Working as a marketing consultant is as much about finessing the client relationship as it is about developing effective marketing campaigns. Your business’s survival depends on customer satisfaction, so earning and keeping your client’s trust is a big part of your job.

How do you do it? It’s all about managing – or even exceeding - the client’s expectations and the keys to success are clear documentation and effective communication.

The Project Proposal

Managing customer expectations starts with being a good listener, understanding the client’s needs, and then translating those needs into a project proposal. The more detail you can give your client in the proposal, the less chance that you’ll need to sort out any misunderstandings later.

In addition to outlining your capabilities, a project proposal details your understanding of the scope of the project; the motivation behind it; and its objectives, goals, success measurements and deliverables. And, while it may feel counter intuitive, don’t forget to include any constraints that could negatively affect the project, too.

For example, it may be a good idea to brainstorm and list any factors that could have a negative impact on your ability to meet deadlines or achieve the requested client outcomes. These may be internal influences, such as information you need from the client or its customers before work can begin, or external factors beyond your control, such as competitors’ concurrent marketing campaigns or new product launches.

Your proposal is also a good place to outline who is responsible for what. Specifically, use it to define critical responsibilities, commitments and communications among all of the project’s internal and external stakeholders.

Setting expectations for scheduling, as well as the cost of getting the job done, will help to reduce surprises for your client once work gets under way. When you set a deadline, give yourself an extra few days of wiggle room. Delivering a work product a day or two early is a great way to “over-deliver” on the promise you made to your client.

The Risk Management Plan

Before work begins, it’s also a good idea to have a written risk management plan, detailing your strategy for identifying, monitoring and resolving risks.

Developing a risk management plan shows your client that you’ve thought through the many different scenarios that could affect the success of the campaign or cause costly problems or delays. At the same time, it prepares the client for the possibility that things could go wrong, helping to manage client expectations. And in the likely event that everything goes smoothly, you’ll exceed your client’s expectations.

To help you brainstorm about potential risks related to the project, invite all the project stakeholders to a risk assessment workshop, where they’ll help you identify and prioritize any risks they envision hindering the project’s success. Choose the top 10 biggest threats, and create a risk management plan to address them. Assign specific team members to work on resolving each one before they can blow up and become bigger problems.

Your risk management plan can also detail your strategy for documenting, measuring, monitoring and reassessing risk over the course of the project.

Project Status Reporting

Another key to managing client expectations is to stay in regular communication. Be available to answer questions, and be sure to provide regular updates on project progress. Whether the information you have to share with your client is good news or bad, open communication builds your client relationship and demonstrates your honesty and professionalism.

If your engagement is a complex one that encompasses an ongoing campaign, talk to your client about how often he or she would like to receive status reports, and establish reporting periods accordingly. At each status update meeting, provide a brief status report that includes:

- Milestones attained
- Progress toward established success metrics
- Risks to the campaign or project, and how you’re addressing them
- Any variations from what was agreed upon in the proposal, their causes, and their impact on your client’s budget and deadlines
- Progress against your time and cost estimates

Staying in close contact with your client gives you many opportunities to manage your customer’s expectations and keep unpleasant surprises to a minimum. Regular reporting periods also give you a chance to keep an eye on your client’s level of satisfaction, so that you can address any concerns before they become larger issues.

By providing detailed documentation at every step and always keeping the lines of communication open – sharing the good news along with the bad – you’ll earn the kind of trust that makes a client relationship strong and lasting.

Author's Bio: 

Jim Cochran is a provider of business risk solutions through his company, Business Insurance Now. If you need a professional liability insurance or errors and omissions insurance as a marketing consultant, Jim can help you understand your needs.