You’ve spent months doing market research and drilling down on the perfect marketing strategy for your client, and everyone’s agreed to the plan, budget, and timeline. They’ve given you the go-ahead and signed on the dotted line.
Everyone is finally in agreement, and you’re already implementing the plan when someone on your client’s team gets excited by a new idea they heard on a business retreat. They are brimming with ideas and want to pivot the strategy.
Your client has invested all this money to access an elaborate marketing plan, only to abandon that plan and switch directions — now?
If you are truly invested in your client’s success, you know that in order for them to succeed they need to commit to the plan.
But these constant shifts in strategy when something interesting comes along — what we call shiny object syndrome — can make it more difficult to nail your client’s marketing goals and ultimately grow your agency.
If one or more of your clients does this to your team often, you’re not alone. In fact, it’s fairly common, with nine out of 10 CEOs admitting to struggling with shiny object syndrome at least to some degree.
What ‘shiny object syndrome’ is and why it might be sabotaging your agency’s growth
Shiny object syndrome happens when your clients are constantly chasing the next big trends or ideas without carefully considering how that will affect their marketing strategy and implementation.
For marketing agencies that have clients who often want to pursue ideas that deviate from the agreed-upon strategy, it becomes nearly impossible to see the results you were planning on. And having a few clients that continually seek to pivot can hamper your ability to grow your agency because:
- It limits the amount of time the marketing strategy has to take hold.
- The consistent changes mean that you spend more time planning than implementing, which all but guarantees your clients will fail and that budgets will need to be adjusted.
As long as you’re placating your clients and amending your strategy based on their slightest whims, you’ll be too busy changing course to ever see the fruition of your labor.
For example, let’s say your client paid you to create their marketing campaign and strategy for the year. After you’ve drafted all the plans and set tracking parameters and budgeted, they decide they want to add a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign to the strategy.
Now, you have to add this strategy to your plan that you didn’t budget for in the first place — for any of the extra time, budgetary requirements, or assets needed to implement a PPC initiative.
You can’t be expected to roll out a PPC campaign overnight. These approaches take time to build. You need the proper landing pages and engaging copy. While it might not seem like it to your clients, these seemingly simple shifts in strategy could actually turn into a major headache, complete with extra work, unaccounted-for expenses, and inaccurate KPI tracking.
The director of IMPACT’s Certified Coaching Program, Dia Vavruska, explains how costly this can be, using an example she sees often when clients come to us looking to implement IMPACT’s inbound marketing framework, They Ask, You Answer:
“If you’re a digital marketing agency and your client brings you They Ask, You Answer, you’re walking them through a different strategy that affects multiple areas of marketing. You’re aiming to improve your client’s website, sales team, content strategy, and video marketing. It can be a real struggle to keep your clients focused. You might need to continually refocus and recenter your approach because you need to stick to a specific philosophy and fundamental framework.
You need to make sure your client understands the team only has a certain bandwidth and budget — and if they want to see results, we need to help them prioritize the deliverables that are going to make an actual impact.”
This means that if a client isn’t happy with the way their website looks, it might still work as it should and therefore wouldn’t need immediate attention.
You need the time to collect data about what’s working so you can rely on the numbers and stay focused.
Even though digital marketing agencies wish it were the case, they can’t do everything well. When you’re able to focus on the most important tasks and knock those out of the park before you start splitting off a new list of responsibilities or budgets, you could be taking on more than you can manage successfully — which could ultimately lead you to adopt an inefficient process and stall your agency’s growth.
How to prevent shiny object syndrome and ensure agency growth and profitability
Now that you understand what shiny object syndrome is and how to spot it before it becomes an issue, how do you prevent it from happening in the first place and keep your agency growing?
Here’s how to be sure your clients stay focused on the strategy at hand, along with some ideas about how to know if your client’s ideas are worth pursuing (and when it’s acceptable to do so).
Set specific ground rules from the start
Set expectations and get everyone to agree on the direction from the start. Explain that any changes to the strategy once you begin might incur extra fees, especially if you need to adjust the rest of your plan accordingly.
Be specific with your clients about this plan. For example, say that in the next 90 days, you’re going to focus on completing three main priorities. Be clear that if your client proposes that one of these priorities should change, it might be ok, as long as it aligns with the agreed-upon goals. You might also require all the decision-makers to reevaluate the direction and agree that this is the direction they’re going to shift toward.
You don’t want frequent change since any new strategies will require a new set of marketing services and amended assets and data tracking.
Be clear with your client about the downside of too many pivots
There is only so much time to plan and create work for your clients. As a result, your team can only succeed if it’s able to stay focused on a few tasks at a time — at least until they get these tasks and habits down.
Explain to clients that you will never work with them on more than 3-5 priorities at a time. This allows you to help your client build their essential habits without wasting time doing other things. You want your team to first get the basics down and build the foundation before adding to the strategy.
Be clear with your clients that if they pivot too much, they risk failing. This constant shift in focus asks too much of people.
Your marketing agency needs to start seeing results in the work you’re doing before any major shifts, or you won’t know if something is working and to what degree. You need to stay the course once you get started so you have the benchmarks needed to properly assess how well your strategy is working — especially if most of your clients have limited resources.
Draw from past experience
Chances are, as a marketing coach or agency owner, you’ve seen clients fall victim to shiny object syndrome and know the pitfalls. It’s your job to impart your wisdom from working with other businesses.
Explain the things you’ve seen your clients try to do that don’t work.
For example, here at IMPACT, one of our first mandates with new clients is that they hire an in-house content manager, whose main goal is to publish 2-3 pieces of content per week and manage the publication topics and calendar, among other important content-creation tasks.
We’ve seen our clients assign their content managers all kinds of random tasks that interfere with the business’s goals of growing organic traffic, leads, and sales. Maybe they’re asked to write copy for a trade show or create other marketing materials. Suddenly the clients wonder why they aren’t hitting the traffic, leads, and sales goals everyone agreed to earlier.
Share these experiences to gain the leverage you need to be honest with your clients and tell them that, in your experience working with hundreds of companies to grow their business with inbound marketing, you know how important it is to hire an in-house content manager who will hit publish 2-3 times per week.
We even go so far as to sever the relationship if they can’t agree to this hire because we know what it takes to be successful.
Explain that, based on your experience, they should wait to play around with the extras until it’s safer and they have a strong foundation to launch from — not in the beginning when they’re trying to ramp up sales or save the business.
Realign often or as needed
One of the most important aspects of agency growth is ensuring alignment and buy-in from marketing, sales, and leadership regarding the direction and overall plan.
For example, say one of your prospective clients wants to redesign their entire website, but according to everyone’s input, you all agree that the website functions as it should, and you deem it more important to first focus on improving the content and educational resources.
After a month or two, you might find your clients returning to the idea that they need a website redesign — but prematurely, since all the new content they’re publishing hasn’t had a chance to start ranking yet. It might be time to remind everyone what the goals were and to have them recommit.
This way, you can remind everyone why they’ve all agreed to the plan in the first place and reinvigorate your efforts, rather than trying something new.
Come to these conversations with good intentions
You might find yourself fielding these new ideas often. It benefits you to approach these conversations with confidence, from a place of caring for your client’s success and well-being.
You should feel empowered to be your client’s advocate and say something along the lines of, “I’m doing this to help you. I don’t want you to fall victim to stalled growth because you’re constantly shifting directions and never seeing any movement.”
Try having an open dialogue with them, being radically candid, and giving them your honest opinion about what is in the best interest of their business. Hopefully, you have a good relationship with your client and they will respect your counsel and listen.
If they don’t listen — and this happens consistently — then you should both reevaluate the relationship.
At the end of the day, always aim to do what’s best for your clients
While constant pivoting by your clients should in most cases be discouraged, there are times when your client’s ideas will actually help them reach their goals more effectively — at least in some way, shape, or form.
Though your clients should know that pivoting too early and often can derail their success and cause you to have to reevaluate your strategy, they should also know that if what they suggest is going to help, you are open to considering the options.
As Dia advises,
“Good consultants and marketers will be able to look at the bigger picture and understand if this new direction will get your clients closer to their overall goals. And if it does, then you will need to evaluate the resources going into the strategy, as there is only so much time and money.”
She also cautions that clients who seek alternate solutions are typically looking for that quick fix or magic bullet — and in digital marketing, that rarely exists.
What your clients need to commit to are the consistent, repeatable, effective tasks that get more clients building better overall habits.
And that takes a lot of time and patience.
It all comes down to knowing that once your marketing strategy is working like a well-oiled machine, that’s when you can start playing around with all those extra options.
That’s when those shiny ideas and new directions can be icing on the cake.