As a marketing agency you are probably used to dealing with client expectations that sit along a broad spectrum.

You will have those who trust you 100% and are happy for you to take the lead, who are open to ideas, and absolutely love working with you. Then there are those who seem to be sceptical about everything, are reluctant to change their ways, and don’t value or appreciate the amount of work and money it takes to do what you do.

You might automatically be thinking that you would love to have more clients like the former, and none like the grumpy latter…

But, this probably won’t serve you well in the long run because we all need a little bit of scrutiny every now and again. Especially when your clients are spending their hard earned money with you, and trusting you to do a good job.

So what does it mean when I talk about managing client expectations? Well before I answer that I’ll quickly talk about what could happen if you don’t.

What’s the worst that can happen?

My focus of this article will be around digital marketing, be that PPC campaigns, organic social media or general content marketing, but the same will likely apply to any organisation or sector.

If we fail to set client expectations to begin with, you won’t be the one calling the shots, and you will find yourself reacting to everything thought and worry your clients have because you’ve not established that you have it under control, that you’re the expert, and that you know what you’re doing.

We’ve all heard of Clients From Hell, and as a young designer when I first started out in the industry I would often chuckle and lament the idiot clients who would ask these stupid questions. But as I matured and got more experience in the industry, I soon realised that it was actually the designers and marketers who were at fault a lot of the time. 

Of course the client won’t understand a lot of the intricacies and possibilities of what we do as designers, developers, and marketers… that’s exactly why they hire us!

Frame the conversation

From the first time you engage with a potential client you must be leading them on a journey. Not only should you be leading them towards that coveted sale, but you should be adding value at each step. By that I don’t mean you should be giving them things, or working for free, but you should be using your expertise as a marketing professional to inform them of the intricate and complicated process that you are guiding them through.

Of course they may ask “stupid questions” that are obvious to you. But how many times have you been in a position where you are a customer, say in a garage when your car breaks down, and you literally have no idea how to fix it so you ask a basic question about the engine and the mechanic smiles and puts the story straight.

There’s no such thing as a stupid question!

Frame the conversation in a way that addresses your client’s concerns, demonstrates that you have listened and will work towards achieving their goal, and be honest about what it is likely to be achieved within the constraints of their budget and timescales. 

And if you know you are unable to accomplish their goal, don’t be afraid to be open and say that you can’t – and point them in another direction or refer them to another service that might be more suited to your needs. You’ll gain a greater amount of respect for doing this and you’re helping to educate the client and make the industry a more open and honest place.

Define what matters, and what doesn’t

Often your client may be focussed and obsessed with one little aspect of the bigger picture plan, I have experienced it where a client of mine had got it into their heads that they simply have to do this one thing because they were recommended that it would be the silver bullet to solve all their problems

When it comes to the digital marketing world, it is easy and understandable for our clients to be focussed on vanity metrics, and the results that social media platforms tell us. 

How many times have agencies used ‘impressions’ and  ‘likes’ as the only benchmark for success, whilst obscuring the fact that their campaign hasn’t actually resulted in any sales or a noticeable spike in website traffic? 

This might be fine if the campaign is one of awareness raising with no real call to action, or landing pages created to capture leads and convert users, but if the goal was to drive traffic and sell stuff, then the client will be expecting something different to the report they’re going to get

It’s important to take the time to explain to your client what metrics are measurable and meaningful. And whilst it is very difficult to predict results, especially when it comes to paid digital marketing, your client may have a different view of what a result actually is unless you’ve had that conversation at the beginning of the process and kept them updated with progress and any pivots along the way.

Focus on real results

So what matters to your client? Again, you will need to have that conversation and dig a little deeper. Of course, every client will want more sales and spend less, but how you get there is important and your conversations early on will inform you of what to focus on.

You may want to identify several measurable metrics at the beginning of a marketing campaign, and assess which are important and worthy of attention and desirable to increase. These metrics may be:

  • Page likes and followers
  • Social post likes and shares
  • Social post reach and impressions
  • Link clicks
  • Website visits
  • Visitor engagement score
  • Leads generated
  • Sales and ROI

As I mentioned earlier, it is easy to focus on ‘likes’ and ‘impressions’ and these can be important depending on the type of campaign you’re running for your client, and what results they value. 

But it is also important to focus on more than just the ‘clicks’ that your ads and social posts get as part of your client’s campaign – did you know that all link clicks are not equal? In fact, a large percentage of your clicks may not be genuine and your client’s advertisement budgets may be getting clicked away by bots

And even if a real human does land on your website, you will need to know how these potential customers are behaving and whether or not they are engaged with your content. These areas are what really matters when it comes to doing a good job for your clients, because as the old saying goes “knowledge is power” and with knowledge of how your client’s customers are behaving you will be able to optimise your landing pages and tune up the messaging to make the most impact.


Your clients may need some guidance and hand holding, and that’s fine, it’s why you’re here and why they are paying your agency. Depending on the structure of your agency, you may be project managers and account handlers who deal with customers, so it’s vital that people throughout the chain within your agency understand the points I’ve addressed in this article so they can articulate clearly and realistically what your new client is likely to get out of engaging with your agency.

It is incumbent on us as marketing professionals to lay out the expectations and limitations from the beginning of the process – and that includes your sales and marketing pipeline. 

Don’t promise the earth, or they’ll be disappointed that you cannot deliver it!