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When Clients Request the Wrong Thing

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I received an email recently from Cathy. Cathy's company provides exceptional research capabilities for clients across industries. Just like you, Cathy and her company have specific expertise in their field. She asked, "Several times recently (two just this week!), we have had prospects request a specific research methodology that isn't appropriate for their research objectives. How do you tactfully let them know this without insulting them or appearing contrary?"

With an abundance of information available online, it is common for clients to come to you having pre-diagnosed their own situation. In fact, they may have done some research on their own, and concluded that they need a certain service, or in Cathy's case, a specific research methodology. It is easy for a client to have "enough information to be dangerous."

It Happens To Me

I often get requests to speak at events where the client says, "We've read your articles, and we think it would be great if you could come and cover the following four articles." They then list the articles as if I would simply show up and read them to the audience of 500+ people. Instead, I ask them questions about their goals for the session, the behavior they hope to change, and how they might measure success of the session over the next six months. If you asked your physician for an antibiotic, you would expect them to first diagnose your situation to ensure that the treatment would fit your condition. The same concept holds true for requests from your clients.

How Do You Help Them Discover Alternatives?

Cathy is smart enough to realize that you cannot simply say "You are a fool. That methodology won't work." I like how she asked about how you can "tactfully let them know without insulting them." You need a way to help the client discover a better approach to solve their challenge. The best way to do this is with some questions.  Here are some that might help your client better appreciate your perspective and value.

  1. There are a number of ways we could accomplish your objectives. Why did you pick that one?
  2. If there was a different approach that we felt might give you more accurate results and a better return on your investment, how would you like us to share that?
  3. Are you set on that methodology, or would you be open to another approach if we felt it would produce better results for you?
  4. Can you tell me more about your project? Before we go forward, we want to ensure we completely understand your situation so that we don't overlook an alternative that might better serve your needs. Would that be ok?

It Comes Down To Questions

In each case, notice that a question helps get the conversation started. As long as it is clear that you are looking out for their needs, pushing back can be welcome by the client. If you agree to go down a path that is not in their best interest, rest assured that you will likely regret that decision when the project goes sideways.

Your Turn

I am knee-deep into my next book, co-authored with Buying Excellence's CEO, Jack Quarles. Jack works with clients on how to do a better job of buying products and services from vendors, and I help people on the selling side. Think of it as The Force in Star Wars. I'll let you determine which side is the dark side. The book is called Same Side Selling. Cathy's question is one of the many covered in the book.