Using Prospective Client Orientation as a Marketing Tool

We’re going to explore the creation of your own client orientation tool. Before you decide that this might not be interesting enough to read, consider passing it along to a key leader and letting them take charge of this project. You’ll be amazed at the impact on your firm.

While it will obviously help actual clients, I’d like you to think about how it can be used in a marketing context, mainly. So we’ll look at how to use it, what it does for you, and what format is best. Next we walk through the contents of the client orientation kit, including sections on your facility, your perspective on working together, what the working relationship should be like, how workflow will unfold, how to use your web site, and how to understand your accounting procedures.

In our marketing efforts, it’s quite popular to talk theoretically and logically, describing the decision path that each prospect travels to your door. Our marketing plans reflect this, which carefully craft contact points and response mechanisms. This is not because we can accurately predict a prospective client’s response to our pursuit, but because we take refuge in planning. In the real world, a new client chooses to work with you based on your reputation, new or old, and their best prediction of what it will be like to work with you. All the positioning stuff is just table stakes: it won’t close the gap, but it gets you at the table.

Why not tell them what it will be like to work with you, and so reduce their anxiety in leaving the devil they know for the devil they don’t? Of course we are familiar with “client orientation” when it comes to actual clients, but I have long felt that we ought to orient prospects as if they were clients so that they can sample the working relationship beforehand.

Specialization and focus and proprietary problem solving will always play a role in landing clients, but it is never enough. In the end, they will have to work with you, and you will have to work with them, and the quality of that experience will determine the extent to which you have the opportunity to be effective on their behalf. That’s what this is about: helping the client predict the working relationship.

It’s about anticipation, sampling, and testing. It’s why you use a new employee as a freelancer first and why you take a test drive before buying that new car.

Where It Fits

The first stage of marketing is surfacing interest, in effect undertaking direct and indirect activities to urge the prospect to admit an interest in learning more about your services. There are a couple of dozen effective ways to do this.

The second stage of marketing is designed to turn that tentatively expressed interest into complete permission to “sell” to the prospect. Moving beyond a sometimes hesitant request, the prospect explores your company on their own, achieving a comfort level with your experience, processes, personnel, etc. This comes almost entirely from their exploration of your website, on their own terms.

At some point you will meet the prospect in person. It might happen after the first stage, but it is more likely to happen after the second stage. During this meeting you will probe further by asking the prospect pointed questions about their situation, measure the potential chemistry, and answer any questions the prospect might have. You will also present them with more insight to further enhance your standing as a viable alternative to their current provider.

It is in this meeting that you will use a “Client Orientation Kit” precisely as a marketing tool. This kit, developed using the suggestions here or ideas you already have, will be explained and then left with the prospective client. In explaining this, you’ll probably want to acknowledge that a working relationship is difficult to measure in advance, but nevertheless important. “We want to leave this with you mainly to help you see what it will be like to work with us. You deserve that.”

How It Works

An orientation kit accomplishes many things. So many, in fact, that it really is unbelievable that they are so rare among my clients and readers. Consider these reasons for developing your own orientation kit.

  • Distinguishes You. As noted above, very few firms have an orientation kit, let alone one that is used as a marketing tool. You’ll likely be pitching against two or more other firms, but even if you aren’t, you’ll certainly be compared with the incumbent. What better way to distinguish your company.
  • Helps Them Decide. As a corollary to this, if they read the kit they’ll garner information about working with you that will actually help them decide if it’s a fit. The goal, remember, is not to find clients but to find clients that fit. This is in your best interest and theirs.
  • Demonstrates Seriousness. Have you ever been asked for more information about working with you, only to stammer and admit that you didn’t have anything? It’s asking a bit much of the prospect to take you seriously. What better way to demonstrate how seriously you take the customer service experience than a specially prepared kit. It indicates that you do know how clients want to be treated.
  • Promotes Dialogue. The next time you talk, either by phone or in person, there will be more to talk about. They will have questions about the kit. They might even compliment you on the contents. If nothing else, you’ll have just one more reason to call back as you seek their feedback or questions.
  • Assumes Client Status. If you do this right, the orientation kit will look like the culmination of many hours of work. And just who would leave such a valuable collection with only a prospective client? The answer to that is easy: only a firm that believed the prospective client would become an actual one! This might not help your cause, but it cannot hurt it. Let them get used to the idea that there will be a relationship.
  • Keeps You Top of Mind. Presume they don’t choose to work with you, though. You are still ahead of the game, having left the orientation kit with them. You can bet they’ll notice that beautiful binder on the shelf, and at a minimum they will measure your competitor by your standards. It’s possible that they might even reconsider their decision to use you if the new firm is not particularly communicative or organized.
  • Enhances Existing Relationship. Finally, by talking about the relationship ahead of time, you will actually enhance the client relationship by setting standards and clarifying expectations. Essentially you’ll be eliminating surprises.

There are many good reasons to do this. Here’s how to think about the format.

Effective Format

This notebook that we’ll be describing below should have a substantial feel to it. Consider printing colored binders with only your company name on it. This will allow you to use them for other things, making them more cost effective. But the point is that they need to stand out in the client’s office, providing ongoing “brand impressions” before, throughout, and beyond the working relationship.

The contents should be tabbed and the contents divided logically so that the client can find relevant sections. Include several empty sections that the prospect will use only if they become a client. These would include brand standards, up updated MSA, or significant research reports. Point them to areas on your website if the information will change frequently.

When you design the contents, be certain to account for the varying personality types that will use the kit in a marketing context. Do they want to see the fine print, or will they be excited to visit you? Will they be interested in the types of questions you’ll ask during the discovery process, or will they be curious about your billing procedures? They’ll be drawn to different parts, and make sure there is something for everyone.
That’s the most effective format. Now we’ll look at five major subject areas to include in your orientation kit.

1) Orientation to Facility

  • Directions. Start by providing clear directions to your office, both graphical and textual, but only if they vary from Google maps. For example, explain the procedures for parking, including where to park, how much it costs, and whether or not the parking ticket can be validated. You might include what the building will look like as they approach it.
  • Lodging. List hotels nearby that they’ll be able to stay at. Obviously this will only be relevant to out of town clients, but they will be grateful for the information, particularly if you describe each choice (room service, parking, access to public transportation, etc.).
  • Restaurants. Do the same for restaurants. Even if they aren’t from out of town, there will be occasions when they’ll want to eat at a nearby restaurant to save time. For each restaurant describe the type of food, the cost range, the reservations policy, and whether the atmosphere is conducive to conversation.
  • Phone System. Provide a simple explanation of how to use your phone system. From the outside, this would include how to navigate the auto attendant and a list of direct extensions. From this inside, this would include how to pick up a call, put a call on hold, conference someone else into it, and dial long distance (with a code). Most will use their own mobile, but they will certainly want to use your conference phone system.
  • Client Work Area. Why would you spend time explaining how to use your phone system? Because there should be a separate work area for clients, if possible, equipped with a phone, a printer, and internet access. Better they occupy themselves on their own rather than stand over someone’s shoulder niggling a project! Nothing will stand out in this kit more than this section, so include pictures.

You will be surprised at how well this last suggestion sets you apart. Even if they don’t set up a temporary office in this room, it will provide them an area in which to make or take private phone calls.

2) Orientation to Our Perspective

  • Partnership. Clarify that while your firm is exceptionally qualified to bridge their product or service with a marketplace, you will depend heavily on their particular knowledge and experience of their niche, and will be grateful for a cooperative exchange that brings both worlds together. Both the client and you need to bring something to the table, and unless each of you is needed by the other, it will not be a healthy relationship.
  • Client Qualifications. It wouldn’t be out of line to hint that part of this “dating” process involves your firm interviewing the potential client. In other words, it’s not all about the potential client interviewing you. To that end, go ahead and list the criteria important to you in any client relationship, noting that it’s just a starting point. You may even need to refer back to this in the future if the relationship needs a restart.
  • Zero-Based Work. Explain that everyone works from scratch at the outset, both because they have to and because even if they didn’t, it would impress the client to do so. Note that your goal will be not just to tweak last year’s plan but rather to think in fresh ways on the client’s behalf. You can bet that part of the reason someone will eventually steal this account from you stems from their fresh perspective.
  • Point of View. In interviewing clients, whether the relationship is bad and nearly finished, or perhaps good and still thriving, “point of view” always seems to surface. Clients really want you to have one. But in your orientation kit, it should be enough to say that you will strive to have an informed opinion in order to fulfill your part of the partnership. In other words, it’s not as if your point of view has to be ascendant, but it does need to be present and fought for. You will listen…and then share a helpful perspective. That’s what they are paying you for.

3) Orientation to Working Relationship

  • Confidentiality. Detail your normal policy, and ask them to discuss anything they are uncomfortable with. I would expect that a normal policy would include no restrictions on telling people that you work for a given client; no restrictions on showing work after the client makes it public; and a willingness to sign a non-disclosure agreement to protect a proprietary product/service during the development stage.
  • Standards. Clients like to know that you have standards, to start with, and then it’s nice to know what they can expect as a result of those standards. Note how soon you normally like to return emails, return phone calls, and generate proposals. Then spend even more time explaining how you “manage budgets and schedules” by notifying them in advance if something cannot be done in plenty of time to make alternate arrangements.
  • Typical Agreements. Show them a typical project agreement, an agency of record agreement, and a retainer agreement. These agreements should strike a balance between protecting you and communicating clearly. In reality they should be “clarifying documents” that surface the necessary issues now, almost like a discussion outline. If yours are adversarial and agonizing, don’t include them. They’ll not be helpful at all in a marketing context.
  • Change Order. Walk the client through a typical change order by reproducing one. This will help them see that you are organized and that they will be held responsible for making requests that stray outside the parameters originally agreed to in the brief.
  • Approval Policy. Most firms attempt to get a written approval from the client, but settle for a verbal one under time constraints. Be clear on your policy and explain why.
  • Periodic Quality Checks. Clients appreciate occasional attempts to check on how well you are serving them. Just asking the question is more important than how they answer it. By telling them in advance that this will be happening, you’ll benefit in a marketing context, you’ll build some additional accountability in the process (because they’ll be expecting it), and you are more likely to get cooperation from the client. I have specific standards for what should occur monthly, quarterly, and yearly.
  • Project Brief. Show them the questions you might ask at the outset of a major project, the answers to which will be used to shape a project brief to make the work effective.
  • Staff. Include a separate list (so that it can be updated) of your entire staff, highlighting who would likely work on their account. Include a very brief background and contact information for each. Or just point them to the appropriate place on your website.
  • Meetings. Clients are less tolerant of wasting their time these days, so many prospective clients will appreciate hearing your philosophy of meetings. Ideally that philosophy will incorporate sending an advance agenda, starting in a timely manner, and then following with a post-meeting summary.
  • Client File to Orient Employees. Finally, explain that every current client has an active orientation file at your firm. New employees spend a few hours with each file so that they can be brought up to speed on existing clients.

4) Orientation to Workflow

  • Client Updates. Walk the prospective client through their options for updates on the status of their projects. There should be different formats (email, voicemail, fax) and frequency (usually weekly but could be more frequent). If you really have your act together they’ll be able to log into your system and see the status for themselves. But then again, it would be more difficult to fudge reality, eh?
  • Hours. Note your normal hours and how you can be contacted in an emergency (hopefully using your definition of an emergency, not theirs).
  • Rush/OT Procedures. Are you going to charge rush fees? If so, under what circumstances? Lay this out for them.
  • Access We’ll Need. Finally, walk them through the access you’ll need in order to do good work for them. That certainly includes having reasonable access to someone with authority. And it also implies that delays will be minimal.

5) Orientation to Accounting

  • Credit. Let them know your credit policy. The main reason for doing it here is to give them some assurance that your policies are not singling them out because of some concern that you have. Obviously you want to list your terms of payment for invoices, but you’ll also want to explain the normal policy for progress billing. If you require trade references or even a credit check, specify this. Unfortunately the days of never doubting payment from a large corporation are over. The failure of very large firms has removed that innocence.
  • Prepayment. In that vein, be clear about how much you require in advance, if you require anything at all. Most firms would make a distinction between initial projects and later ones. On the other hand, if you are establishing an AOR arrangement at the outset, this will carry an entirely different set of requirements.
  • Statements. Include a copy of a typical statement, along with an explanation, if appropriate. Mention how frequently they can expect to receive one.
  • Markups. Nothing makes a new client more nervous than hidden charges. Whatever your policy is on marking up “cost of goods sold,” specify that policy clearly, along with an explanation. Doing so will lessen any tension they might sense about your desire to hang onto this source of revenue. If you leave it up to them, disclose the actual markups, and explain your reasoning, they are more likely to just let you handle them (if that’s something you really want to do).
  • Pricing. Never talk about your hourly rate…if you even use them…but do explain the methodology behind pricing.
  • Handling Disputes. Include a quick paragraph that specifies your preferred method of handling a dispute. You don’t need to go into any detail here, because your actual client agreement will spell out the procedure that you both are agreeing to.


Make this happen! (Probably by assigning it to someone else.) You’ll frequently be able to cite that “our policy is _____” and then point them to the notebook that’s been sitting on their shelf. There will be less pushback and you’ll be more in control of the relationship, for your sake and theirs.

As with this notebook, sometimes it is the little things that make a difference. They might not read it, but you’ll still get credit for being different. Check out this quote on the subject from 120 years ago:

One man succeeds and another man fails and people wonder how it happens. It seems sometimes to people who don’t think deeply that the weaker, duller man goes ahead, and that his more brilliant brother sticks in the rut at the first round of the ladder. Slight differences in men seem to make all the wide differences between success and failure.

—Charles Austin Bates, Short Talks on Advertising, 1898

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