At Vanick Digital, we work with many types of clients – from start-ups to enterprise-grade marketing teams. From a high-level perspective, we solve our clients’ business challenges by implementing technology solutions. As the receiver of the technical solution, our clients are not always engrained in the technical details, nor should they be. They seek our partnership for that exact reason, so we can remove that burden.
While we strive to deliver effective solutions, there are challenges in working with clients who are paying a premium for a solution that they don’t fully understand. Communicating the appropriate level of information, to the appropriate stakeholders, can be hard to quantify.
Here are five ways to overcome these challenges:
Project Timelines - Over-communicate important timelines to your customers along with associated assumptions, dependencies and risks of the project. A visual representation is extremely effective and is a convenient way for your client to share with his or her own internal teams that doesn’t require significant context. While some projects call for a Microsoft Project file with 200 tasks, a simple timeline with emphasis on the critical information is a huge value for your client. Not all timeline artifacts are created equally.
Honesty - Your team makes mistakes – all companies do – and so do your clients. It is important to use those mistakes as a learning experience and not repeat them multiple times. This is also an opportunity to build trust with your client. When you take ownership of your mistakes, it provides the client with a level of trust. This trust, once built, will result in your client understanding if you have to say those dreaded words of “this issue is outside of our control, and we cannot implement a resolution”. However, it is key to provide recommendations for a solution even if the issue is not your responsibility and out of your control.
Negotiation -Understanding when to say “no”. It is important to decline requests if they are unreasonable or even impossible due to various factors. The key to saying “no” is providing alternative recommendations that consider the core need of your client. For example, maybe you can’t meet their desired date, but if you understand their core needs, you can provide phased approaches that provide incremental value based on the MVP (minimum viable product) approach.
Leading Technical Calls - Although this topic can be misleading at first glance, it is actually a communication tactic to be performed by a non-technical team member. But what value can added by a non-technical team member for a meeting with a technical focus?
- Creating an agenda with clear and achievable meeting goals
- Understanding the client's point of view and/or business reason for the request and relaying that back to your technical team
- Recognizing when technical attendees are not 100% aligned and ensuring the team is aligned before ending the meeting
- Avoiding oversimplification of technical solutions. Helping the client understand the complexity of the solution in layman’s terms. It's reasonable to question a large effort when it seems simple at face value, but helping your client understand why it is complex and why it's required to satisfy their need is invaluable.
Meeting Minutes - Recapping key decisions and assigned responsibilities after a meeting helps to keep things moving. Misunderstandings do sometimes occur in meetings with technical context. A key factor in avoiding misunderstandings is providing detailed meeting minutes when appropriate. Typically, there is not value in producing meeting minutes for all meetings. Understanding which meetings can benefit from this type of communication is essential to success. In addition, you must manage your time well and identify when meeting minutes are a valuable use of both your and your client’s time.
The Intangibles we discussed are easy and simple communication concepts, but that does not mean they are followed consistently or always leveraged at the right time. There is no playbook to follow regarding these concepts that provide direction on how to handle specific day-to-day scenarios. However, if kept top of mind, these concepts will begin to surface when you feel it’s appropriate. Most importantly, they work.