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Marketing Agency Exposed Podcast

Jan 22, 2020


Bob Hutchins, Brad Ayres, and Ken Ott discuss the art and struggle of getting client feedback, giving client feedback, and receiving client feedback in an agency. As you peel back the layers there is so much under this seemingly simple task. 


Resources Mentioned: 


Top 3 Curtain Pulls in this episode:

  1. Establishing mutual respect between yourself and your clients is so important for getting valuable feedback from them. Toxic, fear-based relationships DO NOT WORK!
  2. Let go of your EGO! In order to truly create value from feedback, you have to be prepared to take hard truths and turn them into actionable improvements. Don’t let hurt feelings get in the way of true communication!
  3. The ONE thing every client should know about motivating people- GRATITUDE. Unsolicited encouragement or positive feedback is the magic way to get waht you want. It will ultimately drive your team / agency to do better and work even harder. 


About The Guys: 

Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000 -2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob: 


Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:


Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken: 


Show Notes:

[1:21] Bob Asks: How do we solicit value and use client feedback reviews? 

  • “Can be a real positive thing… learn what is going on in the client’s head and better improve your creativity and service that you deliver.”
  • “Can also be a very controversial thing… how far do you let clients be in control of that type of feedback? And do you have mutual feedback for client relationships?”

[2:24] Brad Ayres Responds

  • “I look at communication based on subtext more than what they’re saying… tone of voice, body language. 80% of communication is body language.”
  • What about when body language isn’t an option? “You talk to a client… on the phone, they’re bringing a lot of other stresses that have nothing to do with you, but they can take it out on you… the feedback loop is a difficult thing.”

[4:30] Ken discusses the importance of trust-building elements 

  • between agency and clients/ client and customers. The traditional relationship is that it would be rude or disrespectful to ask a client for feedback- what are other perspectives of this relationship?

[6:00] Brad on asking clients for feedback: “The first thing they ask is ‘What would you like us to say about you?’” 

  • “I know this sounds strange, but we actually write the quote…. And have them look at it and go, ‘Yeah that’s perfect, that’s what I would say,’ or they can tweak it if they want to… we’ve seen the best results because I feel like otherwise it’s an assignment that we’re giving them.”
  • “To get a quote, that’s more of a promotional thing. But to really get client feedback has been really difficult for us.”

[8:11] Brad: “What I’m trying to do all the time is trying to understand the temperature and pulse of our clients.”

  • As a very empathetic person, it is easy to have empathy for your clients, and for your client’s customers. Especially when building a marketing strategy for them!

[9:20] “’s a two way street and you want that mutual respect. And that’s really what is hard to build- this mutual trust where they’re giving back to the agency and giving feedback that is helpful.”

  • At the same time, you’re giving them something that is very valuable and transparency means discussing when things are not working well- like any balanced and healthy relationship, having that open communication is key to be effective.

[10:08] Ken: “The key thing that you said is relationship… it’s not easy to build all the time.”

  • “...we go to great lengths to produce work that is quality and successful… we’re super high attention to detail and have a lot of integrity and we expect those same things from our clients- not because it’s arbitrary, but because those are things that are important to get to those results that they need.”
  • You may run into clients who don’t agree, or don’t think it should be that way. 
  • “The only way to get a great result out of a partnership is to have a good partnership, which comes from some sort of relationship- there needs to be mutual respect.”

[11:40] Brad: “I always go back to the Jerry Maguire quote- ‘Help me help you’... sometimes you feel like your client isn’t helping you. They’re actually not an advocate for you. They’re the adversary. And sometimes it can feel like…. Even your employees start feeling like… the client is the bad guy.” 

  • The feeling of “they’re not happy, they’re never happy, they’ll never be happy” can be prevalent. 

[12:30] Sometimes clients are difficult and you work with them for 6 months and reach a breaking point. 

  • “All of a sudden something breaks where you start to make them look like superstars in their business internally and they start to switch… they become more trustworthy of you, all of a sudden they become a different person and they’re like ‘Wow we’re going through a tough spot and we didn’t even know when we first started working with you.’”
  • As an agency, you have gone through that tough spot with them and helped them through it and the trust begins to build. In this case, the question is “How far are you willing to go?”
  • How long do you keep working before you say enough is enough we can’t keep doing this, this client is a really bad fit for us- and when do you say okay let’s keep showing them love and working hard for this.

[14:00] Bob: “In my past… I’ll tell you what I did wrong… the degree to which you will put up with a difficult client is many times in direct proportion to the amount of money that client was paying us.”

  • “So if they’re a small to medium sized client, it’s easy to be like ‘I’m going to fire you,’ because it’s not worth the headache. If they’re 15, 20, 30% of your revenue for the year, you’re going to hesitate more.”
  • When you “stick it out” with a client for too long and allow them to enter into almost abusive relationships with your employees- that’s letting them stay for too long. 
  • “What you’ve done is you’ve destroyed the relationship and trust of your employees- and that’s irreparable.”

[16:43] Ken discusses Metacake’s philosophy on difficult clients: 

  • “We have a strict no bullying policy- we don’t allow that to go on, because there are people on the other side of this thing. We work to operate with utmost respect and we expect the same in return. And so… sometimes the way of serving everybody is by, in love, not allowing consistently rude and disrespectful behavior that is hurting your team to go on.”

[18:02] “One tip- I’m extremely big in working towards not making decisions based on fear. Fear-based decision making is the worst kind of decision making.”

[19:23] Brad: “I do find myself making decisions based on fear and fear of losing a client, fear of losing the ability to support our payroll, fear to support my personal income.” 

  • “I think there’s a certain amount of fear that is healthy, but a lot of times I’ve lived in the unhealthy part… and I try to combat that.”

[20:15] Ken discusses conditioning yourself to not make decisions based on fear. 

  • It’s a choice, it doesn’t just happen. 

[21:15] Brad discusses the natural anxiety associated with determining how happy your client is- you are acutely aware of their expectations in regards to ROI. 

  • #1- are we making the clients money? Are we a value? Then #2, is the direct customer being taken care of? Are their needs being taken care of. Human vs human means true feedback without emotions getting in the way is nearly impossible. 
  • “And so for me, it always brings a sense of anxiety when I don’t know- when I have no clarity and I feel I don’t have a strong feeling, I start getting anxious.”

[23:55] Bob speaks on creating false narratives for your client- “You’re trying to project your own thoughts into their head and say, ‘They must be feeling this’ and you begin to create narratives.”

  • “The other side of the coin is to be willing to say ‘how are we doing? Rate us, give us feedback, what are we doing wrong? What are we doing right? That can create a lot of anxiety depending on your personality type, because that can potentially hit your ego really hard, right? So the trick is… am I going to live out of our ego or are we going to live out of our soul?”
  • “A bad day for your ego is a really good day for your soul. So, I’m going to train myself to say ‘I’m going to ask them to be honest and transparent, even if it hurts,’”

[25:00] “One questions I always ask is how would you- if you were to hire us- what would you consider success a year from now? How would you define success. And 9 times out of 10, they will stop for a second and say that’s a really good question.”

  • This allows you to get honest feedback on hard expectations from your client, and also gives you the opportunity to address any unrealistic expectations.
  • Record this interaction, write it down- this helps to eliminate some of the unknown.

[29:00] Brad asks “What if you’re working with a marketing director and a CEO as well, but their visions are not aligned. Maybe you’ve worked with one for longer than the other… if you satisfy one, you’ll actually not be satisfying the other… who do you serve? Your bosses boss, when you have a rapport? Or do you serve your direct contact?”

[30:15] Ken: “As an agency owner, you don’t realize the level of responsibility that you might actually have…”

[31:06] Brad discusses “showing them the beach” meaning, show them the results that they’re both seeking so as to contrast their visions for them. Show them that they aren’t aligned and let them say ‘Yes this is my vision’ or ‘No this isn’t what I want’, let them connect those dots on their own. 

[32:20] Bob asks “Do either of you guys have a process for getting client feedback? And if you do, how do you implement that feedback int productive ways within your organization? 

[32:36] Ken: “We use a few different methods- a survey midway through that we try to get someone to fill out and then discuss in-person.”

  • Long-term engagements are relationships that are trying to get to a unified goal. 
  • Discussing with clients that they have a responsibility to follow through, “We aren’t you and we can’t be you- we can only do our best to help you get there.”
  • By nature of a long-term engagement you don’t want feedback at the end, but throughout so that you can adjust for their success. 
  • “You want that feedback, and then also you need to have your metrics for success that are mutually agreed upon.”

[36:00] Brad asks “What if you feel like your client doesn’t even value filling that out for you? Do you press hard into them and say ‘You need to fill this out, or do you finally just say, you know what, you’re just not going to be able to give us any feedback and therefore we can’t help you if there’s an issue.”

  • Ken: “...if you can frame it in a way that allows them to know that the feedback allows us to be better, to adjust and serve you better…”

[37:52] Bob stresses the importance of HOW you ask for feedback. “The Google review is a powerful way for you to let the world know what you think of our team and our company. This helps promote our unique business model, therefore, is priceless to us.”

  • This is putting the power back in their hands- it’s all in “the ask.” 

[39:40] Ken talks about another strategy: “If you serve a higher purpose, you’re in a much greater position of strength. When you say, Okay this thing is not just here to generate some money, it’s here for a purpose and it’s fulfilling that purpose and we’re pursuing that purpose and that purpose is valuable and beneficial to the world… that helps on the fear-based side of things a lot and the strength side of things.”

  • Client video testimonials- are a weird concept that aren’t often very passionate and energetic.
  • “We talk about Growing Brands that Matter- what if we do a podcast-style video towards the end of the project when the relationship has been established. So you tell them ‘Your brand is a brand that matters, and it’s important. Let’s sit down and discuss that the purpose of it would be to help other people on the journey that you’re on.’”
  • Those mindset changes that allow them to open up and talk about their challenges and victories are invaluable. 

[44:00] Brad: Having clients on your Podcast, in a video with you, they become a true cheerleader for your agency. 

  • It builds a relationship that allows them to see past “I’m spending X amount of dollars on one X amount of return”, and instead see you as real people that really care about them and their brand.

[45:22] Bob on the psychology of internal/external reactions.

  • “If you have a client that you’re not happy with, they’re always complaining and giving you negative reviews or being a problem client- You’ve got to step back and instead of taking it personally, you have to realize… Nine times out of Ten they’re simply mirroring what’s going on in their own psyche. So whatever fear you have, remember… there’s a good chance that they’re just mirroring what’s going on inside of them and to be able to be present in the moment and… try to decipher what’s really going on.”
  • Getting to a point where you can look at a review and say “Am I mature enough and wise enough to say there’s something else going on here and I can’t take it personally.” 
  • Being able to come before your team and say “Okay we got some really negative feedback, but here’s what I think it going on. We have to own this. But then there’s some other stuff that maybe is not really what’s going on with us.”

[47:45] Ken: “We can only control ourselves- what are we doing and going to do at an excellent level?” 

  • Obviously we want to align our happiness AND the happiness of our clients- but that isn’t always the case. And in those situations, it isn’t our job as an agency to bring that person happiness. That’s not part of our job description. No one can make someone else happy. Ultimately you can only control what you can control and that is how you act and the work you produce. On those fronts, we run HARD for our clients.
  • “It takes the pressure off of you, it takes the anxiety and kind of egocentric side of it away when you realize that they are people, they have good days and they have bad days.” And it’s not always your job to make their day good!

[49:33] Bob asks: “Do you guys have a process to regularly sit down with your team or your staff and go through these reviews- positive or negative- do you sit down and process it? What’s the value for your whole team?”

  • Brad: “If it’s constructive feedback, that’s definitely something we want to do. Or if it’s feedback because you were all on a conference call with a client and she wasn’t very nice.”
  • We want to create an atmosphere that isn’t just a time for my team to bellyache and complain, or develop a negative sentiment around the client. We want to be intentionally constructive with helping our business AND their business.

[52:45] Brad gives clients a “bat phone” number, for use in emergencies when they feel like nobody on your team is hearing them. Allow them the opportunity to reach out so you can meet them halfway and get the communication going. Use your experience and people-reading skills to your advantage. 

[55:23] Brad: “give people props- even if they’re doing what you expect, still give them props. Because what it does is it empowers them to do an even better job.”

[56:32] Ken: The ONE thing that magically can motivate people: 

  • GRATITUDE. “When people give you unsolicited positive feedback, it can go so much farther than all the negative feedback.”
  • “As a leader, the way you motivate someone is not by only beating them down. That doesn’t help you get to where you want to be… Don’t hold back your frustrations and negative feedback, but balance it in a way that gets you to your goal… you need to give them positive feedback and tell them when they’re doing really, really great. Do more of this, do less of this, this was okay, but it can be done better.”

[59:00] Ken: “Think about when your clients give you gratefulness, how much more are you willing to go above and beyond.” 

[1:00:05] Bob discusses being genuine: “The key I think is being genuine… look for opportunities to be genuine, to really be human and engaged and empathetic with your team member or your client.”

  • Model the way that you’d like for them to treat you and you will hopefully see that in return.