“Mike, we’re not going to be continuing with Square 2 Marketing.” 

If you’ve run an agency for at least a year or two, you’ve probably heard this or something similar before. If you’ve run an agency for as long as I have, well, let’s just say I’ve heard this more than I would like.

The real question for me is why? Why did we get fired, and what do we have to do to make sure we don’t get fired again

We always have a postmortem on the client engagement to try to understand why the client made this decision and to make sure we didn’t miss any opportunities.  

What we learned is that there are a variety of reasons for getting fired and a lot of them don’t have anything to do with us. Still, you should be aware that these issues and reasons can cause your agency to hear those dreaded words. 

Why You Get Fired — A Top 10 Countdown

10) We can’t sustain the investment.

Owners, CEOs, and CMOs all have a variety of ways to tell you they can’t afford your services anymore. What they don’t tell you is that they didn’t properly budget for an investment in marketing. They might not have properly planned for the time required to get the program up and running, and they might be burning through so much cash in other areas of the business that marketing has to take a back seat.

Despite the fact that we tell all our prospects how much they’re going to need for an investment in marketing and how long it’s going to take to see measurable results, we still hear this from time to time. At its core, it has a lot to do with getting the client results. The faster you can show value and drive leads, the less likely you are to hear this reason for terminating your agreement.

9) We’re going in a different direction.

Over the years, we’ve had a number of clients pivot mid campaign, and they expect us to pivot with them. They don't realize that a major strategic business shift might cause us to need to stop marketing and rethink the entire effort. We’ve had other clients bring us into the discussion around a change in focus, and this usually results in a much better outcome.

Typically major shifts like this impact almost every area of your client’s business and losing your engagement with them is probably not a bad outcome. Companies who change their mind about major items such as strategy and direction can be challenging clients and often cost more than they’re worth. This is probably one time when it’s easy to make lemonade from the lemons and simply move on after getting the bad news.

8) I’ve lost faith in the team’s ability to execute.

Again, this is typically a result of a poor performing program. If you hear this, it’s most likely not going to take an extensive review to see that the marketing tactics are not driving results. Companies who are getting increases in visitors and leads don’t usually drop you because they’ve lost faith.

One way to mitigate this risk is to continually be communicating the good news. Inbound marketing, as with any major business initiative, usually comes with some good news and some not so good news. However, usually agencies spend most of their time talking about the underperforming areas -- and how to improve these. Make sure you also take the time to highlight the successes. Do this monthly -- at the minimum -- so positive and productive results discussions are frequent.

7) You don’t understand my business.

This is my pet peeve. Most of our clients have very basic businesses. It’s not hard to understand how an accounting, manufacturing, lake management, software, or document management company works, but clients love telling us we don’t understand their businesses. This is not usually the real reason you’re getting fired, but it’s one of the ones clients like to lean on most often.

What they’re really saying is the work you’re producing doesn’t resonate with them, so it might not resonate with their prospects. If you’re doing your job well, you still might not be talking about their business the way they would, but you’re probably talking about their business the way their prospects want you to be. This is very hard for people to get their heads around. “We’re not talking to you Mr. CEO. We’re trying to talk to your prospects.”

Again, not to be too repetitive, but if the client is seeing results, they’d feel better about your level of understanding. 

6) We have a new CEO, and she’s using her previous agency.

This is another tough one to swallow, but it's a reality. People leave, people move, and people want to work with their trusted advisors. There's not much you can do about it. However, had you been getting the client an avalanche of leads, you can bet the decision to remove you and bring in someone new would have been a major topic of conversation.

It’s easy to replace an agency that is not performing. It’s much more difficult to replace the agency that is performing beyond anyone’s expectations.

5) It’s taking too long to get work out the door.

This one amazes me as it is usually the client who sets up roadblocks to launching projects. Our agency knows how important it is to get work out the door, and we make sure that clients have all their content on time and ready to publish. Then, they hold onto it for days, weeks, or in some cases, months. Why? It’s "safer" to keep work in development. New marketing messages out in the public represent a risk. 

This is one reason clients want to make so many revisions -- why they want to make sure it’s absolutely perfect. Your agency needs to help them understand that “done” is better than “perfect” when it comes to marketing. This concept is even more true when you are talking about inbound marketing. Let’s get this out and see if anyone likes it before we make the 16th round of revisions.

Now how do you handle the client who wants to run every single word by her board of directors, each of whom has a list of revisions and opinions on the marketing approach? Guide them on what the approval process should look like. Or better yet, get them out the process -- if possible -- and let them trust you to publish anything that adheres to the agreed upon strategy. 

4) I’m telling you what to do instead of you telling me what to do.

The relationship doesn’t start out like this, but if you don't manage it, your team can quickly find itself taking orders from the client. This issue usually goes back to the sales process and how well you vetted the client. 

Square 2 Marketing doesn’t do well in a vendor-type situation. Some agencies work well in this type of structure and are happy to execute on the client's marketing instructions. We only do strategic partnerships. We give strong, well-researched advice, so we expect clients to say, “Yep, that’s what I’m paying you for, so let’s do it your way.” 

There are a lot of clients who only want to work with vendors. Clearing this issue up early in the sales process is important. For some, it’s just the way they work. Others can’t help themselves. They might have every intention of listening to you, but they just can’t help getting involved and giving orders. Managing this type of client is going to take a very strong and experienced consultant. 

3) I’m going back to more traditional tactics.

The only reason anyone would be thinking about going back to trade shows, cold calls, and print ads is because your agency didn’t get the client's inbound program up and running fast enough. Yes, there are people who are much more comfortable with this set of tactics, and yes, they would probably love if the inbound program failed so they could say, “I told you so.” But the only reason a person would utter this statement is if the program was underperforming. 

To mitigate this, make sure that you’re not only reporting on results but also reporting on the work you’re doing that will contribute to future results. While you might not be driving a 10X increase in website visitors yet, you can show keywords that are moving up in the rankings. Showing clients you’re now ranking 45 instead of 100+ is good news. 

2) We’re getting more leads, but we can’t convert those leads into revenue.

I’ve heard this so many times that we started providing inbound sales consulting services. I just can’t leave my agency’s reputation in the hands of old school sales reps anymore. Instead, you need to get involved with a client’s sales process, communication, tools, and planning. By teaching sales people how to treat their prospects (Don’t sell -- instead guide and advise.), you’re going to help close more of those leads you just handed them from the inbound marketing program.

1) We’re not seeing the results.

This is the basis for most of the firings. This situation stems from two problems. The first is you promised the client too much during the sales process. You’re much better off being honest with them. Tell them it’s going to take months -- not weeks -- to get leads. If they only have 200 people coming to their website today and they’re not generating leads, they’re not going to see 2,000 visitors and 20 leads in 30 days. It’s more realistic to set a goal of six months to get to that level. Be honest, and you will get fired less. 

The other aspect is program performance. You and your team need to know exactly how to build an inbound program. What tactics, what frequency, and what combination of these will get a client result? In my experience, a solid inbound marketing program designed to double site traffic and increase lead generation by 4X in six months needs to be at least a $10,000-per-month retainer. Regardless of industry, inbound works the same way.

If you can’t show that inbound works in six to seven months, you’re going to be in jeopardy of getting fired every month until you can produce measurable results. You’re better off signing fewer clients at higher retainer engagements than signing a bunch of $3,000 per month engagements where you end up getting fired eight months down the road.

What we do isn’t easy, but with the right communication, right expectations, right team, and the right insight on how to do inbound, you can deliver an inbound marketing engagement that delights clients and solidifies your relationship with them for years and years.

To learn how to make sure you never get fired again, click here to download the ebook The Top 11 Secrets To Growing A Successful and Profitable Inbound Agency. 

Originally published Aug 18, 2015 9:00:00 AM, updated July 28 2017


Losing Clients