Aim High (But Not Too High): How to Set Goals You Can Meet

Modern Marketing


I’m often asked the following question by marketing agencies: “When it comes to results, how do I set reasonable expectations with my client?” If you set an expectation that’s unachievable, your clients will love you…right up until the moment that you disappoint them. If you’re unclear about your goals, it’s all too likely that you and your client won’t share a vision. As any marketer knows, real customer satisfaction and long term relationships are driven by exceeding expectations and by minimizing surprises.

In fact, setting expectations can be a challenge to marketers on any level – whether you’re an agency working with outside clients, or part of an in-house marketing team at a company.

These five steps will help you set expectations and maintain happy relationships – with your client, or with your executive team.

Step 1:  Agree on a vision of success

Before you get started with a new campaign, or a new client relationship, you need to have an end in mind. Be clear with one another about your definition of success, and make sure all parties agree that vision is achievable. If there are conflicting visions, now is the time to clarify and counsel.

Think about success from two angles: you want to make the company successful, but you also want every individual involved to be successful. If you’re an agency, helping your client succeed on a personal level is an important way to retain their business.

Step 2:  Get specific

Now that you have your higher level goals established, it’s time to get specific. You’ve defined success, but what will that actually look like? What kind of return on investment (ROI) are you looking for? You’ll need to come up with clearly defined objectives that are both quantifiable and trackable, and are (once again) agreed upon by both parties. Give those objectives some context by measuring them against historical data or industry benchmarks.

Step 3:  Outline

Your outline should take those objectives and parse them into actions. Who will perform which tasks? What information or resources will be needed to accomplish each task? When will each task be due? Your outline should document all of this information, along with the vision of success and specifics determined above.

The outline will not only help you set deadlines and anticipate needs; it also ensures that everyone involved is aware of individual responsibilities. I also recommend including a “feedback” task in your outline – make clear communication an essential part of your marketing process. Set up a meeting cadence where you and your client or team go over how you are tracking against your goals. That way, if something is going as expected you can quickly iterate.

Step 4:  Measure

Agree upon a system of measurement for your marketing efforts. How will you know what’s working, and what isn’t? If you’re an agency, establish a cadence for reviewing results with your client. Are you going to send them a weekly report, clearly illustrating how their current achievements measure against objectives? Will you schedule a weekly or monthly meeting to review each project’s status? Decide on the best way to share, report, and record results. Communication is key.

Step 5:  Adjust

Marketers aren’t fortune tellers – you’ll never be able to predict exactly how your efforts will pay off. That’s why it’s so important to be agile, and able to adjust based on what you’ve learned.  If you’ve done a thorough job on the first four steps, adjustments won’t alarm your client. Instead, you’ll be able to demonstrate how each adjustment will help your client (or your company) meet the agreed-upon goals.

Agencies, how do you manage client expectations? If you’re part of an internal marketing team, how do you set goals with the rest of your company? Share your tips in the comments below.