WHY YOU GET FIRED
The most frequent
breaking points in
relationship & how
to avoid them.
A Publication of
HubSpot s Partner Program
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie Devaney is a Director with the HubSpot
Services Team, managing a team in Cambridge, as
well as the international services organization in
Dublin, Ireland. Prior to management, she was an
account manager for the HubSpot VAR channel,
and has worked closely with hundreds of agencies.
Before HubSpot, Julie was a Human Capital
Consultant with Deloitte Consulting, working
around the country with clients to lead strategic
change and technology adoption projects. Julie is
from the Greater Boston area and a graduate of the
Pennsylvania State University Schreyer Honors
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction / 4
Who Does What?/ 8
Don’t Become an Order-Taker/ 13
Vet the Relationship/ 18
Close the Loop/ 21
Conclusion / 24
More Resources / 26
THE MARRIAGE BETWEEN
AGENCY AND CLIENT
A MARRIAGE / INTRODUCTION
The relationship between marketing agencies and their clients is a lot like a
marriage. You meet, you court, you fall in love, you get married. Then, like all
good marriages, you enjoy a honeymoon. It could be a few weeks or a few
After that, like any marriage, you come to a fork in the road. You will either go
on to live happily ever after or you will experience the business equivalent of a
divorce – you will get fired. Dumped. Canned.
It all seemed so good, so promising. You signed a contract, they were paying
their retainers (and on time, at that!). You were optimizing their SEO,
ghostwriting their blogs, tweeting, posting fabulous things for them on
Facebook, and doing the things their business needed done to generate more
traffic and drive more leads.
THE HONEYMOON IS OVER
Then, one day, your normally hyper-responsive client doesn’t return the
emails or texts you sent. You left a voice mail, but that wasn’t returned the
same day as they usually are.
When you finally do connect, that enthusiasm in their voice is gone. You
weren’t ‘feeling the love.’ You soon get that one-line email that says, “Can
you send me a copy of our contract?” Your gut tells you those retainer
checks won’t be coming much longer.
HINDSIGHT IS ALWAYS 20/20
You should have seen it coming, right? The last-minute canceled meetings, the
questions about what it is that you do exactly, the way they no longer look you
in the eye.
Then, they pull the trigger. You’re not really providing any value, they’re not
seeing the results they expected, they can do this themselves. You’re fired.
So, where did you go wrong? You didn’t hit Reply All when you thought you were
just telling your co-worker you thought the outfit the client wore at lunch today
was inappropriate. You didn’t post a picture of them at the Christmas party on
their Facebook page or yours.
After studying more than 500 of these ‘breakup conversations,’ we’ve learned that it’s
almost never a major screw-up that leads an
agency to getting fired; it’s a lot of little things
that add up over time.
You know, just like a marriage – leaving the
toilet seat up, saying things like “You’re not
planning to wear that, are you?” or answering
“Do I look fat in this?” the wrong way (which, by
the way, is a trick question; there’s no right way
to answer that one).
This ebook discusses the most common
mistakes we’ve made so that you’re not on the
receiving end of even the kinder, gentler version
of getting fired – “It’s not you, it’s us” – followed
by, “Send us your final invoice.”
AFTER “I DO,” WHO DOES WHAT?
Like a marriage, agency-client relationships often end because both parties
aren’t clear about what to expect from the other.
Like everything else in the Internet age, agencies need to be transparent with
their clients if the relationship is to succeed.
It’s not enough to have a contract. Ask any lawyer and you’ll find out there are
plenty of ways to interpret the exact same words in an agreement.
You may think the contract means one thing while the client thinks it means
something else. Or, they may place more emphasis on one aspect of the
agreement than you think it deserves so you don’t emphasize it when you
execute the work for them.
1. REVIEW THE AGREEMENT
Sit down with the client and go over
the agreement orally several times.
Try to find different ways to repeat
the terms of the contract and how
you will execute it so that everyone’s
expectations are the same.
Some clients may say they don’t
care about such minutiae, but it
bears asking them to hear you out.
If they don’t understand what you’re
doing, why you’re doing it, and how
you will get it done, they aren’t as
vested in the relationship and
ultimately, they don’t find value in it.
And, if they don’t value in what you do, sooner or later you will get fired.
Try to find little things they can do to be part of the process. Ask them for blog
topics, enlist their help getting staff photos for Facebook posts, something that
engages them in your work together.
Even if they ask to be kept out of the loop, strive for at least a 30-minute
monthly meeting to go over goals and what you’ve accomplished.
If one partner doesn’t understand what’s it like to have to do the dishes every
night and the other has no idea what’s involved in keeping the yard presentable,
neither has an appreciation of the effort it takes to do both.
2. DEFINE DEFINITION
Famously (or infamously, your call), during his impeachment trial, former
President Clinton said, “That depends on what the definition of is is.”
That may be a bit of overparsing, but we were surprised to learn how many
people who fired their agency did so because they didn’t fully understand the
terms of the contract and the definitions within them.
Some of the more common terms, conditions, and arrangements frequently
misunderstood or misinterpreted include:
Go over what you expect the client to do, when, and for how
long. If you signed a six-month agreement, payable on the 1st of
the month, late on the 10th, be sure they understand they are
liable for six months of payments due on the 1st of every month.
Establish up front how often the client will hear from you and,
as appropriate, how often, you expect feedback from them. Will
it be a daily call? Weekly? Monthly? Will it be one thing at the
beginning of the relationship and something different down the
line? Make sure everyone is clear about your communications
Activity & Results
Although you may not be able to promise specific results, you
can identify the activities and services you will provide and the
goals you will target on the client’s behalf. An example might
be: The agency will provide three blog posts per week (Monday,
Wednesday, and Friday), between 500 and 600 words each
with a goal of increasing readership by 100 percent within 120
days and lead generation by 15 percent within six months.
Costs & Communications
Nobody likes surprises on an invoice. Be clear from the start
what charges your clients can expect. If there will be Web or
application development charges, marketing software licenses
(such as HubSpot), ad placement charges, or any other fees, let
the client know what to expect and, as best you can, how much.
Good surprises sustain a
relationship. Bad surprises
are relationship killers.
DON’T BECOME AN ORDER TAKER
Even if the client understands the terms and definition of your contract, even
if they’ve bought in to why they need to be actively engaged with your agency,
there is still the possibility of the relationship souring.
It often starts with a simple request, for example, putting together an
infographic or looking at a couple of paragraphs in an email blast the client
intends to send on their own.
Your gut reaction is to think, “Cool,
more money for us.” The truth is, the
client just niggled their way into
taking control of the relationship in
ways that can hurt you and them.
Why? Not because these things may
be outside the scope of the contract
per se, but because they may be
outside the scope of the strategy you
and the client agreed on.
If you help with an email, if you
create an infographic, if tweak the
keywords in SEO, you may start
bringing the scope of your work out
of alignment with the goals and
strategies you agreed to. From there,
it’s a slippery slope to the client
questioning why they’re paying more
but not seeing more or better results.
And before you know it, you and your
client are a couple no more.
SIDEBAR: WHY I FIRED MY AGENCY
Look at Brian Signorelli’s blog post, “Why I Fired My Marketing Agency.” He
offers the following three tips for agency owners and managers:
1. Don't Forget Why You Were Hired Keep sight of why you were hired.
Keep sight of the goals, pursue them relentlessly.
2. Challenge (the Hell Out of) Your Clients’ Assumptions Chances are your
clients have a good reason for wanting to “figure this social media thing out”
or why they need a new website. But maybe not. Ask “Why?” and don’t
move forward until you understand why they’re needed and how they tie
into the strategy and goals you’ve set.
3. Measure Your Impact on the Client's Business Measure Analyze.
Repeat. If you want those retainer checks to keep coming, you need to
demonstrate your impact on the bottom line. Solid, credible analytics are
your best friend. Really.
It all comes down to staying focused on the goals and the strategies behind
When a new request comes in that’s outside the parameters of your goals
and strategies, try asking these questions:
Why do you think doing this is necessary?
What is our goal in doing this?
How does this new goal align with our previous goals?
What results are you expecting when we do this?
Asking these questions demonstrates a genuine concern for your clients.
They will appreciate your sincerity instead of being someone who just
blindly accepts tasks to make a buck.
VET THE RELATIONSHIP
This relationship, this marriage, has to work for both parties or it is destined
to come apart. There are four key areas in which you should qualify the
Resources & Logistics
Budget, authority, needs, time (BANT) covers the fundamentals of any
agency-client relationship. Nothing moves forward with these items being
addressed. With the basics taken into account, you next need to look at the
long-term issues, the goals, plans, challenges, and timelines (GPCT) that
will shape the relationship.
Too many agencies tend to overlook whether they and their clients are a
good fit in terms of each organization’s culture. This isn’t some big screen
romance where love conquers all, it’s a business relationship and it’s
important that you share common values and attitudes about how to
achieve your mutual goals.
Finally, you need to have the resources to
do the job, the personnel, skills, and
technology. And, the relationship has to fit
within the framework that is contemporary
life. Say what you will, but geography
matters, time zones count. Be sure you
have the people to do the job and you
understand the limitations time and
distance impose if those are going to be
part of your relationship.
VET THE BANT & GPCT
Of the four qualifying areas, address these things first: budget, authority,
needs, and time (BANT). If you can’t get past this, the rest doesn’t matter.
Budget - What you do is valuable and it costs money. If they have no budget,
either for you or the things you recommend they do, there’s no point in going
Authority - It may sound obvious but make sure you are speaking with the
person who has the authority to hire you.
Needs - Understand what your client needs. It’ll come in handy later when
you determine whether your agency can fulfill those needs.
Time - Are they ready to begin work now or are they still kicking the tires?
Once you know their timeline, you can plan accordingly.
Know a client’s goals, plans, challenges, and timelines (GPCT) will help you flesh
out where this relationship is headed.
Goals - Can’t meet their goals if you don’t know what they are.
Plans - Do their plans to meet their goals include inbound marketing? If not, why
are you there at all?
Challenges - Determine which challenges are keeping them from meeting their
goals so you know if you have the solutions they need.
Timelines - Inbound marketing usually show results pretty quickly. But getting
results and meeting goals are two different things. Make sure everyone has
realistic expectations of the timelines needed to meet the goals you set.
VET THE CULTURE
You might have the resources to help a client and they may have the budget to
get the work done, but too often, agencies overlook whether or not a client is a
good fit for them culturally.
If the work the client needs is not something you’re passionate about doing,
you may not give them their due. You will do the work but only because you
need the money. Yes, everybody needs money, but partnering up with a
company about whose work you care little about can only lead to a negative
experience for you both.
Make sure the client’s culture and your agency’s culture are a good fit. If
they’re a button-down, strictly by the rules kind of company and yours is an
agency that likes to experiment and push the envelope now and again, maybe
you’re not right for this job.
Think back on the clients you enjoyed working with and try to find those types
VET THE CULTURE
You can be as creative as you want, but there are certain realities every agency
You must have the staff necessary to meet this new client’s needs. Otherwise,
you risk jeopardizing your other accounts by reassigning precious human
resources from existing clients to work for this new one.
If the client is in a different time zone and the work is time-sensitive, are you
prepared for those immutable laws of physics? East coast/West coast
sometimes works to your advantage; at other times, depending on the client’s
schedule, it means 5:00 a.m. conference calls or 8:00 p.m. meetings.
What’s the contact frequency? Is your client expecting you to be on-call for texts,
emails, and phone calls anytime they want? Every day? Nights and weekends?
Whatever you decide is fine as long as you decide it together and everyone is
clear about what’s been agreed upon.
Many clients are unfamiliar with all the moving parts involved in creating and
sustaining a successful inbound marketing initiative. If your client(s) are among
those uninitiated in the ways of inbound, set aside some time to give them at
least a fundamental education in the basics of inbound marketing. It will make
the rest of the relationship go more smoothly as you execute various stages of
Inbound marketing relies heavily on technology. You know that, the client knows
that. But do they know enough to implement those programs? Operate these
programs? Maintain them? Depending on their level of experience, keep in mind
you may need to invest time in helping them get up to speed on some of the
technologies you will implement to get the job done for them.
CLOSE THE LOOP
Not everyone can see the big picture, or in this case, the whole picture. For
many clients, inbound marketing is an entirely new way of thinking about
marketing. It’s essential that you illustrate, then demonstrate, the way
inbound marketing works from first click through the sales funnel to buy and
Show the client how you got them found, persuaded prospects to take an
action, give you their information, to buy, and then perhaps share their
experience with someone in their social network.
Show them how you monitor and then analyze the results of your efforts and
use those metrics and analyses to improve their bottom line.
Then, do it again and again. You’ve got to reinforce the mechanics and
strategy of how closed loop, inbound marketing works for clients several times
at least before they ‘get it.’
F+ q g
THE END IS THE BEGINNING
Taking the clients through the inbound marketing process reinforces the
strategy. It also naturally leads to determining what’s next every time you
reach the analysis phase. Share what’s working and what’s not with your
clients to improve your tactics.
Don’t, however, fall into the trap of using analysis as the final act. Metrics are
merely the means to an end, reaching the client’s goals. And, those goals,
you recall, are why you were hired. That sets you up to continue the
relationship, time and again.
To keep any marketing agency-client relationship alive and sustainable, you’ve
got to think like a client.
Every time you send an invoice, consciously or unconsciously, your clients are
asking themselves a bunch of questions like: Why did we hire these guys? Do
we still need them? Is this worth what we’re paying them? Are we making
progress? Are we seeing the results they promised? Are these the best guys for
Remember, it’s usually a lot of little things that add up to the decision to
terminate a an agency relationship. If you are aware of, and address, those
things from the start and keep focused on them throughout the relationship,
you’re in a much better position to sustain the relationship for years.
Keeping your clients engaged in the inbound marketing process
Making sure they understand what you do and what they do
Making sure they’re clear on the terms of the deal
What it takes in resources and commitment to get the job done right
Closing the loop – keeping your agency and the client focused on the
goals, strategy, and process that enables those goals
You may not keep every client every time. But at least if you do get served with
those divorce papers you won’t say, “Boy, I should’ve seen that coming.”
MORE RESOURCES / HUBSPOT
Our Channel Account Managers help hundreds
of online services agencies understand how the
Four Core service offerings of inbound
marketing can help them earn more retainer
clients and grow their business.
Request a Strategic Consultation to Learn How
Inbound can Help your Agency Grow.
A Publication of
HubSpot s Partner Program