This transcription belongs to Episode #5: A moral yet dramatic tale on how good intentions can backfire on you, transmuted to a valuable lesson that Roger Parent & Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman, were kind enough to share with us. You can watch the complete episode here!
MORGAN (Host): Hey, everyone! Welcome to the latest edition of ‘Client Horror Stories’. I’m honored today to have Roger Parent as my guest. I’ve no idea what story he wants to tell me. But I’m excited to jump in. How are you doing, Roger?
ROGER (Interviewee): I’m doing well. How are you?
MORGAN (Host): I’m pretty good. Having a team, not a whiskey tonight! But you’ve built up the excitement for the mystery story. We’re going to talk about it. Surely, you’ve had a lot of crazy clients. Anyone that runs a significant client’s services business as you have. So, what happened to you, Roger?
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, I think this story is interesting because I think it dives a little bit into morality. There’s some gray area that I want to bounce thoughts off with you.
MORGAN (Host): Let’s dive in!
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, for sure. So, the story I thought of was about my business partner who had a friend, we’ll just leave names out of it. That friend was looking for a job, possibly a digital position. And that guy was miserable. His job in a huge agency was absolutely miserable. He had kids, but he couldn’t spend time with his kids. He was working 70-80 hours a week.
So, he had an interview with us, almost in practical tears, because he just needed to get out of that lifestyle. And we offer super flexible lifestyles. But, you know, he came from a big agency, and we were like, “To be honest, we probably can’t afford you, but we can try to get close.” So, we ended up making an offer. And, it didn’t end up working out because he was like, “I can’t take any sort of pay cut.” It is what it is. People scale their lives and income levels, especially in America.
MORGAN (Host): Welcome to Lesson 2021!
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, right. So, next step we had a client whose marketing department was fired, and we were doing good work with them.
MORGAN (Host): But before we get to the client; let’s analyze just what you said. For a moment, by knowing nothing, I think he is really overwhelmed by the job. That already feels like a little bit of a Yellow Flag to me. Because if you’re really overwhelmed by stuff, I interpret that, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Life is overwhelming; you have to make really hard choices. And, if your boss, your company is doing too much, you have to say No to push back, and so on. So, it’s already sounded like he didn’t get everything quite together.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, and I think that was the least part of the lesson, learned by us. Many lessons have been learned by us through this process. But one of the lessons was that’s definitely a flag for someone, who has more of an inability to delegate. Because they just take on so much of the work and then they can’t put that team together. And on top of that, just sort of goes to speak to that. So many people focus just on the base salary number, without realizing that their quality of life is outrageous, and sometimes it actually is. It’s just not worth it sometimes, you know, just changing every dollar.
MORGAN (Host): Great points, and before you get into the next thing, I just want to observe, what’s interesting about both of these? These are the sorts of things, you only learn with an experienced version of you, 15 years younger. Maybe I wouldn’t or I would have seen, “Oh, he’s overworked by his boss. Wow, that’s a bad boss.” Well, now I say, Okay, no, maybe it’s a bad boss, maybe not. Who knows? But he definitely has learned the key skills of delegation and pushing back, so we get better at sensing these yellow flags.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah. And your perception changes as you get into different things. I always say that. It’s like, once I had kids, it was like, oh, now I get it. I see other parents going through a fussy baby and I just feel so bad for them, because I’ve been there, and I know how tough that is.
For example, a baby crying on an airplane, or something like that. It’s not annoying. It’s like, I’m so sorry that you’re going through that; because it’s a nightmare. And so, it’s the same when you go from being an employee to being an owner, and having different perspectives of these things. You know for sure.
MORGAN (Host): Okay, so that’s the context, then there’s this client?
ROGER (Interviewee): So, this guy is actually part of the client. And that’s how it all relates together. So, we had a client who had left their marketing team, and they were looking for help. So, we introduced this guy to that client and said, hey, X guy, we think he’d be a good fit. We know he works his butt off. We think you guys would be interested in hiring this guy; that we had even made an offer for.
We had really big problems with our client, where they were really hands-off. And that was nice, but we had no access to their backend data, we couldn’t be their lead generation client. We couldn’t determine any differentiation between the leads, we were driving. So, we didn’t know if driving leads were great or terrible. We were just driving leads, at the cheapest cost, without an understanding of their business. And they wouldn’t get us that information.
So, the thought was, pick somebody we know and trust, and see if we can get them into that company. And then, we can have this awesome working relationship where everybody wins, right? This guy gets a new job, a high-paying job, we get the scale out of a client, and we share that upside, and the client gets a much better marketing department and experience from their marketing team. So, logically, it seemed to make sense. Right?
MORGAN (Host): Sounds like a win-win!
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah. And he got the job. So, he took over the marketing department. We were super excited to scale them. And then, within the first couple of months, like the promises of explosions and budget, everything started flowing in. And they started to throw some Red Flags. Like, are you sure that you can? You just had been there a month, are you sure that you can blow up the budget from 72k a month to 400k a month? And are they going to be okay with that? And when the backend data started to come in; that was the first time that we got visibility. And we were super excited because now we understand.
MORGAN (Host): Just to be clear, he started blowing up the budget from 70k to 400k, before you started being able to evaluate the quality?
ROGER (Interviewee): Exactly!
MORGAN (Host): In retrospect, that’s another red flag.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yes, the Red Flags piled up very quickly. But we got access to the backend data, we were like, “This Is Amazing.” We were able to analyze the business on a much deeper level. So, we looked into the different qualities of leads, where they were dropping off. We brought in an analytics agency to help us with more advanced analytics; because we had access to things. We really started blowing things up. The performance was really exciting. And then the management style of this person started to come into play, where he had basically his own idea. Yeah, I think you call it the “Know-it-all Founder”
MORGAN (Host): But they know it all founder. We are reaching to discuss that.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah. So, we had everything set up on the target CPA model.
MORGAN (Host): Hold on. I just want to point out, we spoke the other day about the “Know-it-all founder”, but he was not a founder. He was an employee there. Not even an employee, even worse. “Know-it-all founder” is like, it’s your baby. You’ve been there since you birthed it, you know every little thing.
It’s famously hard for owners to give up. So, I kind of understand the “Know-it-all founder”, but for the “Know-it-all employee”, it’s your job. And you come in and you think you can do better than other people, where it’s their job as well. So, it’s stronger, worth the variation.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, it was terrible. Basically, he wanted to switch everything over to manual CPC bidding. But because of the way this market is, manual CPC is good in certain circumstances. And I don’t want to say that there aren’t certain ways or times, at which you should use manual CPC. But we were using target CPAs, which were having success. And he wanted to use manual CPC.
He had come from another PPC background and other people like the agency. So, I thought, he had his own way of doing things. So, we pretty much passionately said, “That’s just not the best move.” Here’s why. But if you really insist at the end of the day, we can try it. So, he insisted. We ran it. CPAs tripled the account, and it literally blew up. And after being sure enough, we switched everything back to target CPA and fixed the account. And things were going well performance-wise.
MORGAN (Host): Question; So, in this period, where it blew up. He went back, where he was totally in the wrong? Did he admit it? Did he apologize to you that you were right? Or was he one of these people that always had an excuse, and actually thought he was right?
ROGER (Interviewee): He actually admitted it. And that’s what makes this story so egregious, by the end. It is the fact that he did admit it. And then later on, almost goes back on that and forces it down anyway!
MORGAN (Host): So, let me predict what happened. The reason why I asked is when people mess up, whether they own it or not, is on one level. But, it’s the sort of detail; I always take it out of proportion. Like, everyone messes it up, because “Humans are humans, and humans make mistakes.” But whether you own it or not, is this sort of professional that I would want to work with?
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah. And I think at that point, it was like, “Okay, you learned his lesson”, we thought, maybe, he just needed to learn that lesson. But all of a sudden, an insane amount of management came in place, where he wanted Slack access. There was a pretty much an hour time limit, if we didn’t respond within an hour, he would start following up. And I’m talking about 100 Slack messages a day. He came into our Slack and just destroyed it.
Everything was like, “Well, now I’m spending this or that”. As we scaled, it just turned into a crazy mess. Basically, he wanted someone who was at his beck and make calls all day. And that is not how we operate. “Look, we have a process that works; we’re going to drive your results. We’re super responsive”. The average response time for an email, for us, was about 35 minutes, which wasn’t insane.
So, it blew up our Slack. And then we started trying different account leads, thinking maybe this person just wasn’t jiving well with them. And then, we ended up cycling through four different people over the summer.
MORGAN (Host): Let’s go back for one second. This is a good story. I’m already excited to see where it goes. Let’s talk for a moment about him coming in, and micromanaging. So, at first, it seemed like that was a direct result of him, having made that mistake. Do you think that’s what happened psychologically? I’m trying to model his mind to get into his shoes. So, he made a huge mistake and realized he was wrong. But then, he said; “Dude, I really need to see and know what’s happening and follow every little detail of what’s happening?”
ROGER (Interviewee): I think so. And the backstory to that is, I think the leadership, at his previous company, was putting him under incredible pressure. They were essentially telling him that his performance was bad. You need to get involved. You need to turn this around. So, he was under enormous pressure, because of the mistake he made.
And we were recovering performances. And I don’t want to expand why. But the market was as rich as it was probably ever going to be, like in history. So, they felt like they were losing. I think the leadership felt like; they were losing this golden opportunity. So, what ended up happening was, as we got through the summer, at about fall time, we started working.
MORGAN (Host): I interrupted you a moment ago and how many companies did you cycle through him?
ROGER (Interviewee): Four.
MORGAN (Host): Four? Okay!
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, until it got to me. And then I was the one managing it, which literally got me interfacing with him because it became insane. And I didn’t want my staff to deal with that.
MORGAN (Host): I, I don’t even need to say out loud but that’s a huge Red Flag. At this point, you’re like painting yourself, right?
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, it was so bad. That was kind of a last-ditch effort, like; “Hey team, let me jump in. Let me see if I can gain this guy’s trust”, because it just seemed like, no matter what we do, there was just never going to be any winning against that guy. In the meantime, he hired two PPC people. And then, he mentioned how he understood that he needed to let the experts do the work.
So, we were hoping with the arrival of those other people, maybe, they’ll be more understanding and easygoing. But he essentially hired two more people that did exactly what he did. And it doubled the amount of micromanagement for us. They asked for about four different Slack channels. And it exponentially increased the problem; that was already happening.
And during that time, we went to him and said, “We need three things. We need better landing pages because our quality scores are absolute garbage.” From the landing page perspective, we were getting three out of 10s in a highly competitive market. And every single thing was, click through. Our ad relevance was great but the landing page experience was below average on every single Ad, and we gave them mock-ups of exactly what we wanted, even though it’s way outside of our scope.
We told them the exact types of pages, the language we wanted to use, and our SEO team to review them, so they may try and see if we could get better landing page experience scores by optimizing them per se. We went all the way down that line to do that. And then the other issue was about the backend data which wasn’t aligned with what was getting imported into Google ads. Those were the two problems that we couldn’t fix as a digital position because we were not developers. a
We didn’t have access to their code base, to be able to diagnose those things. So, those two requests got completely ignored. And instead, on a day-to-day basis, it was, “Can we change the bid on this keyword? Can we pause this ad? We need to move this bid up 20%”, On every single lever in Ad Words, they were going through, being the PPC managers, and then just telling us which changes to make in the account. It was wild.
MORGAN (Host): So, in my experience when people micromanage at that level, that means they want to fire you, so?
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, and in my opinion, when people micromanage generally, it’s either because they’re afraid, or they don’t trust you, or they don’t trust anybody. And there were other couple things that I mentioned, like, what the root causes of micromanagement were? Because it was super toxic, no matter what. I think, at this point, it was evident that this person wanted it to be his show. It seemed like there was a ton of ego.
MORGAN (Host): I got that. He clearly wanted to fire you, but he couldn’t fire you. It was because of you; he got the job. Instead, he made the situation unbearable for you that put you in that position.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, exactly. So, the relationship kind of came to the peak disaster, at the end of the summer i.e., September, October. At the end of October, getting into Q4 he went in, and, on a Friday afternoon, he said, “Guys, I want to import a bunch of conversions to try something”. And, it was on Friday at about 7 pm, really late, so nobody responded.
And then, so scared, 15 minutes later, without telling us, we were waiting for our feedback; He imported, 1000s of duplicate conversions historically, and completely destroyed the account for months. Because you can’t undo an import like that.
MORGAN (Host): Right, you can’t undo an import.
ROGER (Interviewee): And especially a manual import. So, he manually imported 1000s of leads that threw off the target CPA bidding. Now there were double the leads. And over the weekend, spending blew up. We came next Monday, and we were like, “What the heck did you do to the account? The spend had been tripled”, and it was just a complete disaster.
So, we spent November and December, basically, in an emergency situation, trying to recover, tons of hours on our end. Just pouring hours into trying to fix this guy’s mistake. And at the end of the year, he showed us a chart of when the CPA got destroyed, and us slowly recovering from it, and said, “Hey, guys, I understand now that, how much of an impact that had.” Because for the past two months, he really denied that, like, “Oh, it’s not a big deal.”
MORGAN (Host): He admitted it; at least he admitted it, eventually. Better than never getting it.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yep! And then, at the end of the year, before the start of New Year, he just went dark, like, he disappeared. He was still working at the company but stopped sending us all the backend data. So wild, but kept us on.
MORGAN (Host): I just want to be clear; he basically became a mad head and went from one extreme of micromanaging to the other extreme of ignoring you.
ROGER (Interviewee): Completely, completely ignoring us. But managing the account, basically co-managing in silence.
MORGAN (Host): Without communicating, like went in and paused Ads and stuff?
ROGER (Interviewee): It was crazy. He might send us a message or a thing from time to time; like an email, saying, “Oh, FYI, pause this, do this.” And then, to make matters even worse,
MORGAN (Host): Before that, one comment from me. I’ve known a lot of people, who go really dark; especially when they’re embarrassed or humiliated by something. So, it could be that. He was just so embarrassed by his own fuckup, that he couldn’t face you again.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah. And that’s the hard part about this. He was one of my business partners’ friends. So, my business partner asked him, “Can we go to lunch man? What’s going on?” And, he just won’t talk to him. And about that part, I felt he was ashamed or embarrassed. But, to be honest, I don’t know what was going through his head because it was a wild situation.
MORGAN (Host): We’ll psycho-analyze that at the end of the story, but I’m excited to know what happens next as I’m at the edge of my couch here.
ROGER (Interviewee): I’m almost there, I promise to get to the end of the story.
MORGAN (Host): I love it!
ROGER (Interviewee): So, the next step was The Spend that started being brought down significantly, because of the terrible performance. And we were not able to manage the account anymore. And, in our contract, there was basically a legal precedent, where it said, “If a client starts managing campaigns inside of our account, we bill on total Ad Spend.”
So, it became clear; that this client wanted to get out of their contract. So, he started building his own campaigns in Google, and then started sending me emails saying; “Hey, don’t bill me for these campaigns.” He was shutting off the digital position run campaigns,
MORGAN (Host): Oh,
ROGER (Interviewee): As a way to circumvent the contract and basically try not to get billed.
MORGAN (Host): For?
ROGER (Interviewee): Their own management of PPC.
MORGAN (Host): So, even though, in the contract you should have been billed for all the campaigns in the account, including once he created, he was trying to use social pressure to say, “Wait, these ones, I created from scratch, has nothing to do with you, so exclude these”, as well as, another way to try to fire you.
ROGER (Interviewee):Yes. And then, we found out that an MCC was created; which means that a separate Google Ads account was created, as a way to fire us, instead of just firing us, because we do month-to-month contracts. And if that person had come to me, and had said, “Look, this isn’t working out. Let’s talk about an exit plan.” We would have been super open about it. But there was no communication or micromanagement. So, to treat us like that was unbelievable.
Despite our legitimate best efforts, so many people in our company, who were trying to make that work, and drive them to the best performance possible. But, in the end, what happened was, I sent a huge email out to that person, and the leadership, saying, “Look, it appears that the clients no longer value the digital position. And completely understand that there have been some huge issues with the relationship. How things have unfolded over the last year, and kind of itemize those a little bit. Because I want everyone to know about what happened.”
And, then I said, “Hey, we have decided to make some changes to the working relationship going forward.” So, we kicked them out of our Slack. And, we didn’t allow them to circumvent, by building their own campaigns, and we just held to our contract. Then, we gave them our termination basically. Instead, of the termination details, and then silence. And that’s it. A relationship ending, like a wild date!
MORGAN (Host): Did they end up paying the final invoices? Or they went completely dark?
ROGER (Interviewee): Yes, they did pay. I’ve had clients whom I had to sue for significant sums of money. But, luckily, this client actually did pay. So, one of the things we move to, as an agency, which is a huge tip for any agency owner out there, is ‘Auto Billing’. I was talking to an agency owner, who wasn’t getting paid for 60-90 days. “If you give an inch, they will take a mile.” So, we only offer auto ACH or Auto Credit Cards.
And we auto initiate the payments for every client. If we start at net 15, and they negotiate to net 30, it’s still a win. We guarantee our cash flow because it’s initiated by us. And that was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It is like not doing, net 30 or net 60, on check initiated by them, because they’ll always wait. We had over 50% of our clients paying late until we changed that to auto-billing. And now nobody does. So that was a huge move for us. So, I think that’s why they paid for it because we could literally draft it.
MORGAN (Host): By the way, on that note, we’ll dive into psycho-analyze in a second. I loved that tip; I’ve never done that. A few years ago, I had a similar problem. People weren’t paying. People are assholes. But what I did was, I added a provision to the contract, with a 5% monthly fee. And guess what? Every month the fee was more than net 30. So, everyone started paying that 30.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, we did up the fee too, from one and a half percent to 5%. Doing the same thing.
MORGAN (Host): Exactly, financial incentives for some of that. Okay, so before we go and try to understand that guy, and what happened from his perspective and what you learned. Are there any dents into the story? Like did your business partner ever have lunch with him, two years later, and get the back story or any apology? Or did this just end the relationship?
ROGER (Interviewee): Had they talked since? Yes. And it’s reached out being like, “Hey, look, we don’t want to burn the bridge. And we had to do what was best for the business because of what was going on.” This is like one of those crazy things, where nothing happened. But I did want to bring up the morality around. Is it okay, is the question for you. Is it okay, for someone in our position, to even think about the fact that you got that person, that job, right?
The moral side of me shouldn’t say that. That shouldn’t even be a part of this. That person was just a client. And then, the other part of me says, “We got you the job. How could you do this to us? We got you that job. We literally rescued you from what you were crying about. How upset were you with your job? And then, you treated us like this.”
I kind of had the same sort of feeling, when I started to donate a lot more to local things and I donated a bunch of money to my local gym, during COVID, to help them stay afloat. And, they turned around and canceled the open gym, and raised the prices. I was one of the four people who used the open gym all the time; I just worked on my own.
And they canceled and restricted everything that I did. And it’s hard for somebody, who donated. But, the moral side of me says, that’s not why you did it for. Right? So, I don’t know, I want to get your thoughts on morality like that.
MORGAN (Host): Well, I’ve a feeling. The very first thing that comes to my mind when you say that is I remember a line from King Lear, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth, is a thankless child.” And, I always remember, we do things that we didn’t need to. You donated money to the gym, just because you liked them, and you support them. You get people jobs, and you treat people with respect and help people.
But the thankless child is always thankless and ungrateful. This hurts more than the serpent’s tooth. It hurts more than the physical injury. Because this emotional pain is kind of timeless, and it is difficult. The Shakespeare guy was smart, he had a good line for everything. I think he’s going to be big one day.
I think far too many human beings are thankless or we can see it differently. Here’s a reframing of that point. As soon as money is involved, even a $1, rational, logical, good people become a little bit crazy. And money fucks things up easily, even tiniest amounts. So, I think what happened at the gym was like, they were freaking out about COVID. And they didn’t know what to do. They were going crazy.” Oh, no, we’re losing money.” So instead of going to the loyalists and asking what they can do, and helping craft one room plan, they raised the prices.
And it’s not that dissimilar; I think that’s what happened to this guy, he got a job that he really needed. He needed that monthly paycheck. And then suddenly, he was under pressure for performance. So, for him, thanking you was the furthest from his mind. And it was really bad of him. On the one hand, I blame him.
On the other hand, human nature is like this. Most human beings with a cynical attitude are sort of thankless child types. So, what I personally try to do is look for clues to try to identify who’s more likely to be the thankless child, and who is more likely to be the thankful child.
I think an interesting question about him, that we probably don’t have time to discuss today, but in general would be, “What could be the clues about him? Would he be the thankless child with a serpent’s tooth type?” And in fact, I think part of growing up, maturity, and aging experiences the euphemism for, for agents, is identifying these sorts of clues. When you want to help, you want to help the people who will be thankful. And we have to, over time, share because, okay, these types of people are more likely to be thankful and they’re less likely to be thankful.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, and it was really interesting, because we got them the job that I personally cared about. So, he should turn around and give us roses and say, Thank you so much, right? It was hard for me to swallow. It becomes harder to swallow being mistreated by somebody to whom you gave the job versus somebody whom you didn’t give the job to, if that makes sense.
MORGAN (Host): By the way, there’s another line of Shakespeare that ties into the story. I think it is a sign. He says, “Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds.” In other words, a good flower that has become bad, and it smells worse than the weed, which was always bad. “Something good that turns bad hurts you more than some of you always expected.” For Example, he’s a criminal and he’s robbing people. That’s what the criminals do. But when your best friend turns into a criminal that hurts even more.
ROGER (Interviewee): That’s a good point.
MORGAN (Host): Like, I just remember this lesson. 94, 95, or 96, “Lilies that fester, smell far worse than weeds.” And that’s exactly the point for me. Maybe the answer is, Shakespeare has an answer to all our problems.
ROGER (Interviewee): So, is it moral or immoral? For me to care more about the ‘smell of the Lilies versus the Weed’, basically? Or should I be like, I planted the Lilies, and the Weed was just there so I should not let it bother me. I think that’s the hardest part.
MORGAN (Host): I think when it comes down to the heart or the fact that your DNA is human DNA. In this objective world where you should judge if this is evil or not? It is the same as a ‘Weed is a Weed’ and it smells bad. And that’s how we should look at it. But our human soul doesn’t judge people that way.
The weed and the festered Lily smell just as bad, because of the path dependence, but it used to smell so good. You get angrier and unhappier even if the end result is the same. This is how your human heart is. And I would say; the fact that you’re even worrying about that, or it hurts you so much, shows that you do have a heart and that you do care. You’re not one of the serpent reptilians’ overlords.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, definitely, you don’t give to get. Right? You don’t. It’s not why you did it. It is just a good feeling of helping people. It has nothing to do with expecting anything in return. So, when you do feel slighted because of what you gave, it almost feels like you had some expectations when you gave. And that’s what makes it feel weird. But I get what you mean. That’s just how the human heart is. But that was tough.
MORGAN (Host): I think part of the power of this story is that it really shows how traumatic and damaging total communication breakdown can be, like the communication we’ve done is worse. It is worse than the PPC problems. So, even if someone is a good or a bad PPC, if you’re doing this, he’s doing that, communicating, over-communicating everything, it’s really hard to do anything.
So, I think one interesting lesson can be; “Before working with someone, figure out their communication style.” Because if they have a healthy communication style, that can massively reduce a lot of risks in this universe.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, but I think, communication isn’t just about the amount of communication. You can talk to each other all day long if you want. It’s the meaning behind that communication that matters. And I even say, in my marriage, or in any relationships, I’ve yet to find the problem that doesn’t fall within ‘Trust, Communication or Inability to Compromise’.
I use these three words, because they all relate to almost everything. If there’s trust, communication, and compromising then; “Communication is the ability to talk about the problems openly”. “A trust is self-exreplanatory, being able to trust that person with, and their hearts in the right place”. And then “An ability to compromise is the humbleness side of that, which is the ability to give up control” And give up that you don’t know the answers about, and compromise with the person on the opposite side of that relationship.
So, I think with him, the communication was an unhealthy communication. And, there was no compromising, and no trust. So that relationship just imploded.
MORGAN (Host): Okay, that makes sense. I hadn’t thought about those three criteria, but I liked them. And I often make the comparison between dating and working together. In fact, the name of my book is, “Beloved by Clients.” And it’s about making clients fall in love, with working with you. And throughout the entire book, it uses the dating metaphors, as client relations and client-management relationships.
So, any other step back lessons? Or actually, here’s a good question. What are the things that you should have done after being aware of all the things? What are the things that after being older, wiser, and being more sophisticated, you would have done differently? Or let’s say; when you’ve seen similar situations with clients since then, and have acted differently?
ROGER (Interviewee): I think there have been so many changes, from what we’ve done as a result of that experience. When I reflect on that experience, or almost at every experience, I can say, I could have done more to try to make that relationship work. But I don’t think that was the case, I think that was more like a losing relationship. And we knew it after working three months with that person, probably even earlier when those Red Flags started to come out.
So, I think some of the big lessons we learned were, “You can’t be afraid to walk away from big clients.” And when they decided to walk away, everybody had a big sigh of relief. Everybody was much more positive. Everyone felt an aggressiveness and a fire under the butts to grow the business to make up for that revenue.
We grew; it didn’t end up mattering at all. I just wished; I could have it sooner. I just wished that I didn’t drag it off for almost a year of hell. And that was lesson number one for me.
MORGAN (Host): I agree with you 100%. Always in a project of mine, whenever I hire a new client, my favorite outcome is always ‘Quick Success’. And my second favorite outcome, almost as good as quick success, is ‘Quick Failure’. And then, my third favorite outcome is ‘A little bit of success’. So, you can keep on going.
But what I always find useful is to think about failure, being almost as good as quick success. Because then, we quickly realize that; it is not working, and before it gets bad, you must move on. So, I always look for the quick failures.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, I think I say, that failed fast and cheap. And in our lesson, we failed slowly. But in the end, the client paid us a lot of money. So maybe that was why it felt hard to be willing to walk away. And, it’s also different from an ownership perspective, because I always want to protect my teammates because I never want to lay off anybody.
I always want everyone to feel protected. So, before we walked away, we wanted an assurance that nobody would be affected. So, we went through that hell as per se, as a way to protect; our staff, but it was in vain. I still wish I could have walked away and taken the risks, because I have no doubt that my team would have risen to that occasion. And they’ve risen to every occasion prior to that. So that was a big lesson learned for sure.
MORGAN (Host): That’s one lesson. What is the next lesson?
ROGER (Interviewee): I think the next lesson is to never choose ‘Money over Happiness’. For a person like me, at that time, I wasn’t sleeping well. I was extremely stressed. I was working tons of extra hours in trying to appease that client. And inevitably, time with my family suffered and time for my activity suffered, so I lost weight.
It affected me, not just like mentally, but physically. Working with someone like this is a burden on you. And if you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, what the hell are you doing? Alright? And I hated talking to that person. I hated working with that client. They were terrible. I was like, what am I doing? You know, and
MORGAN (Host): Nice to take a shot?
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, exactly. So that was a lesson for me.
MORGAN (Host): Can I share some lessons that your story is reinforcing upon me? So, I’d like to add to your list a lesson number three; to never let them micromanage like that. As soon as they start micromanaging, pushback them from the first bit.
It’s a comment to micromanage, when it’s there; it is a bigger problem. Because that means, they actually don’t trust you. So, then coming and micromanaging, makes things worse every single time. So, when they try to micromanage, you have to resist it, but simultaneously, try to focus on details like; what are the bigger problems that could have been at the moment? If the problem is unsolvable, that could mean a sign to step down.
ROGER (Interviewee): Exactly, I think that’s a good point.
MORGAN (Host): So, never let the micro identity relate to that, as soon as the micromanagement demand starts piling up. It is not a lesson, where you give in to take a mile. Who’s the reason that makes you remember the old clichés even today? Another lesson is, like you said in the beginning, when people are in disaster situations, sometimes they are competent and good, but happen to be in a bad moment.
But more likely and commonly, there’s a reason why they are doing so terribly, at what they are doing, because they just don’t understand anything about working or professionalism, or life, or relationships. I’m trying to think about my other last jobs to share other lessons, while I read the story.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yes, there can be lesson number five, if I’m not mistaken. Lesson number five would be, ‘much better vetting and identification of Red Flags’, instead of vetting clients for potential, in their business, we should spend a lot more time interviewing them as people. So, these subpar businesses don’t end up exploding, and we get an amazing relationship, where they do everything we need.
It will be a great collaborative relationship where we end up doing amazing business versus this terrible person to work with. And it doesn’t matter how great the product is, if we can’t work with the person. So, I think, we should consider 80% on their business focus, and 20% on their product. But with those people, everything Flip-Flopped. It is all about what kind of people you are. Because that’s how we want to identify the people we want to work with.
MORGAN (Host): By the way, I loved this point. My personal biases are; 99% People 1% everything else. That was a really good point. I have a famous or infamous interview style; I never talk about the substance of what I’m interviewing for, I always try to dig into what kind of person they are. Two other possible lessons are, ‘have principles and stick to them’. And when I say principles, I don’t even mean it on the moral level.
For Example, if you are doing Ad Words accounts, what you want to scale tomorrow i.e., from 70 to 400, just clearly tell them, “We can’t take your account, unless we have the data, because if we don’t have the data, we actually can’t do it.” Just say, “We need ABCD, now give me an ABCD.” Because I think in your great story if you had insisted on the things that you really needed, then some of these problems would have been avoided, maybe they would have never been a client, because they didn’t want to give you the data access.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, for sure. I think from a principal level, it is not only important, but it also makes the business extremely efficient. You need to stick to your process, because when we started doing manual bidding that was way outside of our process. And that was really inefficient and wildly ridiculous.
MORGAN (Host): That’s such a good point, I really liked that, that. I’ll say it differently, you are in the business as an expert, or not as a robot, and you were hired, because of your expertise. You know how to do this. You were hired to solve the problem i.e., grow the campaign. But when they start treating you like a robot, you’re no longer the expert.
An expert will say, “No, this is not how we do it. This is our extra process that we’ve developed. And it works, if you want to do it differently. Go find another expert.” So, I think sticking to your guns, for the principles of your expert process is a fantastic lesson.
Here’s another lesson, “Scale relationships”. With your employees, who have a massive budget, you can say, “Let’s see the first three months, we’ll do a trial of 90 days of working.” No matter how big your budget is you can always start slow. You may find different ways of managing an account. And after the 90-day trial, you all can decide whether to work together or not.
ROGER (Interviewee): And you need to understand that our ideal client might not be everybody else’s ideal client too. So, it’s incredibly difficult to find the exact client that suits our process and personalities and we fit together. For Example, if you have two alphas, leading as team partners, there are going to be constant distractions, right? It can happen in almost any relationship. So, it is also a good point. I’m Interested about the trial period. I think there is another lesson, if you want to expand on that, before I move to life lesson number 10.
MORGAN (Host): No, I thought of one more as well. But on my way, I put in my contracts like, “Here’s a monthly fee for 90 days. And after 90 days, let’s have a serious conversation.” Rather than negotiating upfront, I negotiate just enough to do the 90 days, and then for that, and then it’s a mutual test for both of us, whether to work together or not.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yes, that seems interesting.
MORGAN (Host): All right. I hope I gave you some value; you can implement some of these ideas.
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, I absolutely will.
MORGAN (Host): So, you were about to suggest another one. And I have one more and then we can wrap up.
ROGER (Interviewee): Alright. So, life lesson number nine is, we’ve talked about this ad nauseam in the chat, “how relationships are more important than results?” And I think reflecting back, he came into our company, it was all about budgets, he wanted to change the manual CPC bidding, and do the accounts or change them. But, turning that around and getting to know him more as a person, we were like, “Hey, what are you doing this weekend? I hear you’re into mountain biking, what type of bike do you have?”
After getting to know that person more, the leadership of the company, almost everyone felt really comfortable with each other. And, you know, nobody wants to fire a friend, basically. And I think, if we had tried to become more of his friend although my business partner was already his friend, we could have started the relationship on a more personal level, instead of just trying to blow up everything so fast. I wonder if there was trust between us. You know, what I mean. I doubt it, but you know what I mean.
MORGAN (Host): I think there are two more lessons. And then, we’ll end the conversation. And lesson 10 is in a slightly different direction, which is the “Risk of the Key Keeper” When the whole relationship with a big client is through one person, then what can happen? Human relationships are hard; people fight and play with each other all the time.
So, there’s the one-person magical relationship on one side, and you’re dependent, not on the success or failure, but on your actual work. But this is a failure of that relationship. So, one way to minimize that risk is to build up relationships with other people, like with the people behind those people. Then you’re not fully dependent on that one person and that person’s boss.
It is such a common scenario, where you’re assigned to someone to work with the project manager, if you meet the big client like the CEO, at the first meeting maybe at the sales pitch, and then you get to work with the lower-level guys, you can just keep the bigger CEO or the person behind him, in the loop for monthly emails.
You can build into your contract, a quarterly meeting with the leadership or a quarterly report for the leadership. If you do things like these, it will give you a formal structured way, in order to mandate some sort of relationship with the person behind the gatekeeper
ROGER (Interviewee): I like the term gatekeeper too, because that’s exactly how it came to us.
MORGAN (Host): Actually, I hadn’t thought about this as an explicit clear principle until I just said it. But I’ve done things like that subconsciously. But now I’m going to start doing that a bit more consciously. I might write it into my contracts and you should too.
And then our Final Lesson number 11. It is a special number with much smaller numbers of the lessons we’ve shared. I want to go back to something, you mentioned in the story which was really minor. But I want to call it out because it was tiny, but important. So, when he came into Slack and demanded response times of under an hour; people demanding really, quick response times is a massive Red Flag.
Anyone like him thinks he can soon use it now. Like, who the hell do you think you are? Are you, my boss? When people come super insistent on rapid and expect you to work all the time and to be on the computers to respond quickly. You need to push them back from the start. For Example, I purposely haven’t responded to an email until tomorrow. I’m trying to train them. Sometimes you need to train people.
So, when people try to mandate fast response times, I come hard on them. I think you should put 35-minute average era response times in huge letters, on the front of the digital video web page, because that’s an incredible statistic. I don’t know any PPC or number from that, but this is also a tangent, piece of advice.
Most importantly when the fast response comes, it is the reason the person you hired wanted you to do it. They’re excited about their instant client relationship, “the Electra responding class” they want to be on top of it. So, if it’s coming from the other side, it’s a massive red flag. And I think the question to the client’s eyes is; What can the client do? How can they communicate and talk and structure things so that the people on the other side, want to respond quickly?
ROGER (Interviewee): Yeah, so if we relate it to any relationship, it’s like a needy girlfriend or a needy boyfriend. All you want to do is push them away, right? It’s like, “Get out of here” Because you need to have balance and clear expectations of that relationship.
That’s why you do a weekly call, or a monthly call, so that you can sync up about everything. And then you can minimize the communication between them, to focus on the account. I definitely agree that we did push back pretty hard but it didn’t work in that circumstance. But it is alright if it is not for us.
MORGAN (Host): Okay, that was a great story. I loved it. I loved the 11 lessons. I even got some ideas for myself too. This was fun. Thank you for your time, Roger. And, I’m sure; we will talk about it very soon. Everyone, who has been watching and made it to the end, I hope you found it as exciting as we did.
ROGER (Interviewee): Thanks, Morgan.
MORGAN (Host): Okay.
This transcription belongs to episode #5, you can watch the complete episode here.