We hear it all the time: "Our customers come first. Our clients are our top priority."
This is such a common refrain in certain industries that companies are striving to outdo each other to prove it—demonstrating the lengths they'll go to in order to win their clients and customers over. Not me, though. I will never put our company's clients first, and neither should you.
I was recently out for lunch with a communications professional who's quite early in her career. After recently landing a great job, we were talking through her recent experience with interviews. After getting a number of offers, she decided on one and mentioned she had no desire to work for an agency.
Let me preface this by saying that she's a capable, talented, ambitious woman who is no doubt going serious places in her career. As she explained to me, it's important to her that she has time for the things that "really matter" (family, friends, and personal passions) and that, in her view, working at an agency would set her up for lots of work for little pay, kowtowing to clients who contradict her values, and pouring her heart and soul into work that would largely go unappreciated.
To be sure, this is just one person's opinion, and someone without extensive experience. Plus, work-life issues are pervasive across many roles, companies, and industries. And difficult, sometimes futile, thankless work is hard to avoid over the course of a career, to put it mildly. But my younger colleague still made a powerful point—perhaps more so than she realized. It made a huge impression on me, anyway, because for the most part, I could empathize.
Many of the people in communications roles that I've known only last up to a certain point before they get burned out on what seems like an endless uphill climb of convincing, cajoling, and defending themselves. As I reflected on what I want for my own company and the team I build, it was crystal clear to me that I couldn't put clients first at all costs. Here's why.
The best people don't want to be slaves to their job, canceling their dinner plans with a best friend because there's a "design emergency." Creative, high-caliber people want to contribute to causes where they can make a difference, build their skills, and get recognition for it. By allowing clients to drive a project and lay down their own expectations and demands on your team, you're telling your team they don't matter—at least not as much by comparison. That's not a message I want to send if I'm hoping to attract the best.
Those in the marketing or communications worlds are very familiar with the fact that some clients know exactly what they want, how they want it done, and when they want it. But following those directives to a T isn't actually doing them a service. After all, why did they hire us? It certainly wasn't to execute on their already-laid plans. They hired us because we're able to offer them valuable insight and marketing strategy to help them achieve their goals. When a campaign is unsuccessful because we didn't follow the initial plan and instead became completely "reactive" to whatever requests were thrown our way, we have nobody to blame but our own process.
In recruitment marketing, my own field, we're essentially marketing to individuals to convince them to work, volunteer, or enroll somewhere. Rather than marketing a product, we're asking people to make the huge decision of where they should invest their time, skills, and attention. Part of our role is ensuring that what we're marketing (the company, organization, or institution) lives up to its brand promise and actually delivers on the type of offer it's claiming to. Naturally, we like to work with organizations that put their people first and make that an explicit selling point. So if we aren't creating a culture like that ourselves, we can hardly ask others to do so.
While this mindset may send some potential clients running for the hills, I would argue that's a good thing. The clients that choose to work with us are in absolute agreement that your people should come first.
By prioritizing the team and the talent that does the work, I can promise my clients that they're going to get a high-quality, well-thought-out result that they can be proud of. I can promise a project that's well executed because it was planned properly and delivered in an organized fashion, rather than in a scramble of stress and frustration. I can promise we're working with you because our team is proud to help an organization that holds the same values and wants to achieve great results together. And I can take that promise back to every one of my team members, too.
I'll never put our clients first, and they're okay with that.
Karina Crooks the owner of the recruitment marketing company Vivid Shift. Passionate about helping organizations attract the right talent, she strives to rethink how business operate and interact. Follow Karina on Twitter at @karinacrooks.