As an agency specializing in public relations and content marketing for technology companies, many of Trier and Company‘s global clients are startups. Once they decide they need or want PR – and they come to meet with us, we’ve learned over the years to ask a single question with the goal of seeing if there’s a fit.

Not every startup wants strategy. Not every startup wants messaging. Not every startup wants guidance. Some simply come to us for media relations. Some come on board with Trier for analyst relations, while others want content and more content.

Over the years, I’ve learned some hard lessons and made some ill-fitting choices – both on the client side and the account management side. While the company’s technology might be the coolest thing since sliced bread, there are occasionally unrealistic expectations about what a Public Relations Agency can do, should do and will do.

Toward the goal of giving some structure and guidance to the art of choosing clients whom I believe will benefit from what the team at Trier does so well, I’m sharing a simple framework that’s based on a single question to ask perspective clients.

“What does success look like?”

If it’s the first meeting, you need to walk away with a clear understanding of why the client want to hire you. If it’s a new project with an existing customer, then stay laser-focused on the vision of success for the new initiative.

You want the client to paint you a picture from their mind’s eye and to make it rich and vivid; you’ll want them to use lots of paint. The vision must make sense to you before you can internalize and then effectively rally your team. If there’s something that doesn’t jive, flesh it out with the stakeholders until you totally grasp it.

Ask the client how they intend to measure success in order to quantify their expectations. Well-conceived marketing plans have target metrics. When a client can’t or won’t share quantified goals -that’s a red flag for a half-baked initiative. No matter how amazing Trier and Company’s work may be, a difficult client can attack the results with general criticisms like “I expected more.”

Without metrics, success is open to interpretation.

When you and the client own a mutual vision of success, you can confidently move everyone in the right direction and get rid of obstacles well before they become problems. You’re far more than another vendor: you’re an indispensable leader who clients and colleagues will insist on working with again and again.