Adam Wagner

Dec 20 2012

Always Set Your Clients’ Expectations and they Will Never be Disappointed


Working with any type of client can be difficult, but small business owners provide a unique scenario when setting expectations because they often have little or no familiarity with how a given marketing medium should perform. Small business owners understand that marketing is critical, but they rarely have the training or knowledge to execute the proper marketing plans for their business. This is where we as marketers come in. We need to guide them, show them and teach them how to reach their customers. This can be a recipe for the ideal client or a disaster, it all depends on how their expectations are set at the onset of a campaign. You don’t want them to expect a $50 per month PPC budget to open up the flood gates of new customers.

Over the last few years I have been presented with the challenge of level setting with small business owners and I have experienced first hand the benefit of properly setting a client’s expectations. If you show them the path ahead of time they will have a much easier time navigating it and understanding their results. Here are a few things I have learned to help make this process easier.


Do not be afraid to educate them. Information is good. When I am speaking with a small business owner that is a potential client I always try and provide them with an in-depth explanation of what we are trying to achieve and how we are going to go about it. 

For example, I often find myself meeting with potential clients that are looking for SEO services, but they have no experience with SEO. All they know is that they want to rank better in search. When presented with this scenario I will start at the basics and provide an overview of SEO and how it works. This way they understand that I am the expert and it gives them a foundational level of understanding to be able to make decisions from.


Provide your clients with as much information as possible and be completely transparent with them. If you are truly providing them with the best marketing strategy for their business then an abundance of information will only help justify this point. 

When presented with a large amount of data or the full consideration set for a problem the client can begin to realize just how valuable your expertise as a marketer are to them. If they do not see everything that is happening behind the scenes, then there is potential for them to over-simplify a task and undervalue the service you are providing them. 

Budgets and Timing

Always discuss what types of results clients should expect to receive with a given investment level. Every business owner wants to know how much it will cost and how long it will take for them to achieve their marketing goals. Being forward and realistic with this information helps build a level of trust and shows that you have experience with the presented scenario. 

Timing can be tricky to precisely predict, but even ballpark time estimates will help calm a client when they are making a marketing decision. 


Do not be afraid to use visuals to illustrate your point. Oftentimes small business owners may have heard a term, but they may not fully know how it is executed in the market. For example, if you are pitching in a new PPC campaign make sure to include a variety of screenshots from relevant searches. This will validate the medium when they see competitors utilizing it as well and it will help lay a foundational understanding for future discussions. 


Clients love analytics.Many small business owners have a Google Analytics account for their website, but they do not know what any of it means. If you are able to present this information to them in a way that is easily digestible and actionable they will eat it up (And if they do not currently have analytics in place, then you will be a hero by getting them set up). 

At the end of the day there are a variety of ways to set client expectations, and above we have only discussed a few. The important take away is that you engage in setting expectations properly from the beginning. Clients should be aware of possible shortcomings and hurdles ahead. Then, when these issues become a reality, you will be able to have an informed conversation with your clients. In an ideal world, when expectations are set perfectly there would never be a need for clients to be disappointed. However, we do not live in that world and so we can simply strive to provide our clients with the best strategy possible and an abundance of information to make informed decisions. 

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