Inbound Client Communication: A Primer

Inbound Client Communication

No matter how strong your communication skills are, and no matter how hard you strive to avoid tangled wires, there will be times when you simply don’t get your message across to your business partner, whether you’re a marketing agency or a client. Those are awkward, frustrating times, and your overall agency/client relationship can suffer because of them.

That’s particularly true in the world of inbound marketing. You may be going to a marketing agency because you lack the internal knowledge to really nail it, or you may just lack the time to do it effectively. From both an agency and client perspective, meanwhile, one of the hazards of being a subject matter expert (pat yourself on the back, here) is that, without even realizing it, you may say things that are clear to you, but not to the listener. The lack of clarity can lead to the kinds of problems that get in the way of the good work both sides want to see.

With this blog post, we hope to help you avoid at least some of those pitfalls and keep the lines of communication open and effective.

Spell Out Acronyms

When we set out to define core inbound terms for our inbound definitions series, we were confronted with just how many acronyms we use on a daily basis. Whether it’s SEO, ROI, KPI, or OMG, it’s easy to slip into abbreviations that are inscrutable for clients. Like any of us, they may be wary of asking about terms that they feel they should know. That will probably become a problem six months into a relationship with the client when they finally get around to asking what you’re doing for search engine optimization.

If you are a client speaking directly to an agency, the same rules apply. No doubt you have a library of terms internally that are used as shorthand that might be foreign to your marketing agency partner. Clarifying those as early as possible will prevent miscommunication.

Make a habit of spelling acronyms out in person and in phone calls, and denoting the full definition next to abbreviations in reports and online communications. It’s the quickest way to avoid crossed wires.

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Don’t Assume Prior Knowledge

Your agency partner may have all the hallmarks of a savvy marketing executive. They wear jeans and a blazer, hold a fondness for analytics, and have a framed diploma from Marketing University. But marketing is a constantly evolving field, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned the hard way, it’s that even seasoned marketers often have real holes in their knowledge.

Hypothetically, then, teams on both sides should be sure to clearly spell out the nitty gritty of your initiatives–whether that’s what’s involved in a full-fledged SEO audit for your client’s website or the steps you’ll be taking to re-tool your entire sales process.

Your partner may be generally familiar with what an audit or internal sales process entails but may not understand the scope, hours, and access needed to do one well. Your partner may also be completely unfamiliar with an SEO audit or your entire sales funnel, in which case you can educate and set appropriate expectations before they Google it and come to a vastly different conclusion than you were hoping for.

It’s better to mildly annoy your partner by over-explaining a concept they already understand than to gloss over the details, and have that lack of detail rear its ugly head later.

Don’t Be Afraid to Push Back

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that you can push back without irreparably damaging the relationship. If you’re a client pitching your marketing agency on an ambitious content campaign that requires them to drop everything you’re doing and churn out ten blog posts, six new emails, and a full-fledged social media campaign in three weeks, you have to know that “no” or “let’s talk about paring this down” are possible responses.

As a client you shouldn’t be afraid to see if the timeline can be moved up, if your grand idea really can’t be done, and why delays arise that aren’t explained. If everyone’s super polite but work isn’t getting done, nobody’s winning.

Remember: You’re a team and teams don’t deliberately sabotage themselves. This goes hand-in-hand with our next item, which is also a major challenge for many engaging in marketing, yours truly included.

Communicate Often

Here’s a truism: It is better to engage in too much inbound client communication than too little. If a client doesn’t hear from their agency for a week, their default assumption is often going to be that all is well and there are no items that need their review. Alternatively, they may assume that you’re simply not doing any work for them.

Both those assumptions may be faulty, and as wary as you may be about getting in a client’s hair, things will be far worse if you go radio silent about a project and announce you’ll be delivering it late one day before it is due. From the client side, it’s better to stay in touch frequently, ask lots of questions, and be as responsive as possible to any communications from your agency.

By regularly checking in and updating your respective teams on your progress, they will always know what you’re working on, which makes it much easier to get everyone up to speed if deadlines change or priorities shift. You should balance that per your team’s tolerance level, but err on the side of staying in touch. We recommend 30 minute weekly or bi-weekly calls and action-oriented status updates at the close of each week.

Avoid Jargon

This brings us full circle. Earlier we advised you always to spell out acronyms, but we’re going to suggest a corollary to that: Don’t use jargon.

By using words like “omnichannel marketing,” “synergized cross-channel sales,” and industry-specific buzzwords, you’re just confusing what might otherwise be a clear message. Omnichannel marketing is a great example of a term that just doesn’t mean anything to those who don’t spend their days hip-deep in marketing terms, and it would be much more effective to say that “we’ll ensure a seamless user experience across all platforms and devices.” And please never tell your marketing agency that you will “leverage synergized cross-channel sales dynamics,” not that you ever would.

Please don’t mistake this with not using the right inbound terms. You don’t want to be talking about “high-level organizing font sizes and bolding” when you mean H tags, for example. Just steer clear of the most obvious buzzwords and you should be fine.

These tips should ensure you avoid the most common pitfalls associated with client communication. Remember: If you’re not sure of the right inbound marketing term, or your agency isn’t, our inbound definitions guide will get everyone up to speed.

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