Listen up and listen carefully: there is possibly nothing more important in the client-agency relationship than setting clear objectives.
Mutually-agreed aims are the anchor for every project. You may feel things are bobbing along happily without them. But wait for the weather to change and you will suddenly find yourself all at sea.
So how do you go about setting clear objectives with your client? And how do you translate objectives into concrete targets and goals?
Here are six steps to take when determining objectives with your client and looking to give your project the greatest possible chance of success.
Step one: Understand your client
Get a handle on what your client’s higher-level goals are. Questions such as these will get you on your way:
- What is the mission of my client’s company? Can I describe what the organisation is seeking to achieve in a sentence or two?
- How is the business structured and how is the business unit I am working with situated within it?
- What responsibilities do my day-to-day contacts have in the company? Who are their bosses?
- Why did the client hire me and my company? What are they expecting from us?
- How does my client measure success?
There are a lot of questions here, and you are not going to get definitive answers to each point on day one. Understanding the internal hierarchy of the business may take months – in some cases years – for example.
But these types of questions are essential to consider when figuring out what exactly is in the best interest of your client and how you can most effectively serve them.
Step two: Draft project objectives
Begin to draft objectives based on your understanding of why you were hired and what your client needs. Here are some example objectives to illustrate the point:
- To raise client X’s profile in the marketplace for an established product or service area.
- To generate marketing-qualified leads (MQLs) for a new product line the client is launching in a highly competitive space.
- To better communicate messaging from the client’s senior leadership team both internally and to the outside world.
Some of this language may have been handed to you by the client at the beginning of the process. You will draft other objectives on the basis of what you have learned from your research and what the client has communicated.
Circulate draft language to relevant stakeholders on the client side. Solicit input and listen carefully to what is being said. Adjust accordingly.
Aim for three to four objectives per project wherever possible. Precise objectives will vary widely dependent on your client and the service you are providing.
Step three: determine project deliverables
Get concrete with project deliverables. What is the best way of securing progress against objectives? What is the work we are looking to get done and why?
List out all potential deliverables and begin to sequence them in order of priority. It will make more sense to do certain jobs before others.
Let’s say you are planning a website redesign intended to clarify brand messaging and boost form fills. You will want to review the content architecture of the pages before turning to brand elements.
Why? Because brand is important but branding in itself doesn’t convert, unless you’re Nike or Adidas. The core user experience of the website is what will get people to fill out forms. Sharper branding will simply help the process along.
Step four: set a delivery timeframe
If you have specced out the project clearly and set firm objectives, the application of a timeframe to the project should be relatively plain sailing.
Set up a centralised document that records project commitments and completed actions. Make it accessible to everyone on the client side with working knowledge of the project and a stake in its successful completion.
Tell the client what to expect in terms of project deliverables, but don’t overplay your hand. A desire to please can land you in hot water down the road. Better to underpromise and overdeliver instead.
Step five: establish concrete goals
Setting goals, or outcomes, can be tricky. For example, a goal for a content marketing project might be an increase in website traffic over a specified period.
This may sound sensible at the outset, but what does it really mean that the client is receiving three times more traffic to its website? Is it the right kind of traffic? Are visitors sticking on the site and visiting higher-conversion pages? Are they filling in forms? Website traffic is almost always a means to an end.
Do not set or agree to goals that you know to be unattainable. Setting yourself up to fail is a bad move, even if it helps secure the contract in the first place. Better to be clear at the outset about what is feasible and what is not, and proceed from there. A good client will respect you for it.
Try to speak the language of the client insofar as possible. Find out what kind of goals they routinely set, and incorporate this type of metric into your planning where you can.
Whatever goals you draft up, circulate them to all the relevant stakeholders for input. Smuggling in goals at the end of a proposal and hoping they will evade scrutiny is a bad idea.
Step six: continual review
As the project progresses, review goals and adjust where necessary, but only with the client’s approval. It may be tempting to shift the goalposts and massage data so it comes out looking shinier than it is actually is, but be wary of these tactics.
Honesty is the best policy. Clients will prefer you tell them frankly what the data is showing, and will be more willing to work with you to collaborate on ideas for securing progress against goals, if you are open about what isn’t working out as you had initially expected.
For many clients, the value you bring to reporting is in the analysis and interpretation of real-time information. They don’t want skewed data. Even when you are falling behind on the initial goals, it might be that new opportunities are staring you in the face. Expanding the original definition of an MQL in the light of website data can help open up new lines of business and drive fresh revenue.
Making it work
Setting clear objectives for your client project is critical. Without concrete expectations, you run the risk of not only running the wrong project but of scope creep, where the initial project balloons out of shape and becomes hard to manage and financially draining.
Although there are no shortcuts to getting the right project objectives in place for the client at the outset, taking the additional time upfront will pay dividends in the long run.