If you work in or own an agency, there’s a high likelihood that at some stage you will come across a client with a bad idea, bad design taste, or who are simply.. wrong.
The idea of addressing these issues can seem uncomfortable, but there are methods to tell your client they are wrong whilst keeping your relationship intact.
Communication is key.
Whether through email, or face-to-face, effective communication is vital when discussing a potentially touchy subject. This includes:
Nonverbal communication: A firm handshake, eye contact, nodding, open body language.
Verbal communication: Oral conversations, tone of voice.
Try to communicate with your client one-to-one and face-to-face when the message involves important information or a sensitive topic as you want to harness the power of both communication styles. To further understand why this is so important, read the summary of How to Win Friends & Influence People. Or even better, buy your own copy here.
How to communicate effectively
- Choose a comfortable environment: This allows for open and relaxed communication.
- Speak plainly: The simpler you explain the issue, the sooner they will understand their mistake.
- Use visuals and data to help solidify your point: Some people understand and learn faster with visual cues, so perhaps, use graphs, charts, and graphics to help solidify your message.
- Encourage feedback: This gives them the time to process the information and relay your message back to you, ensuring mutual understanding.
How NOT to communicate effectively
- Closed body language: Folding your arms over your chest and avoiding eye-contact can be seen as avoidance, disrespect, and discomfort.
- Yelling: It is never necessary to yell at someone, especially in a face-to-face meeting.
- Blame and shame: Just because your client had a bad idea doesn’t mean they are solely to blame for any mishaps.
- Long-winded rants: The longer your content (especially in email), the more chance your client will miss the key message. Rambling on will only confuse your client and create a sense of unease.
7 best practices when telling your client they are wrong
- Get clear on the objectives
- Know your audience
- Be honest and tactful
- Actively listen to their point of view
- Harness your expertise
- Offer alternative soltions
- Always be delighting
If you and your client have a different idea of objectives, you may have very different ideas for your communications plans. This can lead to your client having grand ideas that don’t quite fit the bill.
First things first. Sit down with your client and develop objectives that will ensure the success of their SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely) goals.
Once finalised, give your client a copy and include it in their service level agreement (SLA), or something similar, so it can be used as a reference before they develop any more ideas off-track.
Knowing your audience can guide you on how best to communicate with your client. You should have a buyer persona profile for them which will help determine who they are in their company, how much time they have to converse, and what medium best reach them.
If they’re a CEO, you may not always be able to book a face-to-face meeting with them. Instead, utilise email and make your message as short, sharp and succinct as you can. Give them all the necessary facts and visuals to support your key message. They’ll appreciate that you are saving them time.
From the very first meeting, welcome your client’s ideas (they may have some great ones!), and don’t be afraid to voice any issues if one is off-kilter.
But be tactful.
Don’t outright tell your client they are wrong in a room of people. Highlight what’s good about their idea first so they don’t feel embarrassed or that they’ve completely failed.
Tip: it’s easier to be tactful when you are face-to-face with your client. Being able to watch their body language when conversing provides great insight into how they are feeling during the conversation.
If they’ve got their arms folded across their chest and furrowed brows, they’re clearly uncomfortable.
Use their body language to gauge if you need to be more empathetic, offer more praise, use simpler terms, or give them more feedback opportunities.
Your client’s bad idea may have actually just been a miscommunication. And given that relationships should be two-way streets, their point of view is still important.
By giving your client a voice and actively listening to them allows them a platform to voice their point of view. You may even find that they were on the right track – they just didn’t communicate it clearly.
Respecting their thoughts and opinions shows you value them. In turn, they should at least be willing to listen to your ideas, leading to implementation in their business.
Remember that you’ve been hired for a reason. You have the experience and know how to help your client achieve their objectives.
Confidently talk them through what didn’t work with their idea. Do this step by step, use data and past case studies to help prove your point.
Your client’s idea may not be completely redundant.
Their idea could have merely been focused on the wrong target market, marketing channel, or caused by confusion from their own buyer personas.
If so, let them know that they were on the right track, but offer alternative solutions. It will show that you are not outright discarding or following their ideas, but are willing to look into different methods to ensure their utmost success.
If you’ve followed these tips and communicated effectively, you should find that even though you had to tell your client they were wrong, they found the overall journey with you delighting. That’s the mindset you need to have.
Treating your client as a valued member of discussions, and making co-decisions whilst guiding them will help strengthen your relationship step by step way beyond their success point.
Delivering bad news to a client doesn’t have to be awkward or unpleasant. It can be an opportunity to grow your communication strategies and build strong relationships through verbal and nonverbal communications, active listening, developing objectives, and collaboration.
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