5 Simple Steps to Level Up Client Thinking

November 3, 2022 -
By Scott Konopasek

We’ve all been there: you see an opportunity to try something new or fix something that’s broken, but you need to get your client to level up their thinking. Clients are notoriously hard to manage and persuade. I’ll share a process I’ve used through my 10 years at ad agencies to change the minds of even the most stubborn clients.

1 / Understand the Current Situation

Everything starts by understanding and agreeing on what the current state is. You need to understand how the client is thinking and how they’re approaching a problem before diving in. This means knowing what questions they are asking and why they are asking them; it also means understanding (or asking about) their personal objectives, business goals, and challenges ahead of time. Make sure that everyone is on the same page about what the current state is before moving forward.

Starting with consensus on what’s happening now is often overlooked and can derail the rest of this process.

Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What are we currently doing?
  • What was decided in the past?
  • Why do we do things this way?
  • Are there limitations/considerations to be aware of?

2 / Why is Change Needed?

You begin to introduce why change is needed by starting with what makes the current situation unacceptable. This is where you can get into the details of what needs to change and why. You’ll want to make sure that your client understands how their current situation affects them and their business.

There are three categories of solutions you’ll be trying to sell your client on: 

  • Incremental improvement
  • An issue to be fixed
  • Doing something new

Understanding which type of improvement you want your client to adopt will determine how you present the solution. If you’re trying to sell them on an incremental improvement, you have much less work to do compared to getting them to do something new.

No matter what type of change you’ll be recommending, it’s important to make sure your client not only recognizes what’s not going well, but also feels that something has to change. Spend time talking about the pain they feel with the current situation and what might be causing existing inefficiencies. Your main goal is to help your client realize that it’s unlikely for their goals to be reached without some kind of change.

3 / Describe a Better Future State

Next, start to talk about what a better future state looks like. You want to paint a picture of how things could be better if the client were able to make some changes.

As you begin to explore how the situation could improve, remember to be objective. While keeping your bias out of the conversation is hard to do, this lends credibility to you and your solution. The best way to stay objective is to define what is the ‘better state’ without mentioning specific solutions. Make sure they feel like you’re both on the same side, tackling the current situation. 

It will be more effective to first explain what change will fix the problems you’ve identified. For example, if you’ve identified with the client that their creative is keeping them from higher conversion rates, your end goal might be for the client to approve two additional staff so you can produce more creative variations. If you were to say that directly to your client, you’d be skipping this important step and the client is less likely to feel like you’re on their side. You might say something like “more creative testing leads to better conversion rates, so the number of creatives in market will lead to faster performance improvement.” 

Another example; Don’t say: “we need to test CTV this year.”

Do say: “There’s a gap in our plan (digital or traditional) right now, and adding an awareness channel that can reach the people in that gap will make more people aware of our brand who we’re not reaching, so our channels like retargeting will become more effective.”

Remember, before you make specific recommendations to your client, it’s important to explain what the outcome you want to achieve is first. If you do this well, recommending the specific steps to make those outcomes happen is much easier.

4 / Recommend How to Achieve the Better Future State

Once your client has agreed on where they want to go and you’ve discussed what a better state looks like, you can now recommend the vehicle you believe is the best way to get there. In the spirit of staying objective, don’t only suggest the solution you have in mind – also bring up the other ways you can make the better future state a reality. 

In the example we used previously about pushing more creative variations, we want the client to sign off on 2 additional staff. You could also mention pieces of technology that could also produce the outcome you both want. Your job here is to show why your solution is the most efficient and effective.

If you’re trying to get a CTV campaign launched, explain why CTV is a better fit than other awareness channels.

This process will probably feel like you’re walking backwards. Normally, you’d think to start by pitching the better solution and then justifying your solution with all the reasons it solves current pains and how it will produce an ideal outcome. If you follow these steps in order, clients are more likely to agree with your recommendation because they’ve gone on the journey with you to realize how you arrived at the proposed solution.

This also builds trust because it shows that you thought about the best solution, then identified the best resources to achieve it. By starting with the ideal outcome, you’re helping your clients realize their goals. This builds trust because it shows that you’re invested in their success. The more they trust you, the more likely they’ll agree with your recommendations and allow them to be implemented.

5 / Understand Their Constraints

Depending on who you’re talking to, even if they’re on board, you may have other hurdles.  Maybe they have unforeseen barriers with time, budgets, or resources. Your client may have a boss or board who needs to approve your recommendations before it can be implemented. If so, it’s important to understand their constraints and find ways to work within them.

To understand these, ask questions like:

  • What are their personal goals?
  • How is their performance measured internally?
  • What is the decision making process, and who else needs to be involved?
  • Can this person be an internal champion for this solution? 

Their constraints will help you avoid situations where you sell your client contact on your solution, but then get stonewalled by the broader team.

As you try to drive change with your clients and make them successful, make sure you have a process to make sure you communicate effectively. To recap:

1 / Start with their current state, 

2 / Explain why change is needed and identify what’s not working, 

3 / Define what a better future looks like 

4 / Show the client how (your recommended solution) can get you there

5 / Understand their constraints and who else is involved in decision making