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How Marketing Agencies Balance Price, Quality, and Speed

Marissa Cohen

How do you manage client expectations? It’s a balance that freelancers and marketers may find challenging, but striking the right balance can mean the difference between a happy client or an unsatisfied one.

What Good Marketing Companies Need to Know

Whether you’re a solo freelancer or working as part of a marketing/design agency, the primary goal is to make your clients happy. How can a good marketing company, freelance designer or writer balance client needs against realistic project completion?

Balancing Client Expectation: The Three Key Points

The three key points that clients are often concerned with are quality, price, and speed. In other words, how strong is your work, how much will you charge, and how soon can you have their project finished?

The truth is that no matter how patient or downright understanding your client thinks that he or she is, sometimes clients simply want your best work at rock bottom prices. Usually they want it "as soon as possible".  That’s the nature of business.

After all, it’s your job to give the client everything they want. Isn’t it? We’re taught to believe that a good marketing company or freelancer can and should deliver exactly what the customer wants, every time.

Think again!

Logic dictates that a good marketing company or a good freelancer can complete work two of three ways: the work can be fast and cheap, but maybe not your shining moment as a creative; the project can meet the client’s every specification and be a perfect example of your best out-of-the-box thinking, but that probably won’t come cheap. Last but not least, your client can sacrifice time for strong creativity.

Agencies and freelancers should know how to walk this critical psychological tightrope.

Freelance Balance and Positive Interaction

In 2004, Psychologist John Gottman researched what he called the “Masters of Marriage” theory. In it, he claimed to predict with 94% accuracy whether two people would stay married. This is known as the 5 to 1 ratio: if you have five positive interactions to every one negative interaction with your spouse, chances are you’ll stay married.

It’s the same with business relationships. The more positive interactions your client experiences with you, the more likely that they will continue working with you.  So while you might not be able to deliver everything your client "wants", you can deliver what they "need" by increasing your positive client interactions through clear communication and expectation management. 

Clear Communication + Honest Expectations = Good Customer Service

Does the client wants a project completed in exactly 24 hours, right before their CEO gets on a plane?

To give your clients what they need, be very direct about what you or your company can or cannot deliver. There’s nothing worse than overpromising a perfect, brilliant, fast product, only to realize that it can’t be realistically completed within the projected deadline. Before you know it, you’re writing the dreaded late night email to your client explaining why they won’t have their project before the CEO boards on that morning flight. When you wait until the last minute to manage a client’s expectations, they may wonder if you can be trusted to complete assignments at all. It also creates a dreaded negative interaction.

It's important to remember that sometimes our level satisfaction is tied to our emotions or how "something feels".  Avoid overpromising and your are more likely to come out as the hero.  Manage client expectations clearly and communicate in advance to increase the chances of a positive interaction.  

Some graphic designers and other creatives flat out advise their clients to pick only two out of the three steps discussed earlier: do they want it good, fast, or cheap?  It may be next to impossible to provide work to clients that’s all three of these things, so have them choose which two steps are the most important to their project. By laying this framework and encouraging balanced projects, you’ll ensure clear, long lasting client relationships.

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