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How to Work with Indecisive Clients

Alyssa Gregory

Indecisive ClientYou’ve created an amazing mockup, exactly to the client’s specifications, and you submit it to the client two days early. You just know that it’s a slam dunk; you expect to get the go-ahead and start development right away, so you make sure your schedule is ready to go.

But two days pass…then a week. You’ve followed up twice, and the client says he’s still looking it over and trying to decide if it’s what he wants. Two weeks, seven emails and two phone conversations later, you still haven’t gotten the client’s approval, OR any modification requests. The project is officially stalled.

Sound familiar? This is a pretty common scenario in business that can be extremely frustrating. But there is a way to handle it.

Understand Underlying Factors

Often indecisiveness is caused by lack of confidence. If the client is hesitating and not able to provide a specific reason for his uncertainty, he may simply be worried about the new endeavor he is undertaking. Completing this project you’re working on for him means he is one step closer to his goal, and that can be a scary situation for someone who doesn’t completely trust himself.

The client may also be facing indecision if he hasn’t spent the necessary time to outline his plan, identify his goals and think through the big picture.  While you’re mockup may be exactly what he asked for, he may not even be able to recognize that because he is still two steps behind.

There are many other reasons why the client may be at a stand-still. Ask questions that will get to the heart of the matter and then offer a solution – whether it’s breaking the project down into smaller and more digestible chunks, or giving the client time to step back and regroup.

Provide Limited Options

If you bombard the client with a lot of choices, it can be overwhelming. And on the flip side, one option can feel restrictive. It’s a fine line between giving the client an opportunity to compare and make a choice (and feel like they have more control over the process), and giving them too many or too few options to consider.

One way to handle this is by providing the client with one solution (the one that most closely mirrors what he said he wants), and then offer 1-2 suggested modifications to that solution. This provides some flexibility to the solution you’re providing, and also gives the client direction in requesting modifications. If he can envision an alternative, it’s easier for him to determine what will work best for his needs.

Use a Timeline

At the start of the project, you probably discussed some dates for the work with the client. But how much structure followed that discussion? One way to keep things moving along is to use a timeline that not only lists due dates for different elements of the project, but also outlines responsibilities of each party. Make sure the client has a copy of this document and that you reference the individual due dates of each task as you’re working on it.

While this isn’t a fail safe way to keep the project moving, it can be more effective to have a timeline with milestones, and consequences for when a deadline is missed (i.e., the project launch will be delayed). Sometimes a specific date and an idea of the big picture is all a client needs to move toward a decision.

What has your experience been with indecisive clients? What do you do to prevent a project from stalling?

Image credit: Bob Smith