of those things I think about at 3am when I’m lying awake, dwelling on all the awful and awkward things I’ve done in my life (like all sane and well-adjusted adults do, right!?).  I realize now the impact moments like that have on the real people trying to do their jobs and make their customers happy and successful.

These characteristics aren’t exclusive to just clients.  It applies to us, too.  No matter what side of the table you’re on, these characteristics make up a great professional in any setting.