Prevent client problems with a pre-kickoff survey

For fewer client blowups at your agency, use a pre-kickoff stakeholder survey.

Has your agency had client projects and retainers that start well… but then blow up later? They happen to every agency eventually. For some, it seems to happen on a majority of their client engagements.

To reduce this problem, you should be following one of my “next practices” in agency managementcreating a pre-kickoff survey for client stakeholders.

Your goal is to prevent problems before they start. Depending on how your sales process goes, you should ask some of these questions—in sales conversations—before you even agree to a contract. For instance, if they badmouth their previous agency for having what you know to be reasonable agency policies, the client will probably be badmouthing you next.

You’ll ultimately have better results with clients when you arm yourself before the kickoff meeting. That’s where the pre-kickoff stakeholder survey comes in!

Let’s take a look at what you might include as you customize your agency’s pre-kickoff survey.

What to Put On Your Pre-Kickoff Stakeholder Survey

At a high-level, here are some topics you want to sort out:

  1. When they expect deliverables.
  2. Their definition of success.
  3. Their bandwidth to work on the project or retainer from their side.
  4. When the project originally started at their end (so you know when the clock starts ticking).
  5. Their experience with past agencies (what worked, what didn’t).
  6. Which is their top priority in the “Iron Triangle of PM” (budget, timeline, scope)?
  7. Preference between email vs. phone vs. Basecamp.

When you do this survey, your agency now has highly valuable information—since you’ve heard from multiple stakeholders, you may know more about portions of the company than any one employee. You can use this to make your work more successful… and upsell more in the future.

Let’s go beyond that list to see a starter template for your agency’s survey.

Template: Pre-Kickoff Survey for Agencies

Here are some cut-and-paste examples to steal—be sure to customize it to your situation!

I recommend using a surveying tool like SurveyMonkey—your goal is to quickly collect the info, not waste time tracking down answers from each respondent. (If you have a larger budget, doing at least some via one-on-one conversations will provide more Warmth.)

  1. Let’s pretend we’ve just launched the <project/campaign/program>. What does success look like?
  2. Let’s look even further into the future. It’s a year after <launch>. What does success look like? What are the numbers?
  3. What is your <boss/board> expecting from this engagement?
  4. During engagements, clients sometimes change priorities to meet other goals. To help us plan ahead, please note your flexibility on the “Iron Triangle of Project Management”:
    • Timeline [Very Flexible, Somewhat Flexible, Somewhat INflexible, Not Flexible at All]
    • Budget [Very Flexible, Somewhat Flexible, Somewhat INflexible, Not Flexible at All]
    • Scope [Very Flexible, Somewhat Flexible, Somewhat INflexible, Not Flexible at All]
  5. How many hours a week do you plan to work on the <project/campaign/program>?
  6. Do you have an existing internal approval process for the work we’re doing in this engagement? If so, please describe the workflow.
  7. Do you have any vacation or PTO coming up, longer than 1-2 days? If so, what are the dates? (This will help as we schedule things.)
  8. Have you worked with agencies or marketing freelancers before? If so, what did you like and not like about what they did?
  9. For day-to-day conversations, do you prefer email, phone, or something else?

Tip: Consider asking some of these (informally) during the sales process if you find you’re seeing too many surprises at kickoff.

Most agencies aren’t doing this “next practice” yet, so asking a pre-kickoff stakeholder survey will put you ahead of most of your competition.

Question: What would you add to the list of survey questions?

Image credit: Checklist photo by Oliver Tacke, via Creative Commons

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