Walking the Fine Line.

Whoever first said "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink" was obviously talking about the agency/client relationship.

Okay, maybe not, but it's not much of a stretch to think that.

Like any professional services agency, we are constantly offering advice to our clients. After all, that's why they come to us. In our Creative Technology department alone, we have over one hundred years of combined experience in providing proven digital solutions. That kind of hands-on, real world expertise can be very valuable to a client who's not as familiar with the finer points of digital marketing. But it only matters if the client listens.

At some point in any agency/client relationship there will come a moment where the client makes choices that at best you disagree with, and at worst, you actively lobby against. These are the days that are the most challenging.

Perhaps it's something big: a change in design direction that can literally send people back to the drawing board. But more often, the disagreement comes over something that the client considers small and not really a big deal. It might not seem so on the surface, but experienced professionals will know when seemingly innocuous choices can carry far-reaching consequences. Every choice in building a website, an app, or other digital marketing tool can send ripples down the line; ripples that will look much larger to the end consumer of that product (visitors to the client's site or users of their app) than it ever did to the client themselves.

So what can you do with the client who insists on going down a road you feel is the wrong path? There are several options, and the right choice will always depend on the specific situation and client.

Listen to why the client is making the choice he is.

It may not always be the case, but often time clients — especially those with whom you have a strong, long lasting relationship — will actually have a reason for why they want to go against your advice. This is not to say that that reason is always a good one, but if you can understand the why, then you can reply with a clear and well-thought-out response, rather than just a gut "but that idea stinks!" reaction. And it's likely that if the client doesn't have a good answer for why they want to make a specific change, they'll be that much more amenable to your point of view.

Propose that changes be pushed off until later.

If you can't talk the client out of a seriously time-consuming change that they announced late in a project's lifecycle, see if they would be willing to defer the changes until later. Once the initial scope of the project has been completed, maybe they'll reassess their position. Or at least with the initial deadlines met, you'll have more time to go through and examine the new requirements, and to come up with a solution that you and the client feel makes the most sense.

Pick your battles.

At some point, you need to decide which battle just isn't worth fighting. As an expert in your field, you will know which changes will have the largest ramifications down the line. Focus on those, and don't sweat (as much) the smaller stuff. Maybe you can talk the client into not throwing every social media sharing button in the world onto their site, but you might have to give in when they want to add in the Facebook streaming widget. Compromise is at the heart of every strong relationship.

On this topic, I often see the advice that if the client's disregard for your advice is too extreme, then it's best to simply drop the client. In a multi-faceted agency that offers a wide array of services to our clients, this isn't typically an option. We aren't willing to sabotage an otherwise strong relationship to win a minor point in a website design. So ultimately, we walk that fine line of balancing the client's wishes with our own thoughts on how to best proceed on a project.

Finding a middle ground is sometimes tough, but in the end it's worth it to build quality digital products that offer the best return for our clients' investments. It can also challenge us to find new and creative solutions for situations that we hadn't anticipated. In the end, it's the client's website and the client's app. You can offer advice, but that doesn't mean they have to take it. The wisdom comes in knowing how to handle those tough days.