Don’t Give Clients What They Want

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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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Understanding Client Needs

Why is it important to understand what clients really want?

Understanding what clients really want is crucial for the success of any business. It helps in delivering products or services that meet their needs and expectations, thereby ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty. It also aids in building strong relationships with clients, which can lead to repeat business and referrals. Moreover, it provides insights into how to improve and innovate your offerings, giving you a competitive edge in the market.

How can I identify what my clients truly want?

Identifying what clients truly want involves active listening, asking the right questions, and conducting market research. It’s about understanding their problems, needs, and desires, and how your product or service can provide a solution. Regular communication and feedback are also essential in gaining insights into their preferences and expectations.

What are some common mistakes businesses make when trying to understand their clients’ needs?

Some common mistakes include assuming what clients want without asking them, not taking their feedback seriously, focusing solely on selling rather than understanding their needs, and not adapting to changes in their preferences or market trends. These can lead to misalignment between your offerings and their needs, resulting in dissatisfaction and loss of business.

How can I ensure that I’m giving my clients what they really want?

Ensuring that you’re giving your clients what they really want involves regular communication, feedback, and adjustments based on their needs and preferences. It’s about creating a customer-centric culture in your business where their needs are prioritized. Also, staying updated with market trends and innovations can help in offering products or services that meet their evolving needs.

Why is it not always the best strategy to give clients exactly what they ask for?

While it’s important to meet clients’ needs, giving them exactly what they ask for may not always be the best strategy. This is because clients may not always know what’s best for them or what they truly need. As an expert in your field, it’s your role to guide them and offer solutions that can better meet their needs or solve their problems.

How can I balance between giving clients what they want and what they need?

Balancing between giving clients what they want and what they need involves understanding their needs and desires, and then offering solutions that meet both. It’s about educating them on the benefits of your recommendations and showing them how it can better meet their needs or solve their problems.

How can understanding my clients’ needs help in growing my business?

Understanding your clients’ needs can help in growing your business by ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty, leading to repeat business and referrals. It can also provide insights into how to improve and innovate your offerings, giving you a competitive edge in the market.

What role does communication play in understanding clients’ needs?

Communication plays a crucial role in understanding clients’ needs. It involves active listening, asking the right questions, and providing feedback. Regular communication helps in building strong relationships with clients, understanding their needs and expectations, and making necessary adjustments to meet them.

How can I improve my understanding of my clients’ needs?

Improving your understanding of your clients’ needs involves regular communication, feedback, and market research. It’s about staying updated with market trends and innovations, and adapting your offerings based on their evolving needs and preferences.

What are some strategies for effectively communicating with clients to understand their needs?

Some effective strategies include active listening, asking open-ended questions, providing regular feedback, and maintaining transparency. It’s also important to create a comfortable environment where clients feel valued and heard, and are willing to share their needs and expectations.

Brandon EleyBrandon Eley
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Brandon Eley is the Interactive Director for Kelsey Advertising & Design and the co-author of Online Marketing Inside Out.

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