“What kind of presentation was that? I’m not seeing what I’m looking for. This entire meeting was a waste of my time.”
Have a client like that? Relax, you’re not alone. Everyone has a tough client at one point in their career that the entire team dreads meeting with. Although… there is always one person on the team who gets along just great with that client. Knows what to say and always gets her work approved in the spot. What is she doing that you aren’t?
Simple. There are five things you can do that will win over the toughest of clients. I use these and can attest personally to how well they work. They usually all stem from one issue your team is having: It’s not that your client is tough; it’s that your team isn’t presenting to them in a way that they expect, prefer and feel comfortable with. Keep reading. I’ll show you all the secrets.
1. Make the feel special
Have a client that complains about their superiors a lot? You’ll hear a lot of phrases like, “I can’t show this to my boss the way it is now.” This type of client is probably in a bad career place where they are the company scapegoat. Make them feel special.
Randomly surprise them with a dog and pony show type of meeting that includes industry trends. Use a good designer to build the presentation. Unless you have superior design skills and by that, I mean you either went to art school, or are often sought out to build decks. Don’t make it a bullet point fiesta. Use full screen images and minimal text.
Remember their birthday, anniversary, kids, etc. Send them cards on holidays. Don’t send corporate cards. Go to the store and pick one out yourself. Don’t hand it to them. Mail it. It’s a small thing, but people really remember it and it will make them feel special.
2. Make them look smart
Everyone wants to look smart. Don’t go into a meeting spewing out industry jargon or technical terms that your client clearly doesn’t understand. That doesn’t make you look smart. It makes you a pompous ass. And as Will Wheaton’s Law states, “Don’t be a dick.” You’re only impressing yourself.
Instead, use clear, simple language. If you have a tough subject to explain to a non-technical person (API requests, for example), use simple analogies. Invite them to a conference that will keep them up to date.
Make them look good (in front of their boss)
Invite a guest speaker from their industry to speak at their status meeting. Invite the client and her boss out to lunch with the speaker and you.
Email your client links to articles they should know about. CC her boss. Pick one day of the week to do this and keep it consistent so they have something to look forward to and you can squeak it into your workflow.
I used to have after hours phone calls with a client I had a really good working relationship with. She would send me decks to redesign for her that had nothing to do with our agency work. But it made her look good in front of her boss to have smart presentations with beautiful graphics and custom illustrations I did for her. She got promoted. Twice.
Make them remember why they hired you
“We’re terminating the AOR with your agency.”
“May we ask why? We’ve done everything you’ve asked.”
“Yes, you have. But that’s all you’ve done. You never went further. We saw you do things for other clients that we were never offered. We never even got to see your entire roster of agency offerings. We’re putting up an RFP for a new agency, and you will not be asked to take part.”
That painful conversation was true. It happened at an agency I worked at. We did everything they asked, but we never went the extra mile and reminded them why they hired us. We never showed them new capabilities we had added. They became a “factory client” (Churn out the work). They became a job, not a client you want to brag to your Mom about.
The fact is, many clients weren’t even the one who hired your firm. They might be new to the company, or it might have been a handshake deal their boss made ten years ago over a golf game. Whatever the reason, your client needs to be reminded why they hired your company.
Making them feel special, look smart and look good in front of their boss certainly helps put you in a good light. Those things make you, as an individual, appealing to your client, but they don’t remind them why they chose your company.
To do that, you need another dog and pony show, but this time, not to impress them for the sake of making them feel special. Wow them with facts. Remind them of the successes of the year to date. How they’ve exceeded sales goals (ahem, assuming they have).
Ideally, you’d do this quarterly. Have a meeting with them to showcase your capabilities—even the ones they have no reason to use. They need to know what you are can anyway. Bring in employees they aren’t used to seeing in meetings who work in each discipline. They like to see new faces too, and it brings them a fresh perspective. You never know. The one employee you dreaded bringing in may be the one to sell them on a whole new project. I’ve seen that happen many times.
Take work off their plate
This is a big one and so few people have the common sense to do it. Sure, we all know the key to promotions is to take work off your own boss’s plate, but your client’s? Absolutely.
This isn’t something you need to do all the time, or you’ll never get your own work done, but when you can, and you sense your client is overloaded, ask them what you can do to help them.
Bonus tip: Mimic their sensory language
My favorite and this could be a post unto itself. Almost everyone has a dominant sense. You can nearly always figure it out without asking because it invades their daily language.
Someone who is olfactory-dominant (smell) will say things like, “That really stinks,” or, “I smell a rat,” or, “Something doesn’t smell right about that.” An aural-dominant (hearing) will say, “I’m not liking what I’m hearing” or, “You’re not listening” or, “That doesn’t sound right to me.” A visual-dominant (the most common) will say, “I see” or, “That looks right to me” or, “I can’t picture what you’re describing.”
Can you see (visual) where I’m headed with this? Find out which sense is dominant with your client (or anyone you work with) and use their sensory words when you’re in conversations with them. You’ll find they connect with you, find you easy to talk with and are more receptive to your ideas.
Conversely, using a sense they are not dominant with will often interrupt the flow of conversation, cause more friction between you and your client.
Everything I’ve taught you can also be used with your own boss. You’ll find yourself rapidly becoming their favorite employee if you do.
What has your experience been with a tough client? How did you handle it?