Managing a client who’s fishing for free web marketing strategies (No obvious brief or budget; Nobb)
The bane of every consultant and agency is the enquiry which looks like a potential project, but quickly turns into a waste of time, leaving the agency/consultant feeling rather used. So how do you spot, manage, deter or convert a “nobb” client who wants a free web strategy?
Source is an important first step;
Forums within Linked-in are a prime source of networking opportunities, idea sharing and potential projects. Certainly there are many positive reports of “sales” being made as a result of a post on a forum. But there are also those who post requests such as “….looking for help with….(seo, ppc, web strategy )…” These requests for information are vague but titillating enough to elicit a response. The correct follow up would be “do you have a brief, a budget, a target and a timetable” but moderators tend not to like that sort of post! Equally, you are in a warm up scenario, partly trying to help and share knowledge, but also see if there is a bit of business to be had. So, if the reply is general, that will get rid of the potential time waster or too specific and you’ve probably spent too much time on the exercise. So, half an answer and raise a question will begin to real in the quarry; be it big fish or rusty bike.
There will also be the enquirer. A contact at a network event, a web form submission or even old stylie; a phone call! In all cases the FFI will ask you to send them “your thoughts” or ideas on a broad issue. They will be vague about budgets and objectives. More often than not though, they will be a junior/new middle manager. There will also be some sort of urgency applied to the request.
Manage the potential
Try to establish the following if possible;
- What is your budget/what have you spent
- What is the objective of the issue you need solving
- Who else has to approve the start of a project/project budget
Most critically, find out what the client has been doing about the issue PRIOR to raising it. Asking some challenging questions can deter the junior NOBBS but can equally dig a deeper hole with the most proficient.
Don’t get sucked in…
The mistakes we have made is to establish a possible brief, and then asked for more data (GA access, ad-words etc.). It is at this point that the agency has pushed its way into a situation, and is now digging their own hole. After all, the client didn’t volunteer the data and didn’t ask you to research the background; that was your request.
So, in an effort to be accurate, specific and identify what’s to be done….you end up doing a lot of work.
The “fisherman” (sorry, couldn’t keep referring to the issue as a nobb) now wants to hear what your thought are and proposed activity. At this point you need to become both coy, thick skinned and diplomatic.
- The report should allude to issues without being unduly specific
- The actions can be referred to as possible, and time and price attached. But not the specifics
- The potential results do need to be accurate but not directly indicate the source of the solution
- The document needs to be a fixed pdf with a bookmark and copyright.
Once presented of course, the client will either become frustrated by the lack of detail or question whether you have the answer. Either way, they show themselves for what they are if the point regarding WHY you are being so vague isn’t grasped?
A different approach is not to provide any answers regarding the questions raised; at least, not in the context of the client’s scenario. Instead, present your credentials. Put some of the clients issues in the context of projects you have covered previously and then allude to the fact similar solutions may prove suitable for the client.
The key rule here has to be “One meeting.” Present the proposal, talk through the thinking and credentials and then as the killer questions
“…have you decided to proceed with a project?”
“…Is the budget for this project still available?”
“…how do you intend to proceed?”
If the fisherman asks for more detail, and another meeting take a deep breath, establish whether there is really a project here (what is the timetable for launch, and what are the measurements for success?) and either offer to continue or politely suggest that further data and analysis falls into the realm of an appointment; so is this a full or preliminary appointment?
This is the point at which a grown up conversation takes place, or the “fisherman” backs down saying they will “review your information”
End of meeting with no conclusive timetable of development means the fisherman has won again. But only if you gave away too much. With luck, you left them pulling an old boot out of the stream, and not a prime fish….
Finally….check and share
So the project request ultimately led to nothing, so what do you do? Well, check the fisherman’s activities every few weeks. Check their posts in the forums. If the same requests pop up, make a pointed statement to ask (publicly) what happened with the last one? Flag the issue with the moderator if the (repeat) request is blatantly the same. Other than that, if your victim of a fishing trip then all you can do is mark it up to experience and become more cynical of that “fantastic” opportunity in the future!
The other lesson is perhaps to be clear about how you approach web strategy and potential projects. Tell potential clients in advance and advice how you will proceed. If they cant answer the basic questions then maybe you’ve identified a potential nobb…?