10 Questions to Be in Sync with Your Clients

posted under  Business on Aug 24th, 2010 with 1 Comments

24 Aug

We’ve all been there. We put in our best effort on a project and we race to the finish line with excellent work. Mission accomplished! But then we find out we missed a very key piece of data or failed to pick up on some subtle cues. The final deliverable is off target

The consequences can be dire. The client will often be unhappy. Their timeline for final delivery has probably been pushed out—which adds to their dissatisfaction. And this is going to cost you more time and money. That excitement you had for the project is another casualty.

Are you looking to build long-term relationships with your clients and create high value deliverables? Do you want to develop strategically-sound creative that helps them build their business? If so, here are the 10 questions you should ask to make sure you’re in sync with your clients’ corporate and brand strategy. If they’re calling on you for strategic design and you don’t ask these questions, there’s a god chance the project will fall short.

1. What’s your elevator pitch or mission statement and is it up to date?

If you’re so inclined, you can read every page of their website or corporate collateral, but the easiest way to find out what an organization is about is to read their elevator pitch. For nonprofits and others, read their mission statement; they’ll tell you what the organization is about and where it’s going. What you deliver has to track back to this.

But make sure to ask if the elevator is current. If it doesn’t represent the company today, it’s of little value to you and may even be a liability.

2. Do you have brand guidelines and are they up to date? If not, what has changed?

Just because every organization should share their brand guidelines with you when they initiate the project doesn’t mean they will. It may be obvious to you, but some people on the client side just don’t think about it. Don’t assume they don’t have any. You may have to ask for them. Otherwise, you could take liberties with their logo or color schemes that they wholeheartedly reject, knocking the project way off course.

Be sure to ask if the guidelines are current. They may have been developed a decade ago and forgotten about, and they’re open to fresh ideas. Know where you stand.

3. What are your goals for the next 12 months?

If this is a quick, transactional project, this isn’t an important question. But if it’s a strategic design initiative, you’ll need to really understand the business. This question can reveal major new directions where they’ll be taking the company that may not appear in any background materials they provide. I’ve been in this position many times. The next big thing is around the corner, but you have to draw it out of them.

4. What products and services do you offer and which ones are most important

You should be familiar with the answer to this question from their website. But that may not be enough. Before you invest too much time, find out if the information on their website is current. Very often, it’s not. And even sites that are updated frequently may not reflect the importance of some of their key offerings. Make it clear that you’ve done your homework, but find out about their priorities.

5. What industries do you serve?

This is another fundamental question. Sometimes the answer is obvious based on a niche offering. But other times you’ll need to probe deeper to understand where they’re selling.

Conservative industries require conservative marketing. Innovative industries require innovative outreach. If you’re going to deliver on target, you’ll need to ensure the tone is right.

6. Who are your buyers?

Beyond understanding their industries, be sure to understand who is buying your client’s products and services. Know what level of decision maker or makers are involved in the process. This question can lead to many other questions, depending on how strategic your work will be. In addition to gathering demographic data, you can find out what motivates these buyers, what keeps them awake at night, and more.

7. Why do they buy from you

This comes down to understanding your client’s competitive differentiators. Finding out why their customers buy from them, versus the other options they have, is critical to a sound design execution. Great creative superbly communicates these core differentiators.

8. What major milestones does this need to be ready for

This is a firm way to understand their deadlines. We all know deadlines shift. More often than not, this occurs on the client’s side. So if they have an October tradeshow and their delays cause the project to drift off course, you’ll need to have a candid conversation with them about what this has done to their schedule.

Keep these milestones top of mind so you can keep the project on course, and if that’s not possible, at least communicate to them how and why it was delayed. No client likes surprises when it comes to hitting deadlines.

9. If you’ve done something like this in the past, how did it work

Was their last design project successful or unsuccessful by their terms? This will give you cues to deliver to their expectations and understand weaknesses in their internal process. They may tell you they managed the project poorly, or that the designer was out of synch. Listen carefully so you can anticipate problem areas and avoid them in your execution. Also listen to what they liked about past creative projects so you can understand what resonates with them.

10. What’s your budget for this project?

Last but not least, you absolutely must be sure you’re designing within their means. Be sure you have a handle on costs outside of your fees to ensure they can execute on the delivery. If they tell you they have a limited budget, but expect high end print delivery, be sure to let them know to expect top quality to impact their budget.

If they tell you they need to be lean, come back with creative that hits their business objective. More than this, show them how you designed with their budget in mind. Don’t expect them to understand these nuances. Be realistic and they’ll come back to you.

What did we miss?

These are our 10 questions that will help you exceed their expectations and keep them coming back to you again and again - do you have anything you'd add? What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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1 CommentsThoughts from the Community

  • squidjam said Aug 30th, 2010
  • It's good thing when designer and/or developer finds client who's not only able to answer such questions but that can do so intelligently.  Sadly, though, sooner or later we all find one of those who cannot commit, seek to please their friend's tastes rather than gear up sales and do not understand the concept of "Final Art" (specially around the 'Final' part).  You shall find them easier to spot when they stall the project endlessly or refuse to pay you for your work.

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