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(NOTE: This is a real ex-client (ooh… foreshadowing!). I’m not using “his” name, for obvious reasons… yet. I’m also not even promising it is a “he”, only that I’m using the classic English catch-all “he” to reference this particular client.)

This is the true story of how a great potential relationship went absolutely OFF THE RAILS. I’m hoping beyond hope that in reading this, future clients will understand what they should and shouldn’t expect from their marketing firms. It may not be my firm that gets rescued, but it could be somebody’s, and I’m just paying it forward. Let this also be a lesson to other marketing firms to watch for these warning signs.

Let’s just go through this chronologically, so you can get a feel for exactly what was happening.  If you’ve ever run a marketing campaign, or are in charge of marketing for your company, I’m hoping you will recognize a lot of what I’m saying here, and hopefully not see any of yourself in this particular client.

Once upon a time…

In early December, the client signs on to have his new website constructed, as well as having a complex sales funnel built, targeting a VERY specific audience in a VERY specific geographic region. We give ourselves until January 1st to get the site and funnel complete (we use awesome webinar software for our funnels. Contact me for details). Once the build is done, the client is then on a monthly program, with payments due on the 1st of the month. The budget includes blog post creation, social media posting, paid ads, video creation and editing, and then a complete CRM program for the leads we are generating.

Starting on the Wrong Foot

Come January 1st, we’re ready to go… and the client is late on his first payment.

Not only late… but then he asks if we can break the monthly payment into two pieces, paying half now (already 5 days late) and the other half in a week. I guess he forgot that January 1st was coming or something. I mean, really… it’s not like it’s a special day or anything. Right?

So, now the active marketing program is starting almost a week late.  But we get it launched, and it starts running.

This was being done on Facebook only. They carry 70% of his market, so doing things carefully and methodically is important. We knew we would be adding a second funnel the following month, with more paid advertising on LinkedIn, but that was not part of this month’s work. We had to focus on getting the best response possible from Facebook first.

Now, halfway through the month, he makes his second payment for the balance already 2 weeks late.

And he gives me an earful about how upset he is about not being up and running on LinkedIn yet.

Wait… We weren’t starting LinkedIn until next month, remember?

Nope. Doesn’t want to hear that. Wants it all going right now.

My Mistake: I let him determine the priorities

Instead of carefully monitoring our Facebook responses, and creating new content to beef up his VERY sad social media history, we are creating a whole new funnel program for LinkedIn leads. We didn’t want them all leading to the same funnel, or we wouldn’t be able to track how the different sites were performing.

We’re now 3 weeks into the month, and 2 weeks into the marketing program. We had told him it would take at least 3 months to get everything up and running, create a baseline for performance, and then a constant effort towards tweaking and improving the overall success of the campaign.

That’s when he called again, this week telling us that the whole idea of focusing on the narrow target wasn’t good any more, and he wanted us to suddenly shift to doing a full broadcast of far-less specific content across a much wider audience. Because after only getting 400 people clicking through the funnel, we had 8 people view the video, and two make appointments.

(Quick point: Cost of Acquisition is a HUGE factor, and just ONE client could pay for the entire marketing campaign for the entire YEAR… but I digress.)

So now the LinkedIn campaign isn’t performing anywhere near as well as the Facebook campaign, it costs twice as much to run the ads, and gave us exactly two clicks in a week. (Compared to the aforementioned 400 from Facebook).

So guess what? It’s time to throw all that out and jump through the NEW hoop of getting the new video campaign up and running… that was supposed to be the second half of February, or even early March. He’s not paying anywhere NEAR enough money to have a full team doing all this at once, and he understood that.  (I’m sure he’ll say he DOESN’T RECALL ever hearing that, but then again, I really am not caring very much about what he remembers or doesn’t, because he is batting zero for ten right now.)

We are now 3 weeks into the campaign. We have two funnels that aren’t performing well, but then again, fresh funnels often don’t. That’s why we promise it won’t be right the first time, and we are going to have to spend many weeks fine tuning it to get the best performance. There was no blueprint for what he was trying to do, and the audience we were seeking to contact are NOT a category Facebook or LinkedIn currently offer. They removed it several months ago as an option, because, I think, they were worried about discrimination or harassment. Okay, that’s fine. But I have to say that of the leads we DID get, the email addresses showed they were the EXACT people we were trying to hit. Perfect landing.

But wait… there’s more.

Podcast? Who said anything about a podcast?

But, as we enter the second month… you guessed it.


A podcast? I promised you a podcast? (I really need to read my agreements more carefully, don’t you think?)

Somewhere he got it in his head that we were doing a podcast. I didn’t think I’d ever discussed podcasts, but I’ve been known to forget details from time to time. Of course, a whole PODCAST isn’t exactly the kind of detail I forget, since I know the labor that goes into making one the RIGHT way… but I took it with a grain of sand, and a dose of humility, and decided the customer is always right.

Two things about that:

  1. The customer isn’t always right
  2. I should have more confidence in my own memory

I went ahead and listened to his plan for the podcast, which actually included very few specifics, because, he claimed, one of his staff members (someone we will call “Mary”) was the point person for that project. I was to contact her ASAP, as she was waiting to get started on the podcast project that was, apparently, already behind schedule.

I wasted no time calling Mary. She didn’t get back to me for at least a day. I called her again, and now I understood the reason for her delay.

Death in the family? Nope.

Covid test come back positive? Nope.

Surprise wedding? Nope.

She wasn’t getting back to me because, as her first words out of her mouth would indicate, there might be some confusion:

What podcast?

She had NO idea what I was talking about. Never discussed anything about a podcast with her boss. However, she DID discuss doing the sign language interpretation on the videos for his content.

Okay. I can roll with that.

I told her how to make the video for her interpreting, and she said she’d get right on it, and probably have her portion back to me in a day or two. All she had to do was watch the video while recording herself on a Zoom call, then send me the video. We would take care of dropping her into the other video, and the time would match perfectly with the audio in her video. Easy peasy eggs and cheesy.

Naturally, she never got back to me. Anything coming from them was a non-starter.

Honestly, that didn’t really bother me that much, because I eventually went back and checked the proposal. I read it over. I read it again. Then, still not trusting my own eyes,  I performed a search for the word “podcast”.

Yeah, that’s right. Podcasts had never been a part of our discussions. My partner and I regularly discuss using them, but we weren’t going to overload the program up front. This client simply didn’t have the budget.

“A Hard Pass”?

Then comes the date for the second payment of the second month (a week late, remember), and he tells my partner that he’s completely dissatisfied with OUR program, he is NOT going to pay the other half of his bill, and he’s threatening to tell anyone who asks about us that our marketing program should be given “a hard pass.”

3 weeks, and he’s absolutely certain it’s all us.

It couldn’t possibly be that he made us change the goals and rollout schedule FOUR TIMES in those THREE WEEKS.

Nope. Apparently that wasn’t a thought that ever crossed his mind.

It also couldn’t be… heaven forbid… that the problem was there was NO INTEREST IN HIS MESSAGE. That although HE thought his product was the next best thing to sliced bread, the customers weren’t interested in having him deliver that product.

Or maybe it was the weather during those three weeks. Or perhaps his audience was undergoing some kind of cultural shift or layoffs during that time. Or it’s just a bad time of year to be trying to contact them.

You see, these are all things you find out when you create a marketing program, and STICK WITH IT long enough to find out what’s good, bad, normal, weird, or just not worth another penny.

What you CAN’T do is learn all that in 3 weeks of utter chaos, brought on by a constant shifting of priorities and cataclysmic project creep.

The fact was, as soon as my partner informed me that he was defaulting on his agreement, I was intensely RELIEVED! It felt GOOD to not be dealing with him any more. This person was one of the WORST clients I’ve had in my 39 years of consulting.

Do you want to know who it is?

Well, that’ll be up to him. Right now, this public post is keeping his identity anonymous. But I swear to GOD that if I hear ONE person come back to us and say they were told by this person to give us “a hard pass”, you can bet your sweet bippy I’ll be planting his name RIGHT HERE at the bottom of this edited post.  And maybe at the top.

And probably in the title.

Because I kinda know a little bit about SEO and how to make things be found.

Is that a threat? Not really. It’s more like a promise.

And I care about the mental well being of my competitors. I know that sounds ridiculously selfless, but hear me out. It’s really selfish… I swear!

Nobody needs this person for a client. Counting on his money for your agency’s stability is only going to harm you, and leave you needing to make desperate deals to replace the revenue you thought you were going to have. And then the whole industry suffers, because you are now undercutting the rates we NEED to charge to do the work properly. You may patch yourself up for a month or two, but you hurt all of us by doing so. Does that make sense? I hope so. I don’t want anybody running around calling me a philanthropist.  Ewww.

Bottom line

Watch out for clients like this, and if you’re a director of marketing for YOUR company… don’t be this guy. You’re going to spend a lot of money getting started, and then jump ship before you get any return. How does THAT make any kind of financial sense?

Have you got a client horror story? Share it below. I’d love to commiserate with you about it.


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