5 Ways To Manage Clients By Assuming Positive Intent

What distinguishes a great account/client manager from a good one? Positive intent. It’s necessary to always work with an assumption of positive intent in order to be a great team member, a great manager, and a great leader.At Point It, we partner with lots of different clients in various verticals. It’s one of the most exciting parts of our job. But it also can be challenging. Often times you’ll hear others who work in an agency environment gripe and moan about working with a specific client where there’s clashing communication styles, work styles, or understandings of expectations. And how do those complaints usually go? Painting the client as the problem and the account manager as the solution. So often we forget to assume that almost all people do what they do without any purposeful negative intent.So how do we as account managers identify what the true, underlying issue is when problems arise with a client rather than jumping to negative conclusions? How can we get to the heart of the problem by looking at things through a positive lens? Below are 5 ways to manage 5 different types of client issues by approaching them with an assumption of positive intent (images pulled from a great infographic by Digital Synopsis!) 

#1: Mr. I’m Not Really Sure What I Want

Client 1

  • Negative Intent Assumption:

    This client can’t make up his mind. He’s wishy-washy, he’s not listening to what you as the account manager are taking the time to review with him, and he doesn’t understand SEM.

  • Positive Intent Approach – What’s Likely Happening:

    Your client might not be 100% versed or comfortable with SEM, but aren’t verbalizing that. Think about your approach in educating them on performance, testing, and launches. Maybe the reports or explanations you’ve been providing them are in a style or format YOU like, but isn’t best suited for them and how they digest information. Also, if your client is changing their mind on things often, it may be that there’s an outside influencer – like a boss or another more senior team member – that they are discussing things with after your meetings. It may make sense to rope in that outside influencer to some or all of your client communications so they are part of the original conversation and feel in the loop.


#2: Mr. Everything’s An Emergency

Client 2

  • Negative Intent Assumption:

    This client thinks you’re his only priority and should take up all your time. He doesn’t understand how to prioritize anything.

  • Positive Intent Approach – What’s Likely Happening:

    Make sure you have a full understanding of your client’s role is at their company (managing SEM part-time vs. full-time). Ask yourself how are YOU as their client manager are helping to enable them to adapt to any pressure they may be receiving from above ? They may have no sense of the pressure they are bringing down on you. Be sure to have scheduled regular calls (weekly or bi-weekly) and start off each meeting outlining what was completed, how things performed, and what tasks and projects are on your radar to ensure them you are on top of things and start to generate trust. Most of all, avoid being passive – be direct and communicate with your client that you are managing multiple accounts and want to be sure you can deliver for other accounts just as you do for them.


#3: Mrs. Won’t This Take Five Minutes?

Client 3 

  • Negative Intent Assumption:

    This client thinks that initiatives or projects should be getting completed faster than they are. She doesn’t understand the kind of work that needs to be put in. She thinks you’re incapable, or lazy, or don’t know how to be efficient.

  • Positive Intent Approach – What’s Likely Happening: 

    The client doesn’t think you’re incapable, though she may be tough on you or push you to get things done faster. She just may have a misunderstanding of how longer certain tasks take. Maybe a previous agency or partner she worked with used to drag their feet, and she doesn’t want that happening again. A big selling point for investing in SEM is how quick & adaptive it can be – how ads, keywords, a promo can be pushed live in a matter of minutes. But that can be a very simplistic view on the amount of work it takes to get certain initiatives up and live. For every task, deliver estimates to the client on how long it will take to complete, and ensure the client you will confirm whenever a task is done. If the client sees you following through on items at the time you estimated them at, then two things will happen – 1) a building of trust & reliablity and 2) a validation of how long SEM tasks truly take to complete.


#4: Mrs. Lurker

Client 4

  • Negative Intent Assumption:

    This client thinks you will jump whenever she demands it. However, she’s not engaged at all, purposefully not responding to emails, calls, or requests for long periods of time. She only cares about the account and the work you do on it sporadically.

  • Positive Intent Approach – What’s Likely Happening:

    Have you ever had a time where you’ve been incredibly swamped and didn’t follow-up on a specific email or request in a timely fashion? We’re human – it happens – and your client may be SO swamped, that’s what’s happening here. Don’t take that as leeway to not keep up your end of communication, or she may come back online with a bunch of questions since she sees YOU as being radio-silent. Keep up reporting, giving insights on initiatives, and just checking in from time-to-time. If possible, try to at least have a monthly call on the books, and start off the call asking the client how things are going for her. Showing interest in how the client is doing shows that you care about them and don’t just see them as a money bag.


#5: Mrs. I Don’t Know What I Want, But I Know It Isn’t That

Client 5

  • Negative Intent Assumption:

    This client doesn’t seem to like a lot of the ideas you’ve come up with. She doesn’t ever bring ideas to the table, she just shoots down yours.

  • Positive Intent Approach – What’s Likely Happening:

    This is a tough one, and tensions can rise quickly. It likely comes down to the client reacting to internal pressure again – who from above is demanding the best, most fool-proof ideas? The client may also view an idea as permanent choice or direction rather than a test that can be pulled down within a few weeks if it’s not performing well. Start approaching how you pitch ideas as testing initiatives. Set up clear test start and end dates, agree on a confidence level, and agree upon what KPIs you’ll be using to determine success. Also, ask what format is best to present results in a way that’s easy for them to share internally.

What are some successes you’ve had with clients when you assumed positive intent? Share them with us!.google {left:100%;display:inline-block;position:fixed}

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Maddie Cary About the author

Maddie Cary is the Director of Paid Search at Point It Digital Marketing in Seattle. Her role involves overseeing and developing an amazing team of PPC account managers, while also running the Global SEM Program for Point It’s largest client. In 2015, she won the US Search Award for “Young Search Professional”. You can find her speaking & learning at conferences like SMX, HeroConf, & PubCon, or writing posts for the Wordstream blog. Outside of PPC, her biggest loves are her family, friends, and her idol, Queen Beyoncé.


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