Don’t Give Clients What They Want

Brandon Eley

Most of us would like to think we give clients what they want, right? The client comes to you with an idea for a website, landing page, application, or other project, and you do everything you can to deliver a product that meets or exceeds their expectations. But what happens when what the client “wants” is at odds with what the client needs?

Why Are You In Business?

We all need money to survive … but very few of us are driven solely by money. Most web professionals I know want to do great work – they want to help their clients succeed.

Most clients simply do not know what they need. They think they know, some may even insist that they know (which makes it all more difficult), but most clients – especially small to mid-sized ones – don’t dig deep enough to get to the root problem they are trying to solve. Some may not even think they have a problem to begin with.

Giving Clients What They Ask For

Think of a fictitious client who comes to you wanting a website. They come to you with a sitemap of pages they want, which includes a photo gallery, mission statement, and a beautiful splash page with animation. You know the website as they asked for it will not impact their bottom line (positively, anyway), but you simply quote to build the website as requested.

You win the bid, complete the project to its specifications/requirements, and the client is initially happy with the result. But then what you feared comes to fruition … the project isn’t a success. Despite you doing the best you could, the plan was flawed, and the website does nothing for the client’s business. It’s not your fault, but the client invariably blames you, the developer/designer, for the failure.

What’s the alternative? Propose what the client needs instead of what they want. Often this will mean several additional discovery sessions and more work understanding the scope of the project. But in the end, you will be able to help your client build a project that will be successful, and often times even the initial project will be much bigger. And since the project has a much better chance of success, you are much more likely to receive future business.

Giving Clients What They Need

Instead of giving clients exactly what they ask for, instead develop a process for determining what they truly need and propose a solution to their problems. This is more in-depth than simply providing a quote or proposal for what they initially asked for, but in my experience it is almost always more work in the long term, and has a much better chance of success.

The key to a successful project is in a thorough needs assessment. Without truly understanding the problem, how can you possibly propose a solution that will work? Below is a look at the process we use to determine needs and come up with a solution.

The Initial Interview

In the initial interview, clients often think they know what they need. We listen to them, but ask lots of probing questions during the process. If they are a new client, we also ask lots of questions about their business and industry to try and understand as much as possible about their overall business goals. We may have even done research on them and their industry before the meeting to be more prepared.

In addition to asking probing questions about the specifics of their website or application, we also ask high-level questions about the project, such as:

  • What is the overall goal?
  • How will we measure success? Visits, sales, leads, etc.
  • Who is your target audience/customer?
  • Who is your competition?
  • What makes your website, product, or service better than the competition? How can you prove that?
  • How will this website/application/etc help you achieve your overall business goals?

These are just a few of the questions we may ask. The answers to some of these questions will spark even more questions. It’s not uncommon for us to talk for two or three hours.

Determining The Real Problem

From research and conversations with the client, we often find that the website itself is not what the client wants. The client usually has a pain point, a deep problem, they want solved and they think (or hope) the website or application will solve it. They might need more sales, and they think the website will just magically bring in the business. Or they might be getting inundated with customer service issues and hope the website will alleviate some of that.

We have had clients come to us wanting a printed flyer to hand out to generate business, but they really needed a website and online marketing campaign to actually reach their target market. Determining the root problem allows you to craft an appropriate solution.

Propose a Solution

Before presenting the solution, be sure to first get the client to confirm the problem. We will typically say something like “from our conversations, we understand that one of your biggest challenges is customer support” or “we understand your main issue is reaching new customers”. When they confirm that, we then explain what we think they really need.

It’s important to note that we don’t necessarily criticize their ideas. People are very protective of their ideas, and they almost always think they are good. Instead, we simply use our research and industry data to show why our proposed solution might help them reach their goal faster or more efficiently.

You’d be surprised how many clients appreciate the work we put into this process, and are excited about working with us even when the overall project may be much larger or more expensive than they originally thought. When other competitors simply quote what they asked for, we went above and beyond by providing what we felt they needed.