When it comes to clients, some are more difficult to land--and work with-- than others. What is the most successful thing you can do to get a difficult client to buy into your idea, product, or service? We asked members of the Entrepreneurs' Organization to provide their best advice.
Stand your ground.
A client wanted us to build some complex custom software within an aggressive deadline and budget. I had to stand my ground and calmly assert that we had carefully reviewed his request, and that our best solution was far outside his desired parameters. These conversations were difficult, but I knew that if we acquiesced, we would set unrealistic expectations for the client. It is much better to be forthright at the start than to pretend it would all work out.
--Tim Hamilton, founder and CEO, Astonish Design; EO Austin
Show the full process.
Clients who don't understand the process are usually classified as "difficult." For most, the solution is to visualize the process. What has worked for us is to show examples of past project schedules and the associated deliverables so the client knows what to look forward to. We do this during the sales process and initial engagement. Once expectations are aligned, it's easy to work with the client to get what is needed and keep things on track.
--Ali Allage, CEO, Boost Labs, LLC; EO DC
Leverage what you know.
A great product or service can break the ice when meeting a new client. Let them try! When we visit a big client for the first time, we bring fresh Maine lobster and make lobster rolls right in the conference room. It may be a little easier for us with food, but it can work for many businesses.
--Dan Zawacki, president, Lobster Gram; EO Chicago
One thing I've done is leverage data to drive narrative and influence the client's decision making. Clients can always argue against hunches and perspectives, but using data that we all agree is valid can define the context around the decision and showcase the rationale behind recommendations. In other words, truth is truth, and being transparent makes disagreements less likely.
--Jake Finkelstein, president and CEO, Method Savvy; EO Raleigh Durham
Make a personal visit.
I make it a point to visit difficult clients in person. I ask a question and listen intently while not allowing myself to get defensive. Furthermore, I focus all of my energy on the customer's body language, the tone of his or her voice, and the words he or she uses. When I do this, I learn more about my company and my people than any other way I know. If you want to know what someone is thinking, sit down with that person, ask him or her, and just listen!
--Doug Picatti, vice president of sales and marketing, Picatti Brothers; EO Las Vegas
Provide personal endorsements.
The most effective thing we've done is to provide clients with personal endorsements from existing clients. These references can be a few sentences, case studies, or direct telephone calls. We've found that when things get sticky, client references are the great "un-sticker." Nothing beats a personal endorsement.
--Kraettli Epperson, president, R7 Solutions; EO Oklahoma