How much do you really know about your clients? Not the organization and its goals, but the people you actually work with on a daily basis.
In this episode, the co-hosts discuss Gini’s recent article with 11 questions you should ask your clients so that you know how they work and how you can best engage with them.
It’s all part of building stronger, more lasting relationships that will serve you well as you work to produce results and maintain the business.
- Chip Griffin: “Remember that we’ve got people working with people here. We often talk about the agency client relationship. There really is no such thing.”
- Gini Dietrich: “Understanding where they came from, what their career path has been, and what kind of biases they have will help you understand how to help them navigate the work that you’re going to do together.”
- Chip Griffin: “If you know what they’re reading every morning, you can read it too.”
- Gini Dietrich, on not liking surprises: “It’s like my mom used to tell us when we were kids, if you’re in trouble at school, it’s far better for you to tell me than for me to learn it from the teacher.”
- New RFP research provides perspective on agency-client relationships
- Getting the client’s perspective on agency relationships
The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.
Chip Griffin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin.
Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.
Chip Griffin: And Gini, how about we play 11 questions today, not 20, just 11.
Gini Dietrich: I like it. 11 questions it is.
Chip Griffin: All right. Right after this.
So we’re gonna talk about an article that you wrote for LinkedIn recently that I saw, and I’m like, we need to talk about that on the show because it covers something that I think a lot of folks in agency land don’t pay enough attention to, which is really digging in to understanding your clients. And I’m not talking about the usual questions you would ask them, like, what do you want us to do for you?
When is it due? How much are you going to pay us? Those questions, these are really questions that you suggest should be asked to help them get to the, the root of how they work, how they, and how you can interact with them better. In other words, how to build a relationship, which is so important.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah, and I think it even goes beyond you know, the typical questions you would ask of a friend, right?
Like, how many kids do you have? What are their names? What are their ages? Where do they go to school? You know, like those kinds of things. What do you do in your free time? What are your hobbies? Like, those kinds of things you would ask normally, I think in just general conversation, how are your holidays? How was your weekend?
That kind of thing. So it goes beyond that and we start to look into exactly what you said.
Chip Griffin: Well, normal, not socially awkward people like me might ask those questions. I’m not…
Gini Dietrich: Listen Chip, don’t get me started. But it does. It goes beyond that, and it really helps you understand the kinds of questions that you should have the answers to about your clients as you are building a relationship with them and something that’s going to, to be longlasting.
You know, we, we are very proud of the fact that most of our clients, former clients are still friends of ours. And, you know, I have one client who we stopped working together during the pandemic, but he calls me every time there’s a crisis and he has several of them a year. And so, like, because of the relationship that he and I built, you know, a decade ago, even though we’re no longer working together on retainer work, he always calls me when there’s a crisis.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. And, and it’s, it is fundamentally remembering that, that we’ve got people working with people here. And we often, you know, we often talk about the agency client relationship.
There’s, there’s, there really is no such thing. I mean, there is from a legal perspective, but the reality is it’s two people or more than that, interacting with each other and engaging with each other. And so understanding those, those little details that you suggest that folks look into will make a big difference in how you can perform while they are a client.
But to your point, also, how you can get along afterwards and, and what’s your opportunity to win additional business from them, either while they are a client or at some point after they have ceased being a client, right?
Gini Dietrich: So one of the things that as a client to some organizations that drives me crazy, is when they force you to fit into their process.
We, this is our project management system. This is the, the, the document sharing process we use. And it’s always really frustrating as the client, because we have our own, and if they don’t match, you’re asking me to duplicate my work in order to match your process. And, and I have always had the feeling that if we’re serving in a client service role that we should be fitting into the client’s process. So many of the questions that we have have proposed that you sort of find the answers to fall into that. Like how do you, how and where do you like to work? Do you prefer to work at home? Do you prefer to work in a coffee shop?
Do you prefer to go to the office? What kind of document sharing do you prefer? You know, do you prefer zoom or in person? Do you prefer Slack or email? Find out those kinds of things because it’s going to help you better serve them, and have a better relationship.
Chip Griffin: Well, and and a lot of these are questions that you should really probably be asking during the prospect stage for sure.
So that you understand if there even is a fit. Because it may be that, you know, you have one philosophy of project management and they have an entirely different one. Can you make the mesh or not? If you can’t, it’s better to know that before an agreement is signed than to find out after the fact that they’re sort of all loosey goosey and we kind of go with the flow and we do things on the back of a napkin and you’re like, you know, we do a strict process and it’s step by step and it’s sequential and we do it on a CanVan board and all this kind of stuff.
And, and, and so if there is this mismatch you, the sooner you know that the better, so that you can either adapt and find that common ground or you can say, We may not be the best fit for you. There may be another agency out there that, that is more suited to you.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah, for sure. So really find out how they prefer to be communicated with, where, when, and how they like to work, how they prefer to share documents, if they’re using project management, what, how they like to do, like, find those pieces of it out.
And certainly some of it should come out in, in the prospecting, but if it doesn’t, that’s something that as you’re onboarding and getting started, you have to know.
Chip Griffin: Yeah, so why don’t we, and we’ve done this before, but it’s been a while. Why don’t we walk through your list and, and we’ll just touch on, on each one of these 11 questions because I think they’re all worthwhile.
Gini Dietrich: Okay, so the first one is, when and how do they like to work?
Chip Griffin: easy peasy. But, but, and, and keep in mind that, that it may be different if you’re working with multiple members of a team, right? They’re, the client may have some people who prefer one thing and others who prefer something different. So the more that you can understand those preferences, the better that you can fit in.
If, if you need to get the, the boss’s confirmation of something, maybe they only, you know, can focus if you’ve actually got them on a, on a call or a meeting. Right, right. But maybe you know, the, the day to day client contacts can work fine off of email. You really need to understand those things because it can make a huge difference.
Particularly if you, if you, and, and these may be things to revisit too, particularly if you, if you find that you’ve got a stumbling block and it’s taking too long to get approvals or there’s miscommunication about whether you should be doing A or B. So, so really dig into those things because it, it can often be that you don’t need to change anything substantial.
It could just be simple like am I going to, you know, do an email or am I going to do a phone call.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And I think to your point, that could evolve, you know we have one client who I remember when we started working with them, I said, Hey, do you all have a weekly leadership meeting that I can attend so that, you know, we don’t add extra work and I can get what I need for my team and I’ll just serve as your CMO essentially in that leadership meeting.
And he’s like, yeah, no, we just call each other. And I’m like, ok. Yeah. So I mean, they do, and, and that’s how they work. So if I need something really fast, I just pick up the phone and call. And they always answer, always. So it’s great. But then if I, if it’s just an update or I just wanna give them some information, I’ll send it in in an email.
So I think that evolves too, in terms of how you’re communicating with them based on, you know, how, how it’s easiest for you to get the information from them.
Chip Griffin: And, and look, there’s nothing wrong with making suggestions too. So if, if you, if they say, Hey, this is how we do things best. There’s nothing wrong with you suggesting, Hey, what if we tweaked that a little bit because maybe they’re open to it.
Gini Dietrich: Maybe you should have a leadership meeting.
Chip Griffin: Right? I mean, you know, there, there is a role for you to play there. It’s not simply to just say yes to everything that they say as far as how they want to do it, but at least, but you can’t even have that conversation if you don’t know from the start. Right? You know what it is that they prefer and how they tend to work.
Gini Dietrich: Right, right, right. So the second question is, where do they go for information? And I actually just had this conversation with a client yesterday. He said, every single morning I wake up and the first thing I do is open my iPad and go to Flipboard. And he said, I have everything coming into there. So I don’t go to social media, I don’t pay attention to what’s on my Apple News app.
I just go to Flipboard and I, and I go, I look at everything there. And I was like, well, that’s good to know because now I’ll just send you stuff to Flipboard . So really understanding not just the apps that they use, but also which sources of information they trust.
Chip Griffin: The, the sources of information is huge, particularly for those of us who are in any form of communications because, for example, if we’re doing media relations and we know that the boss prefers to read two magazines, You may want to bubble those up on the list of targets, assuming that they’re good fits.
Sure. Right. But the other thing is, if, if you know what, what they’re reading every morning, you can read it too. So you’re not blindsided by something that maybe, you know, didn’t show up in your media monitoring, isn’t on your sort of strategic plan, but you’re like, okay. You know when, when they call you up and say, you know, I really think we should be looking at using this service today. You know, it’s because it was on the front page of whatever publication they’ve told you they look at every single day. Because every single executive that I know has their sort of pet sites for news. And if something shows up on the homepage, you can be darn sure you’re gonna be getting a suggestion in the not too distant future that you know, some hot new thing should be what we should be looking at next. Yeah, absolutely. So be prepared.
Gini Dietrich: Yes, be prepared. How do they prefer to be communicated with, which I think we touched on.
Chip Griffin: Yeah, but it’s some of that comes down to, you know, how much detail do they want too, right? Because do, do people want just sort of a, a quick bulleted list in email?
Do they want a detailed weekly report in, you know, a Word document? Do they prefer it in a project management tool? How do they actually consume this information? And how much detail do you need? Because that can be very different from client to client. I’ve had clients who are like, you just, you sent me way too much information.
Just give me the key points. Yep. Right. You know, and so the more that you understand about that, a you’re not doing work that’s unnecessary because if they’re not gonna read it, Don’t bother to create it. Right, right. But also if, if you’re not creating in the form that they want, you may be delaying decisions.
You may be, you know, fostering follow up questions that are unnecessary that you could just resolve because you know they’re coming anyway. So you try to think about those things when you’re looking at how people want to be communicated with.
Gini Dietrich: One of the things that sometimes I’ll hear my overhear my husband having a conversation, and I kind of love that he does this with his agencies.
He’ll say hey, listen, I know we have, we only have 15 minutes. Can you give me really top line on what I need to, what I need to know and what I need to do? And it kind of flusters the agency sometimes, because sometimes he’s on speaker or zoom so I can hear them and they’re like, so they’ve never asked him like, If we have 15, if I have 15 minutes of your time, how am I gonna get the most?
How am I gonna make that most efficient for both of us? And literally he says that to them every week and they still are like, so be understand that, you know, when you have executives who are running big companies and have lots of employees, they may only have 10 or 15 minutes and you have got to get to the point.
Chip Griffin: Well, and, and, and as someone who’s receiving this information, I mean, there is an obligation to some degree on the client to help drive some of this process too. The, the reality though is a lot of them don’t, a lot of them. Right. Fair, fair. Sort of, you know, allow the agency to kind of do what they want. I, you know, I have learned myself over the years working with agencies or even working with employees, tell them exactly what I want.
Yeah. And, and it’s more likely to happen as opposed to just sort of letting it evolve organically. I will sit down with a new agency or vendor or employee or contractor and say, look, here’s what I need. Here’s how I want it. Here’s how you’ll get me to make the best decisions, the quickest decisions and the clearer that you can be as the, the person who’s the on the receiving end, the better the relationship will go as well.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah, absolutely. So find out, you know, if they’re not going to be the ones leading it, then you should lead that. The next question is, what are their other interests. You know, you…
Chip Griffin: Yeah. And so this is now looking, looking outside of work to some degree, because you do the, the relationships are between people here.
So the understanding, you know, what makes them tick generally can be helpful to making sure that you’re developing a, a, a fruitful, longstanding relationship.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah. And like we have one client whose wife is from the Netherlands, and they go back twice a year. And so just knowing that and knowing it’s ti the time of year that it’s time for him to go to the Netherlands, we can have that conversation and it’s kind of fun because he’ll send me pictures as if I’m his personal Facebook.
I love it. .
Chip Griffin: Yeah. I don’t wanna talk about the Netherlands right now, so.
Gini Dietrich: Okay. Fair. I’m sorry. But that’s where they’re from so,
Chip Griffin: well, I mean, I’m not surprised that they beat us in the World Cup, but
Gini Dietrich: it was a good game.
Chip Griffin: It’s not a good game if you lose.
Gini Dietrich: They played a really good game.
Chip Griffin: Look, they. They played a good game, but, but until the US can actually win a game in the knockout stage, it’s just, it’s not where it needs to be.
We need to have a better presence in soccer or football, whatever you call it.
Gini Dietrich: Well, I told you the coach lives two doors down, so you can, I can make that happen for you if you’d like to have that conversation.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. I think I’m gonna avoid that. I can’t imagine that goes well.
Gini Dietrich: Probably not. He’s probably, he probably gets that from a lot of people.
Chip Griffin: Who’s this guy?
Gini Dietrich: Yeah. He’d be like, why are you doing this to me?
Chip Griffin: Why do I care ? Uh, yes. But, but, but, but understanding, you know, that, that personality stuff and, and, you know, what are their outside interests? I mean, if, if someone is interested in the World Cup knowing that can be A, useful because you don’t try to schedule a call or something like that when, when their country’s team is playing. Correct. But it, you know, but it also just, it gives you something additional to talk to them about so that, you know, as you’re making small talk, as we inevitably do with clients, it can be something other than Oh yeah. It’s kind of cloudy out right now, right.
Cause I don’t know about you, but I get tired of talking about the weather, although I still fall back to it far too often.
Gini Dietrich: I do too. As an Yeah, I think it’s an easy, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Chip Griffin: It’s, it’s an easy, let’s just get this conversation started kind of thing. But, you know, find other roots, you’ll build a much more interesting relationship with people.
Gini Dietrich: And then that leads to what kind of sense of humor they have. So, and I think this one’s really important,
Chip Griffin: but do they have a sense of humor? I mean, really, really, that’s where you need to start, because unfortunately I’ve worked with some clients who don’t really have a sense of humor. .
Gini Dietrich: Yes. So find out, and and you’ll find that out in the, in the prospecting phase too.
Like, just based on your sense of humor and the way that you approach things, you’ll find out if they have a sense of humor or not. So, yeah. Right.
Chip Griffin: And, and that, and that’s good encouragement for you to be yourself during the prospecting stage, because that’s how you’ll figure out if and what kind of sense of humor they have.
And again, is it a good fit? Right? Because. I mean, that can make a huge difference, right? I mean, people can probably tell just by listening to me on this show or elsewhere. I, I kind of have a sense of humor and I like to have a little bit of fun with people. And, and if you’re not willing to play along, then it’s gonna be a really awkward relationship. Yeah, for sure. For both of us.
Gini Dietrich: For both of you is right. Yeah. Yes. And there are people out there who don’t.
Chip Griffin: There are absolutely people out there who don’t. The worst ones are the ones who think they have a sense of humor but don’t. Right. That’s the hardest to work with.
Gini Dietrich: So the next one is, how do they keep organized? And so we talked a little bit about project management, but also, you know, what other, what other tools or software or post-it notes, do they, do they use to keep themselves organized?
Chip Griffin: Yeah. And, and as the agency, it’s, it’s your responsibility, generally speaking, to be responsible for the details.
Yes. And so, You need to be the one who stays on top of that by default, unless for some reason the client says, Hey, look, we wanna, we wanna manage the details of this. But more often than not, they’re gonna want to make sure that, that you are making sure that the things aren’t falling through the cracks, that you’re following the, the, the process and all that.
And so, You know, understanding sort of, you know, what their approach is to that can be very helpful. I mean, I always tell people, look, I’m not a detailed person. If you wanna make sure that 10 steps are are taken, you need to be the one who’s keeping that checklist, because I will be like a pinball bouncing all over the place.
And so I, one of the reasons why I’m hiring you as an employee or as an agency or whatever is to, is to take that, keep things on track.
Gini Dietrich: Yep. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And that goes to what are their strengths and weaknesses. You know, I like to ask just to see what their perspective is. Certainly you’ll learn that as you start to work with them, what their strengths and weaknesses are.
But I like to ask, you know, in the prospecting phase, you know, why, what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? How can an agency, how can we help you fill in your weakness, voids, and things like that? And that helps you understand as well.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. And the best clients will be completely honest with you and say, this is.
This is what I don’t do well, or this is what I do do well. You know, I mean, it, you know, I’ve worked with agencies before and said, you know, look, if it’s, if it’s writing that’s going out in my own voice, don’t spend a lot of time on it, cuz I’m gonna chop it up anyway because I’m a writer and I want it to be in my voice.
So you know, I, I was president of the university Alumni Association where I’m. Where I went to school and I always said to them, when I had to write the monthly message, just let me write it. Don’t even bother sending me a draft. Just tell me generally what you want, because it’s gonna save us so much time on both ends.
Gini Dietrich: And frustration.
Chip Griffin: And frustration if I just, if I just, you know, take it and do it. That’s not what everybody wants. And so you need to understand those strengths and weaknesses for the individual. So again, you don’t waste time on things that are unnecessary, but you’re also covering up for those weaknesses to make sure that they don’t become a problem and that you’re able to really, you know, add value.
Gini Dietrich: and then that leads into how they make decisions. So do they, are they talkers? Do they wanna talk through it verbally? Do they wanna understand what the decision that needs to be made is? And think about it like, you have to understand how they like to make those kinds of decisions.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. And, and understanding, you know, what, what information do they need to make a decision is important, right?
Because again, going to the, the point that I talked about earlier about reports, too detailed, not detailed enough. Same thing with decision making. Some folks just, you know, give me the key facts and let me make a quick decision. Some others are like, give me a position paper, give me some, you know, lots of backup material that I can read through and think about.
Some people will make decisions based off of just a single phone call, some want information to review before they get on the call. Right, right, right, right. You know, that’s all really important and can help you speed up the process to get the, the decisions that you need in order to take a project forward.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah.And the next one, I’m gonna combine the next two because it’s what is their background and what are their biases? And I’m combining them because they’re, they both, they go together. So based on your background and your, and your biases, you approach things differently than, than other people might, you know?
I’m in the process right now of testing out some artificial intelligence to write some copy just to, to test it. And 10 years ago I was incredulous that artificial intelligence was never gonna be able to be as creative as we are. And fast forward to today, it’s, it’s actually pretty interesting. So I have that bias against robots, right?
So understanding, you know, where they came from, what their career path has been, what kind of biases they have will help you understand how to help them navigate the work that you’re going to do together.
Chip Griffin: It also helps you avoid pitfalls, right? Because if, if they have a particular expertise, You’ll wanna button up anything that you present to them that’s in that area of expertise.
You know, if you’ve got someone who is a former TV producer, for example, and, and you’re putting together a really point TV pitch, it’s gotta be a little bit more nailed down than it does to somebody who doesn’t understand. Same thing like with with web design, right? If you’re, if you’re working with someone who is experienced in that realm, you can’t –
I don’t wanna say BS them, but BS them. Yeah. And, and so, you know, you need to have those details and the answers to the questions at hand as opposed to someone else who, you know, maybe isn’t gonna get into the technical weeds on those kinds of things. So absolutely, really understand those things so that you don’t step on a landmine where you’re maybe presenting yourself as a little bit more of an expert than you should based on how much of an expert they are.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah. . Yes. And then the last one is, what are their pet peeves. Which I think this is interesting. I mean, pet peeves in every aspect from the way that you write, the words that you choose you know, the, the way that you handle meetings, whether or not you come to a meeting with an agenda, like all of these kinds of things lead into, if it’s a pet peeve for them, it’s really gonna bother them if you continue to do whatever bothers them, whatever their pet peeve is.
Chip Griffin: I, I think, honestly, this is the most important question on the list because it can save so much trouble. Yeah. If you just understand these things and, and, and I got to the point where with new employees, I would always just list out my pet peeves.
Gini Dietrich: Oh yeah, I do that too.
Chip Griffin: So, you know, I mean, just simple stuff like I, I don’t care if you screw up once, just don’t make the same mistake a second time.
Show up on time to meetings. Like that’s a huge thing for me. You know, it’s a little bit less of an issue now where we’re doing all these things electronically, but when we had like conference rooms and you were bouncing from one to the other, inevitably people started showing up late. Drove me absolutely bonkers.
Once you’ve won an argument, accept the victory. Walk away. Stop selling me once you’ve sold me, right? I do not understand. I really don’t understand that one. I’ve had, I’ve had so many employees over the years, or even outside agencies. I say yes, and then they keep saying things to make me feel good about my decision.
The only thing that can happen at that point is I change my mind and I say no to you. Right? So how about we don’t do it? Stop talking. And then my biggest one, of course is no surprises. I don’t like, I don’t want a good surprise and I don’t want a bad surprise. I want you to let me know as soon as you know, particularly when it’s something related to a client.
Like if, if, if it’s an employee. But it, same thing when I’m on the client side. I don’t want to hear about this from somebody else. Yeah. If I’m the communications person, I don’t want to hear from the CEO that there’s this negative story. I darn well better hear it from you first.
Gini Dietrich: It’s like my mom used to tell us when we were kids, if you’re in trouble at school, it’s far better for you to tell me than for me to learn it from the teacher.
Right? And that is, that is true . Right?
Chip Griffin: And so I think that the more that you understand those pet peeves, the more that you can, you know, really just make sure that you don’t make a dumb mistake. Cause we have enough challenges as an agency working with a client. There’s, there’s enough hurdles we have to get over.
There’s enough things that we need to navigate. So, so why? And and sometimes a client will not be able to specifically tell you every one of their pet peeves. Some are happy to list them off just like I did, right? Some just, that’s… They, they almost get excited to share that with you. Some of these, some of this may be, you have to build up the intel overtime and make sure you’re sharing it amongst the team, right?
Like, don’t ever show up late to a meeting with Chip. He’s gonna… kookoo on that kind of stuff, you know? Yeah, yeah. Once I had a one minute conference call and I hung up on everybody cause I was the only one on it. And so I just went through the agenda with nobody on the call and then hung up.
Gini Dietrich: You did?!
Chip Griffin: Yep.
Well, the former governor of New Hampshire, very famously, he had his first executive council meeting. Executive council’s kinda like the governor’s cabinet, except they’re more powerful. They’re actually more powerful than the governor. But anyway, he had his first meeting with them, and at the time the meeting was supposed to start, he had the state police lock the doors.
And so one of the executive counselors was late and couldn’t get in. Wow. Yeah, don’t do that.
Gini Dietrich: Well, I’m far more generous because I’ll give people the professor 10 minutes and if they don’t show up then I leave. That’s way, I’m too generous. That’s way too generous.
Chip Griffin: Well, I, I, I will give that to clients for sure.
I will not give that to employees.
Gini Dietrich: Yeah, that’s way too generous. Changing that.
Chip Griffin: Employees do not get a 10 minute grace period if they haven’t, let me know. I’m, I’m not sitting on Zoom staring at the screen like this. Just wondering,
Gini Dietrich: are they gonna show up? Did they forget?
Chip Griffin: Yeah, I know. So, so, but you must have, let’s, let’s round this out with a little bit of fun.
What, what are your pet peeves? I shared, I shared mine.
Gini Dietrich: Actually. I agree with you on, I have some writing pet peeves. Like there are certain words I don’t think we should use. Utilized, impact for, for instance. So I do have writing pet peeves, which I will change every time in your copy, and eventually you’ll get it.
I don’t, also don’t like surprises, good or bad. I don’t wanna know about it. And you know, it, I keep my mom’s mantra. And I always want people to really remember who they are and what they stand for, because they’re representing us and they’re representing their client. Our clients, when they’re out and about, and.
So I don’t want them doing things out there that, you know, I would be embarrassed to learn about later. So it’s, it’s really, I guess it probably goes to no surprises as well. Like, just, just remember who you are and what you stand for.
Chip Griffin: Yeah. I, I like that. And since you brought up writing, I would add, my pet peeve is if you don’t use an oxford comma.
Gini Dietrich: Oh yeah, I agree with you on that.
Chip Griffin: The Oxford is absolutely essential.
Gini Dietrich: I agree. I agree.
Chip Griffin: Anyone who thinks that you can get away without using it, it’s wrong. It’s just wrong. there. This is, there’s no room for debate on this.
Gini Dietrich: I agree with you. Yep, 100%.
Chip Griffin: You’re straight up wrong. So with that, we will draw to an end this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast.
We don’t need an Oxford comma because there’s only two of us. So I’m Chip Griffin.
Gini Dietrich: I’m Gini Dietrich.
Chip Griffin: And, it depends. Except!
Gini Dietrich: Except right there, Oxford comma.