Learning to Speak the Language of Your Clients with Kim Doughty


Kim Doughty, the SERP whisperer of Local SEO agency RicketyRoo, keeps it real.

This is why she’s so masterful at client relationships. She’s handled both small and medium-sized businesses. Her clients offer some challenges that probably most agency owners are familiar with, and she’s got the solutions.

If you’ve ever driven yourself absolutely insane trying to get necessary information or collateral from clients, this is the podcast you’ll wanna tune in to.

The highlights:

  • [3:06] Best practices for account management
  • [5:42] The first meeting with a client.
  • [8:31] Collecting client information.
  • [11:00] Getting questions answered when clients don’t know how to communicate.
  • [12:45] Client “green flags.”
  • [15:19] The sales process’ role in setting client expectations.
  • [17:41] When clients don’t deliver.
  • [19:44] How communication and relationships impact client retention.
  • [24:12] Kim’s causes.

The insights:

Best Practices For Account Management

Want to be effective at account management? Kim says it starts with your communication style, and the methods you use to keep in touch with clients.

“In my previous roles, the main thing that clients really enjoyed was knowing that someone was there to speak their language. So for instance, I worked with in-home services like plumbing, HVAC, electrical, and a lot of those guys are like salt-of-the-earth. They’re just working. Every day.

They don’t always have a lot of that background in marketing to know the lingo.”

She says you have to use the language they speak in.

“One thing that helped me a lot was building out a structured agenda so that whenever we had multiple people on the call or someone else was taking on the account after me, we had really specific and structured notes for everyone to move on with.”

Kim says these agendas were helpful for teaching other account managers how to handle talking to a client, “especially one that may not necessarily have the same background knowledge as you.”

Goals For the First Client Meeting

Kim starts with the client’s business goals and more.

“What does every day look like for them? [I do this] so I can translate that into marketing-speak.”

An important point:

“At the end of the day, they don’t really care how many conversions they get through AdWords vs. Social vs. anything else.

Sometimes they do because they want to know where their money is, but at the end of the day I need to be the one saying: Okay, if they want to be able to get a certain number of jobs in this service they offer, how much money does that usually yield for them in revenue, how does that relate to the amount of ad spend or lack thereof we have at our disposal, what is a good lead to them?

It’s all about figuring out what kind of information they care about.

“It’s a lot of that getting-to-know-you, understanding how they communicate. Are they someone who is kind of tightlipped and they just say yeah, yeah, yeah, okay, I get it? Or are they asking a lot of questions?

Sometimes that will end up informing me on what do they really care about, and even how I should adjust agendas on a format that fits their speaking style? Are they just going off on a tangent? Are they just very to the letter, let’s go down the agenda and figure out the thing we need to figure out so I can get on with my day?”

Collecting Client Information

A lot of agencies use questionnaires to get clients started, vs. trying to do it in an in-person meeting. Kim says the method that works best tends to depend on how the team is organized.

“If you have a sales team that’s really attuned to the services you offer and they have a list of questions they should always be asking clients in order to at least validate the quality of their leads before they go through with the sales process.”

She warns that clients sometimes are not very good at filling out paperwork or responding to emails.

“You just have to get them on the phone and ask them point-blank what the answer is.”

She tries to get as many as possible answered in the initial meeting if the sales process hasn’t answered it first.

“That usually gives us more nuance anyway. When a client writes down an answer it’s often like: Oh, I don’t really know or my goal is to grow.

It doesn’t always give you the information that you really need to move forward, and asking those questions and making them actually think off the top of their head and explain more thoroughly is a lot more valuable than trying to get them to pull their hair out trying to answer a list of questions on a Google form or a Google doc.”

Getting Questions Answered When Clients Don't Know How to Communicate

Some clients really struggle to express themselves. What does Kim do then?

“Sometimes it’s a matter of giving examples. Especially if you’re an agency that has a focus on a particular industry or you’ve worked with that industry before.”

Then you can point to clients of a similar size and industry. Share what budget those clients are using for ads, for example.

But she does mention that sometimes you just have to work around the problem.

“At the end of the day, if they really don’t know, that is kind of our job, to give them our best recommendations based on our expertise. At the end of the day, if they don’t know, they don’t know.”

Client "Green Flags"

Garrett asked Kim about the kinds of clients she loved working with, and what served as a “green flag” for letting her know that the client was likely to be a good match.

“It’s always a good hint when they’re ready to hang out and be relaxed. At the same time, being a little too lax sometimes is a client that is difficult to get ahold of and make decisions.”

Kim also says she appreciates clients who know they don’t have all the answers.

“Assuming your agency is giving them the best recommendations it possibly can, it becomes a really positive partnership, understanding that you know they needed help and then you provide as much as you can.”

Finally, Kim appreciates clients who are understanding and willing to be educated, as this means they tend to have realistic expectations about the process.

The Sales Process’ Role in Setting Client Expectations

Kim says the sales process can play a big role in setting client expectations.

“They should really understand the deliverables they’re expecting before they start off, whether that is an understanding we’re going to put in a certain amount of time, or hit these checkboxes every month. It’s just a matter of being upfront, right?”

If something is more complicated?

Kim will provide a write-up in plain English.

“What does it mean to do a toxic link disavow? What does it mean when we want to change information architecture, why is that useful? Giving reasons behind why we’re doing everything.”

She uses lots of screenshots and links to help them see what they need and will add arrows and text to make sure everything is extra clear.

“This is the Map Pack. This is where we want you to be. This is where I found you. Just being as concrete as possible. If they know they should be expecting a blog post, give them a link to the blog post. A lot of clients don’t even go on their own website. It’s actually really surprising. So make it easy for them. They’re not always going to do it on their own.”

When Clients Don't Deliver

Sometimes getting clients to cough up the information you need really is like pulling teeth. RicketyRoo heads that problem off at the pass with a little expectation setting.

“We tell them ahead of time: hey, if we don’t get deliverables, or if we don’t get an answer from you on this, we have our project manager just irritate you until you do it. If we bring it up ahead of time that you’re going to get emailed every week and we can’t move forward they can anticipate that.”

She also adds undelivered items right to meeting agendas. 

“They will see it there: things we need your answer on. It doesn’t have to be: all right, John, I’ve asked you 15 times can you read this blog post because I don’t know about plumbing, I need to make sure it’s written correctly.” 

How Communication and Relationships Impacts Client Retention

All of these steps play into client retention. There are of course times when clients stop showing up for meetings, or when the timing of the meetings is terrible.

“We make an effort to send them a normal, friendly email once in a while like: hey guy, been a while, here’s what we’re working on, and here’s this cool featured snippet that we got. Introducing, reintroducing yourself to them a little bit with a win that makes them really excited may often remind them: Oh yeah, I should really see what my team is doing, see what else I’m getting out of my money.

In other words, bringing the positives, and having potential solutions at the ready when things aren’t performing as well.

“That’s often more important than the performance itself. If they have a problem, or if we’re not hitting the KPIs we want to hit, what are some plans or some ideas that both of us on the client-side and the agency-side can do to mitigate the issue?”

She stresses that a lot of the time it’s about being a human being. She points to her Twitter picture: her, eating spaghetti with a glass of wine with a crazy look on her face.

kim doughty twitter


“I get so many comments about that and it makes me laugh. I’m so glad other people kind of get the personality of that image. And that really kind of captures how I feel about being a professional.

I’m not necessarily really down on having the super-polished professional photo and seeming like a perfect person that knows the answers, because that doesn’t exist.

A lot of the time the best clients I have had a lot of personality and can be relaxed and themselves to me and that relationship flourishes when I’m able to do some small talk about my day. How was your holiday? We can talk about some things and not just throw numbers at each other and have an actual conversation.” 

She says being able to make a stupid joke or even embarrassing yourself a little bit and being able to laugh about it with a client goes a long way to seeing each other as partners and personal human beings and not just as a vehicle for business success.

What’s your right now cause?

In August of 2020, Kim launched LGBTQ+ Digital Marketers. 

lgbtq+ digital marketers
You can join their Slack channel by filling out this form.
“In my experience,” says Kim, “feeling like I couldn’t be myself because my coworkers or clients would judge me for being an out queer woman in the workplace has some negative detrimental consequences, not just for myself but for a lot of people.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 50% of LGBTQ+ employees remain closeted in the workplace.
“It’s nice to know,” says Kim, “that there are other people who have experienced that. Or who are living productive and happy lives out in the open. I think we’ve been doing a lot of really great work improving diversity and inclusion in the industry, and this is my little part.”

Connect with Kim Doughty

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Garrett Sussman

Garrett Sussman

Garrett is the head of content at Traject , a suite of digital marketing tools, and host of the Agency Ahead podcast. When he's not crafting content, he's scouting the perfect ice coffee, devouring the newest graphic novels, and concocting a new recipe in the kitchen.

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