4 ways clients are like cats
Ian Lurie Apr 3 2012
First off, I’m a cat person. I want to make that perfectly clear. It’s a high honor if I compare you to a cat. So saying a marketing agency’s clients are like cats is very favorable.
In Portent’s proposals I compare my employees to rats. So really, clients are coming out way ahead.
A quick introduction
We have two cats in the Lurie household right now: Romulus and Isis. They’re siblings—did you know that cats in a single litter can have different fathers? Neither did I, until we got a brother and sister that were black and Siamese.
So, 4 ways clients are like cats:
1: They’re great to have around.
My cats keep me sane. In spite of my occasional blog posts, my clients do, too. Seriously. I’m not kidding.
Oh, and clients pay you. Which is really great. It helps you buy food and stuff.
2: It’s all about them
And that’s how it should be. Cats are completely devoted to one thing: Themselves. So are clients, and that is perfectly appropriate.
Right now, as I write this, Isis (the female feline) is pawing at me, trying to get into my lap while imploringly looking at me: “Daddy, why no lap?” I have a keyboard in my lap, Isis. She doesn’t care. She wants lappage. Right now.
Clients don’t care either. They’re paying you to get results. That’s what they should get. I’ve certainly asked for extensions/tolerance from clients when Something Bad is going on at Portent, and they’re always sympathetic. But assume your clients are completely devoted to one thing: Themselves. Their success. Their growth. Because they should be.
3: You may occasionally want to throw them in the trash bin
Cats may decide to race around the house at 3 AM, knock stuff over (they are not all feline grace) and occasionally do unspeakable things in the litter box. I resist the urge to:
- Shave them
- Stick their tails in light sockets
- Feed them spiked Friskies
- Have them stuffed
…because no relationship is perfect. You need to take the good with the bad, because they do the same. My cats put up with my often-violent sleep cycles (I’ve been known to pedal in my sleep), lackadaisical litter-box sanitation and bizarre sense of humor. It all works out.
You and your clients will have good and bad days: A missed deadline, a late payment. A day when someone’s grumpy as hell for no clear reason. It happens. Talk it out. Be patient with each other and it’s amazing how, 24 hours later, what seemed like the end of the world was a minor bump in the road.
4: Sometimes, you have to piss them off
My cats always try to nab a quick drink of my Diet Coke. I’m pretty sure that’d be really bad for them, so I shoo them away with a sharp word or two. I also have to do things like trim their claws, and sometimes force them to take pills for one affliction or another. They do not appreciate it. They get royally ticked off, growl at me and sometimes even shun me for a whole hour.
But the end result is a healthier, happier cat. Which means more lappage for me, and better sanity maintenance. So it pays off.
If you’re so terrified of making a client unhappy that you never say ‘no’, or push back to prevent what you think will be a mistake, then you’re not doing your job. Clients don’t hire you to make them happy—happiness is a nice side effect when things go right. Clients hire you to help them grow through application of your expertise. So apply it, even if that means ruffling a feather or two.
OK, they’re not cats
Cats are a lot more predictable than clients. And, unlike cats, they can talk to you, and you can talk to them. And they don’t write you checks. So clients aren’t exactly like cats. But they’re both looking to you for their welfare. They are your responsibility. Be responsible.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More