FOWD: Paul Boag of Headscape: Educating clients to say yes


Paul Boag’s presentation on how to Educate Clients to say Yes was fantastic and my personal highlight of today’s conference. Paul had a superbe stage presence, engaging slides, and most of all, his message was clear and valuable.

So, how do we get clients to say yes? It’s all in our way how we connect and interact. Paul kept stressing that the designer’s relationship with clients is fundamentally flawed. We have to face it that a big part of our job is to work, nurture our client relationship. In many ways, we treat the clients like Monarchy and see ourselves as their servants. Often times we follow their leads, in a submissive way, and are afraid to express our opinion. Haven’t we all seen projects gone the route of us either just giving them whatever they want or us becoming the “NO” person?

It’s time for us to change, moving from a master/servant mentality to a peer to peer mentality. We have to take the role of an expert and make them perceive us that way. But how?

Be the expert:

Have a methodology. A methodology puts you in control. It enables you to set expectations with the client and lets them know what is coming. Clients want to have a sense of what is coming next. Explain the process, the stages the project will go through. This way you’re setting yourself up to be the person who’s in charge of the relationship. Put yourself in your clients shoes: They are nervous, unsure if they did the right decision to go with you. Make them feel confident in the situation. Make them feel confident that picking you, your studio was the right choice.

When kicking off a project, make sure that there’s a thorough research phase (depending on your process this can entail: success criteria, business objectives, competetive anaylysis, priorities, user personas, user expectations, site personas) All of this research will help you explain WHY you are doing what you’re doing later on. You need to prove that you are the expert by justifying your decisions. You will have to constantly refer back to the information you gathered in the research phase.

Justify it also by refering to third party experts. People love facts and figures. By refering to other experts, you become an expert by association.

Also, a good piece of advice that I’ve definitely taken as a mental note of is to write down everything a client has agreed to. That way you can refer back to it.

Be positive:

We need to stop blcoking ideas our clients have. Paul says yes to anything what his clients say but then goes ahead and explains the consequences. “Yes, that’s a good idea, but then, keep in mind that this would…..! But hey, here’s an alternative, why don’t we do this instead.” It’s all about being positive. It’s about offering smart alternatives. Be enthusastic and caring.

Clients are not stupid, they are intelligent clever people. Just because they don’t understand the web, it doesn’t mean they’re not clever. They will pick up on your condescending attitude very quickly. We need to give them credit for what they’re good at. They know their target audience. They know their business. They might have a hard time to communicate it in a way that we understand, but we have to help them do so. Always keep in mind that the client will most probably have to live with the site that we’ve built for them for a long time. If it was your portfolio site, wouldn’t you probably hesitate a few times? Haven’t we all been there?

A point I fully agree with Paul is that we have to stop excluding the client from the process. Designers have this fear of showing work that we haven’t finished. We need to be better than that, we need to get over this fear and include our client often. By getting the client involved in the early stages of the design process, they feel part of it and therefore feel valued. They are uch more likely to sign off a design that they’ve been an actual part of.

Shape the client’s role

We need to look at shaping the client’s role. When starting a new project, have a kick-off meeting and not only explain the overall process but also explain what’s required of the client. They might have never worked on a site, have never worked with you and simply don’t know the process. We have to educate the client, and explain what their role is, which will help them understand each step and also contstrain them. By educating the client you can set boundaries. (micro managing clients anyone?)

When educating your client:

focus on problems: Too often we talk about solutions and not problems. “I don’t like that blue, I want it to be pink”. But that won’t do anything for you. You need to find out what the underlying issue is. Always focus the client on a problem, not a solution. The client should instead say “I am not sure the blue is going to appeal to the target audience”.

focus the client on the business: Concentrate on business objectives. Don’t let the client get caught up in details. (name on sections, white space etc) Focus them on the business objectives of the site. We need to keep the client away from the knitty gritty.

focus the client on users: Shift the client’s view on users moves them away from personal opinion. They won’t say “I don’t like“… Get them to say “I don’t think our users will like…”

When you send a client an email with a link to designs, say: “How do you think your user will react to this?” instead of “Let me know what you think!”

Managing Feedback:

We need to accept the fact that when dealing with clients, politics will get involved. Even if you work on small business websites, where you talk to the company owner, he’ll show his wife, or his 10 year old newphew. With bigger clients, they have whole committees. Politics are a big part of our day to day and we have to learn to deal with it. What Paul suggests is to find out who these people are and, if possible, talk to them directly. If you can make them feel listened to, and talk to them directly, then they come on board. They feel listened to and valued. They will end up defending you and your designs.

In the real world, there is gong to be design by committees. The sheep mentality is the danger. Try avoid them getting all in one room. Have separate conversations with them. Benefit 1 : You’ll avoid the alpha male dominating the discussion. Benefit 2: You’ll avoid the sheep effect and the ‘design on the fly’ problem. Benefit 3: You’ll be the only one that knows the overall picture. You can draw the information together and you can refer back to decisions they have made and justify.

But most of all, try to control the type of feedback would get. Again, focus on the user. When dealing with large committees Paul issues a questionnaire to ask specific questions to focus the client on the right way of thinkging. We have to make sure they focus on the issues they should be really focusing on.

Types of Clients and how to deal with them:

The difficult Client:
Become the positive person. Be Pro-active, Be excited. Quote experts and become an expert by assocation.

The No Clue Client:
You need to take control of the relationship and tell them what to do. “This is the right decision and I really believe that….”. You need to be reassuring.

The Micro Manager Client:
Refocus them on their role. The really powerful thing with micro mangers is the question of asking why? Focus them on problems and not solutions. “What are you trying to achieve by increasing the logo size by 20pixels?” And with this you might come up with an even better solution. And with the Micro Manager Client you will have to constantly refer them to stuff they previously agreed on.

The Marketeer Clients:
With marketeer clients you will have to explain the difference between print and web. They speak a special language all on their own which you will need to adopt. Don’t talk grid, white space etc. You will have to talk selling points, call to actions. etc

Paul Boag’s presentation was absolutely fantastic. The value I have taken from his presentation, being a small business owner, is tremendous. Thank you and Hat tip!

Check Paul’s podcasts at A podcast for those who design, develop or run websites.

(This is officially the longest post this blog has ever seen.)

5 Comments leave a comment below

  1. Sounds like a really good talk, and nicely written-up, thanks. So much to take away for anyone who deals with clients, regardless of their job.

  2. Excellent.

    Really interesting. Always a pleasure to read you Tina!

  3. Thanks for placing this information online. I, too, am a follower of the Boagworld podcast and really enjoy Paul’s practical approach and best practices. I’m new to freelancing and this information comes at a perfect time. Thanks again.

  4. This is so, SO awesome, thank you! I have just started taking on some serious freelance clients and this is so helpful!

    I am looking forward to checking out Paul’s podcast now!

    Fantastic post, as always!

  5. Very good article, i hope to see more articles like this.

    Congratulations for your site, i’m a regular reader from Brasil.