Around the summer of 1998, I had the good fortune to meet a metal band from my school. They were intensely talented, and each of them was uniquely colorful in their own way. I could easily fill a novel with stories from the times I was allowed to hang out with this tight group of friends, and when I reflect back on those times, I can’t help but smile. Though we really only had a few years to know each other, a great deal of things in my life is somewhat informed by those experiences.
A number of people who have worked with me in the past have heard me say “they slapped the clown.” This is the first time I've ever offered the full story and why it relates to client expectation management!
The "Slapping the Clown" Story
One member of the band was a few years younger than the rest. He was a fun loving guy, who was incredibly skilled at shredding a guitar. I’m going to name him Leo just for this article, which isn’t his name, but I’d rather not call him out directly. It would be fair to say that Leo was a bit of a nervous guy, and the other members of the band did mess with him in various kid brother ways. All things considered, he was a really nice kid.
The band let me know that one of our favorite bands was coming to a venue in London, Ontario and they were grabbing tickets to the show. I loved Slipknot (and still do), but was too broke to go at the time. After the show, the band shared the following story with me, and it is possibly the most memorable story I was ever told.
For those who don’t know, Slipknot is an intense hard rock/metal fusion band that found themselves exploding into popularity around the same time that “New Metal” was dominating MTV. Slipknot features a massive band, and the lead singer has a voice smooth as velvet…which he can suddenly alter into the most primal thundering rage imaginable. One of the key things that helped them stand out from other acts was their decision to wear costumes on stage. I could probably best describe it as “American Horror Story – The Musical”. Back in the late nineties they were visually aggressive on stage, and being in a crowd at one of their shows was like being on a rollercoaster with a broken seat belt.
So that night in London, they were absolutely on fire. The crowd was rocking at a fever pitch, and with so many packed into tight quarters, it was very warm inside the venue. At some point in the middle of the show, Leo was standing off to the side of the stage. He was almost shaking, overwhelmed by the intensity, and this new type of atmosphere. Leo was understandably a little lost. Doing his best to stay with his fellow band mates, Leo looked up and realized he was staring at “Clown” right in front of him.
Slipknot member Clown (his real name is Shawn Crahan) is an intimidating character. He had jumped off the stage, likely to get a break from the heat, took off his mask and saw Leo staring right at him. Clown looked straight back at Leo and said “Hey Kid.”
Leo was both horrified and ecstatic. One of his idols was standing right in front of him, looking him in the eye, and had just said “Hey Kid.” Leo so overwhelmed by everything at that moment, did the first thing that came to his mind. He slapped Clown across the face…
How this relates to client expectation management
By now I can almost hear some of you saying “Rob – you do realize this is a marketing blog?” and to you I say “indeed”.
When negotiating with a potential client who is new to Adwords, and especially when faced with multiple competitors bidding on the same job, it can be difficult to remain entirely forthright in what you tell the client. You know everyone else is lying about performance in their pitches, and you know the potential client is likely “drinking the Kool-Aid” too, but if you are not straight up with the client from the beginning, you will almost always regret it later.
Once the campaign launches, and the metrics show the client the opposite of what all of the hype had them convinced they should see, they will inevitably start trying to make sense of everything to figure out why. They will look at cost per click, quality score, clicks, impressions, ad performance and everything else they can stumble upon. They will find themselves overwhelmed with data, and as you try to find ways to correct their expectations back to reality, they will become unsure of what they should do. So they will start to lash out. This is what I refer to as “Slapping the Clown”.
Warning: Don't overwhelm clients!
Just like Leo, the client is overwhelmed in an environment they are not familiar with, and when suddenly presented with a feeling or a need to respond, they do so from primal instincts alone. This is a bad place to be. Once the client starts demanding you make changes instead of following proper practices, you can pretty much kiss any chance of success goodbye.
Avoiding this while keeping yourself competitive against other marketers is entirely possible, and it means educating the client in advance while remaining transparent in all other aspects. Don’t promise them the stars, show them instead how to filter out the liars. Focus your pitch on explaining how long it can take to optimize campaigns, how their website may impact costs, how expensive many of their core keywords are, and how competitive the landscape is in their vertical. Explain to them that you will make sure they are the administrators of their own account, and that you will be happy to walk them through the data at report time.
Sure, this may mean you won’t land every client you pitch, but it will mean that each client who chooses to work with you will do so respecting that you are the expert. They will trust you to navigate through the metrics for them, and most importantly, they will not have any fake assumptions of success. In many cases, I have had potential clients I didn’t win come back to me a few months later and ask me to please take them on. After they had seen with their own eyes that what I said was true, they knew exactly who they needed to talk to.
Don’t force a client to get overwhelmed like Leo. The client doesn’t need promises, they need a partner. Leo didn’t want to slap Clown; he was entirely upset over it. Fortunately for Leo, Clown was a tough dude. He just looked at Leo questioningly and walked away.
Your client doesn’t want to “slap” you either, so don’t be a clown.