Founder’s Corner #8: At Thunder, We Grade Our Clients

By Max Thomas

Yes, we grade our clients. In fact, we do this with great sincerity. With five years experience working with businesses large and small we’ve come up with 10 factors that we’ve determined are essential for there to be campaign success.

Over the years we’ve discovered that if certain elements aren’t present, then no matter how hard we and the client try success will most likely elude us. In this Founder’s Corner, I walk through these 10 Scoring Factors as well as our 5 Point Rating system for giving a grade (on a scale of 1% to 100%).

I go into more detail in the Founder’s Corner video.

Our Ideal Client Scorecard, below, summarizes the 10 Scoring Factors and 5 Point Rating system.


As I mentioned, our sweet spot is prospects and clients who score 80% or higher. Those typically have all the key factors in place and campaign success is highly likely. If a prospect or client gets a grade of 60% or below, then it’s not a great fit. If low-scoring factors can be improved (like “Measurable Goal”), then we’ll continue. If not, then we pass. With prospects and clients in the 70% range, the campaign team decides as a group whether to continue or pass.


We do this to identify success because that is why a business has hired Thunder in the first place. Likewise, we as a company want to experience success in our work. Challenges are great; pushing boundaries is even better. And with a strong foundation of key factors in place, campaign success is within everyone’s reach.


Hi, Max Thomas here. Welcome to this month’s Founder’s Corner. Today we’re going to talk about what makes an awesome client and an awesome client relationship. We’ve been doing this a long time, so we’ve learned a lot about when there’s a great fit and things are going to fit, and when there’s not a great fit. And we’ve tried to be as predictive as we can in understanding when a new prospect comes whether or not it’s going to be an awesome relationship and if we can really help them. So, we’ve put together our ten point scale that we think is helpful for evaluating how great a client could be and how well we can help that client. Again, we’ve done a lot of this, so it’s from our experience, and we’ve put it together because we want to share it with you and other agencies that deal with the same situations.

Number one on the list is a measurable goal. This is such a huge thing, I’m going to underline it in red: measurable goal. This is the biggest issue in terms of defining will this campaign be a success because we can actually track the conversion, track the lead, track what’s happening. And I think we’ve all been in a situation where we’re doing a lot of work and things are happening, but the client can’t tie it to an ROI or to a lead, and so it’s hard to define the value of what we’re doing. So we always look for a measurable goal.

Number two: do they get what we do? And by this we mean can they hit the ground running? Can they understand what we’re talking about? Are we spending our time educating them or are we focusing all our expertise and energy on the campaign and moving things forward?

Number three is trusted partnership, and this is a huge deal for Thunder. We see all of our clients as our partners, so we want to make sure that we’re working together and that we’re working with each other. We actually wrote out that we’re not working against each other, because we want to make sure that we’re in concert and we’re moving forward.

Number four is that it’s a results oriented evaluation with a long-term perspective. So the classic example is someone says, “hey, I want a rank,” and we’re like okay, you’re probably not a great fit. We need to understand more about where they’re coming from. So we’re always looking for the long term.

The next is, are they in a defined market? Is their industry well defined? And is their customer base or their prospects well defined? You know, sometimes people want to do campaigns just to see what happens. But we know that if you want to have success, you want to make sure there’s an industry and a market and a client who is online.

Next up is, do they have an established marketing discipline within the company? And this is actually big. Obviously, the larger the organization, the more that exists. When we’re dealing with the owner of a company, no matter how large they may be, typically this isn’t a great situation. If the client already has a marketing discipline or a marketing department then they know what to do with us and we know who to talk to and how to make things happen.

Next on the list is access. Do we have access to resources, to log-ins to make needed changes? I know so many of you listening, and of us, deal with this. We don’t get the access we need. We can’t access their account, we can’t get into their Google Analytics, maybe it’s TootSuite maybe it’s Twitter. This is paramount.

The next is, will it succeed? And we really mean is this company going to succeed? Do we want to invest all this time and energy and create all these expectations around the company and a market that may not even succeed?

Number nine is do they have a clear business strategy? And we don’t just mean interactive, we mean the whole business strategy. Because if there is a real solid business strategy, then the interactive can be integrated into that and it can be a great success, but if there isn’t, too much focus gets put on the interactive to make things happen.

And number ten, are they open to new ideas and untapped territory? This is a given, knowing what industry we’re in and that we’re in constant change.

So this is our top ten list and we even created a score card. We do this when evaluating new clients. So what I’ve done is I’ve gone through and picked Client ‘A’ and Client ‘B’. These are both based on real clients we’ve worked with and I just want to go through very quickly how we evaluate. We use a scale of one to five and we end up with a score on a scale of 100, like a grade. We could have done this based on ten, but we thought it was easier one to five.

I’m not going to go through every number. What I’m going to illustrate is this is a client, do they have a conversion? This particular client was a local business and they didn’t have a clear conversion, they couldn’t track every phone call, every form lead to an actual lead or sale. Yet this Client ‘B’ was, and they were a larger organization and they had everything tracked.

The second is what we do, do they get what we do? This smaller company, they need a lot of education. The larger organization gets it and they’re ready to go.

The next is trusted partnership. This is a smaller business, they’re trying to understand what we do, much less even work with us. So the trust isn’t as strong. The large organization they know what we do, they’ve worked with us, it’s there.

The next is the results oriented evaluation. This is where we always try to avoid if they are looking for rankings or if they are looking for fast results? If i spend more money on SCO and social media could I get more leads? And we all know the answer to that. So that’s what we’re trying to find there.

Next is the defined market. They both have awesome markets and I think that’s good to point out. This small business is in a great growing market. But in terms of established marketing discipline, here we’re dealing with the owner, or the owner’s daughter. With Client ‘B’ we’re dealing with an actual marketing director or marketing VP.

Next on the list is access to log-ins. This is funny, sometimes with a small business they don’t even know what they do or don’t have access to. And you can see how it plays out in terms of will the company succeed. They both will succeed because they’re good at what they do and have good markets. But in terms of does the client have a clear business strategy, obviously the smaller one doesn’t necessarily have it, but the bigger one does.

And finally, are they open to new ideas. Well if we’re still trying to gain trust it’s hard to say, “hey, let’s try something totally out of the box,” because they’re not quite sure what we’re doing yet. Yet a larger company may or may not be open to new ideas.

So when we tally these up we get 54 percent for Client ‘A’. Keep in mind, they’re a growing business so this could be a company that comes to us and says, “we want a rank and we want to get new leads.” We can say yeah, your market is great, it’s expanding and your customer is online — we can make this happen. But if all these other pieces aren’t in place, it may not be a successful relationship. So this is where we would actually say this is an F, maybe an F minus. And it’s not a reflection on the company, it’s a reflection on whether or not we think a campaign with us would be a good investment of their time, and also a good investment of our time.

In contrast, this particular relationship with Client ‘B’ turned out to be 84 percent. They’re a solid B, so that’s a great fit. We actually want every client to have a 95 or 100, but that’s rare. so our measure is that we’ll work with any client that’s a B or an A and if they’re in the 75 percent range then we have to evaluate and see if we’ll keep going with them.

So that’s an overview of what we have found helpful in understanding how to evaluate clients, because we want it to be a win-win for everyone. Thanks for tuning in. See you next month.

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Max Thomas

By Max Thomas

Max is a nationally recognized digital marketing specialist who is an expert on search engine optimization and data-driven digital marketing who has spoken at SMX and SMX Advanced, LMA Southeast, LMA Tech in San Francisco, WordCamp and other industry recognized conferences. As the founder and CEO of ThunderActive, Max has lead his team (with offices in San Diego and New York City) to success for clients in legal, real estate, life sciences, consumer goods and new tech. A Columbia undergraduate with a Yale MBA, Max is an Impact Circle Member for The Trevor Project and is an advisor to start-up companies and angel investment networks, including Gaingels and Serval Ventures in New York.

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