Why? Why? Why?

Yes. Why. Sometimes I feel like a three year old who incessantly asks why over and over. It’s a child’s attempt to learn and understand why we’re telling them to do things. We accept it with three year olds as part of their development but often don’t like it when professionals keep asking.

From where I sit, asking “why” is the secret to happy clients and projects. Maybe three year olds understand that better than we do.

Most of us start a client relationship because of a request for help. It normally comes in the form of a request to complete a tactic. They might ask for a brochure, budget for a social media program, or media relations support.  These are all valid requests but only if you know why.

Depending on the client and what I know about their needs, I’ll ask a series of questions such as these.

Tell me about your program.Who are you trying to reach?What are you trying to do?Who’s your competition?What are obstacles?How will you know you’ve succeeded?

Then I create a fairly short proposal detailing the situation, objectives, target and strategy. I review those with the client before proceeding with estimates and comps. More often than not, though, I’ll propose a 3-step plan: Research, Review, Planning.

Listening and Research

Research doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars but it does serve an important purpose of setting the stage for the plan. Research sets the stage without undue influence from one person. Tools like Survey Monkey can get the information at a reasonable price. When the research is done, I talk with the client again to review the findings.

Nuts and Bolts

Then, I move on to goals, target audiences, and a strategy before checking in with the client again. You see, I believe it’s a partnership. I can’t give my clients smart and successful programs without knowing what they need. And, they can’t be expected to know what I need to know. After all, that’s why they need someone’s help.

Once the client approves this portion of the plan, I’m finally ready to move to tactics, budgets, timelines and evaluation. Again, I check in with the client. In the end, there might be more work upfront, but the end result is closer to the success the client wants.

Selling the need for a plan

Many ask how I sell the client on needing a plan before actually doing the work? Often it’s by discussing questions like those above in an initial meeting that will make them realize the importance of planning. Or, it could be that they know their board/senior leaders aren’t in sync with their line of thinking. They realize a research-based plan will help them with their own efforts. Most often, when I outline the process and especially its benefits, they are ready to get moving.

It’s also important to add your own specializations into your planning process. If, in the course of your initial discussion, you learn the client might benefit from reorganizing how they handle communication and you can help with that, by all means include it in your planning document.

How do you sell clients on planning? What’s your approach when someone “asks for a brochure” in that initial meeting? Why do you approach things the way you do?

Image: Ashley Reboulet via Flickr, CC 2.0

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington


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