Need To Have A Difficult Conversation With A Client? Here’s How.

Kresimir Simicic

May 9, 2019

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Some people love the thrill of the chase. 

They thrive in fast-paced environments and relish striking deals with new clients in order to come out on top…and then there’s everyone else. For most people, the idea of having difficult conversations with clients will usually result in sweat-drenched palms, a sense of foreboding and a restless night’s sleep. 

Here’s the thing: these conversations may never be fun for you, however, they can be both manageable and productive for your business if you enter into them with the right mindset. So breathe back that heightened anxiety and keep your spare ‘in-case-of-sweat’ shirt tucked into your desk drawer; learning how to have difficult conversations with your clients is simple. You just need to learn the best approach.

Why difficult conversations are a must

There’s a variety of reasons you may need to have difficult conversations with existing and potential clients. Perhaps you need to cancel a contract, readjust your rates, explore a new budget, or simply tell them ‘no’. 

One very important reason to have these not-so-easy conversations? Your value. When you negotiate a rate with a client or re-negotiate a price for a service, the deal you’re trying to hammer out reflects what you do as a business. Don’t undervalue your product or service.

Another reason why tough conversations are necessary is that the ability to negotiate is key to running a successful business. Remember, your work is important to your clients — you wouldn’t be at the negotiating table otherwise. Always look for ways to improve your business in order to make it more profitable but make sure to keep things transparent for your clients along the way.

OK, so now what?

It’s one thing to say you should ask for more money or renegotiate a budget; actually doing it is quite another. Luckily, there are a few easy processes that you can put into action the next time you’re called upon to have a tough chat that will leave both you and your client happy.

You should:

Ask questions – Both parties want to be happy with the agreed price, however, your clients will be much more satisfied if you ask questions and listen instead of simply repeating what you want out of the deal. This helps the client feel respected and in control while allowing you to get to the heart of their priorities as well as concentrating on your own.

Don’t make it all about price – Add value to the services or products you’re providing that have nothing to do with price and then use them as variables in the conversation. This strategy shows your clients that they’re not just getting what they paid for – but a few cherries on top as well.

Be ready to make concessions – Think of different ways in which you would be willing to give a little in order to help your customer feel valued, yet in a way that doesn’t take away from your bottom line. Is there a follow-up or service you can provide that helps them feel as if they’re getting a bonus? Or perhaps you can adjust the payment schedule to suit their needs? People love feeling as if they’ve managed to get something a little extra, so there’s no harm in giving it to them for free (provided it doesn’t cost you anything!).

Don’t put a time limit on it – Be prepared to go back and forth for as long as it takes for both parties to be happy. Don’t shut down the discussion; instead, come to the table with more than one option. This can demonstrate to the client the value you place on your relationship and that you’re trying to find a solution that pleases you both.

Focus on the relationship – You want your clients to know that you care about their needs, so always be respectful, friendly and professional. The trust you build now will help shape negotiations in the future.

Just say no

Another difficult conversation to tackle with clients is putting the kibosh on scope creep – or how to simply say no to unfeasible requests.

It’s easy to understand how this becomes an issue. After all, you want to foster a relationship that brings you more work. Turning down work or other requests doesn’t seem to accomplish that goal, right? Wrong. Going above and beyond is admirable, but it’s not feasible to say ‘yes’ to everything. More importantly, it’s also not profitable.

Don’t sweat it, there’s a way to just say no that can keep your client content and your reputation pristine. All you need to do is:

Understand what a reasonable request is – The first step is to set boundaries for yourself by understanding what a reasonable request is and what type of request is a major waste of your time. A reasonable request would be something along the lines of correcting an error you made or sending your client clarification of project details. An unreasonable request would be asking you to start the project from scratch with a totally  different brief. Follow your gut when it comes to identifying reasonable and not-so-reasonable requests.

Understand it’s not poor customer service to say no – Good customer service is comprised of solid communication, problem-solving, action plans, and compassion. Ensure your clients are heard and understood, then realize you don’t have to say yes to everything. Think of it this way: if you overcommit and can’t deliver what’s been promised, that’s bad customer service. Not saying no to something you didn’t have the time or resources for in the first place is a bad look all-round.

Be Productive!

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a product out there that could help you manage your client relationships in a way that made these difficult conversations less frequent? Well, guess what? There is!

Productive allows you to monitor your profitability and keep track of your key metrics, helping to identify problem projects so that you can act quickly in order to correct them. It lets you access detailed profitability reports, letting you know if difficult conversations with clients are on the horizon.

When it comes to your business, you’re going to need to wear a lot of hats. Finding that balance between friendliness and professionalism can be difficult at times but it’s important when negotiating with clients. The key is to see each challenge as an opportunity to grow by negotiating a better deal or simply fine-tuning those diplomatic skills. You may never grow to love these conversations but, with a little focus, you can learn to be magnificent when having them.

Kresimir Simicic

VP of Business Development

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