Client 101: A Love Language

How to speak to clients and get your ideas across the divide

As a creative, you are a thought leader, master of your craft, and expert on all things design. So why is it often so hard to communicate your ideas to your clients? Sometimes it can feel like you’re speaking a foreign language. What do you do when your carefully crafted deck just isn’t resonating?

Learn to speak their brand language

Above all, your clients want to feel special and understood — isn’t that what any of us truly wants? Delve in deep to your clients’ brand values. Make sure you are using their own terminology to discuss your ideas and frame your visuals. If they hear familiar words and concepts, they are more likely to connect with the ideas they are seeing.

Know your audience

Are you presenting to a product owner? A key investor? A CTO? It is vitally important to do your research about who will be in your audience. In this case, cyber-stalking is totally acceptable, and LinkedIn is your BFF. Use the insights you gain from your research to shape the way you talk about your idea and to help prepare you for the kinds of questions you are likely to receive.

Speak from the heart and talk about feelings

Yes, your proposal is based on hours of data crunching, pain-staking market research, and endless user interviews. But the truth is, at the end of the day, clients go with their gut. Try to frame your ideas in terms of the feelings they are intended to evoke. It might help to internally assign your concept a personality. Is the list-making app friendly and helpful? Is the fitness campaign fierce and motivational? This can help shape the tone of voice you use to communicate your ideas.

Tell them a story

We all know how the saying goes; a picture is worth a thousand words. In the case of a pitch, however, killer visuals are not enough to truly resonate with a client. Whether you’re pitching a logo concept to a small startup or a global marketing campaign to a Fortune 500 company, you need to frame your idea in a narrative context. Take your audience on a journey from the P.O.V. of a customer or user, from discovery to adoption and beyond.

Go above and beyond

Whether you are pitching a new brand identity, a product, a campaign, or any kind of deliverable, don’t stop there. When pitching your concept, don’t be afraid to tell the rest of the story. Humans are visual creatures by nature. Create mock instagram posts, email templates, billboards, event invitations  — whatever will help you flesh out your idea, and help your client envision your idea in a real world context. Seeing is believing, after all.

Be transparent about your thought process

Every idea takes a long arduous journey before landing on your client’s doorstep. Don’t hesitate to show some insight into how you arrived at your final polished concepts. Often times sharing some of your process helps to provide clarity and inspire confidence in your final idea.

Caveat: Don’t go overboard here. There is such a thing as oversharing. If you are presenting on behalf of your team, make sure you are aligned on this point.

Educate and onboard your clients

So you’ve won the work… now what? Invite your clients to join your design team. This is a great way to start off a relationship on friendly and professional terms. A good way to do this is to make a branded deck full of design and technical terms that you think would be helpful for them to know in future presentations and conversations.

Focus on the creative — stow the technical details

When presenting a technically innovative concept, try to frame things in a blue skycontext. It’s important to share just enough technical detail to get your idea across, but not to get so far into the weeds that it distracts from the creative. Stick to talking about the what and the why —  don’t worry so much about explaining the how. Getting bogged down in technical and legal constraints too early on can take the shine off your concept when it should be at its most brilliant. You should be aware of potential constraints and have alternative game plans, but in the beginning you should leave it to your client to poke holes in your ideas, and then pivot as you need to. Remember, never say no to yourself.

Keep the conversation focused

When presenting a concept, especially once a project has entered the implementation stage, you are bound to have your presentation interrupted by non-creative or non design-focused questions and comments. So what do you do when your rhythm is thrown off-beat by a non sequitur? In this case, the best approach is to politely thank them for their question, have one of your team members make a note of it, and let them know you will address it after you finish presenting the creative. If their question falls outside of your wheel-house, it is perfectly appropriate to say you’re not sure and make an introduction to a resident expert who can better address their concern.

Communicate details non-verbally

As designers we are naturally excited to nerd out about our killer design systems and pixel perfect micro-interactions… but going into details like these can serve as distraction for your client. Instead of calling them out verbally, find a way to call them out visually. Can you incorporate a version of your micro-interaction in content transitions in your Keynote? Can you use your ingenious design system as a way to layout the content you are presenting? This is a great way to communicate the details you are excited about in a non-verbal way. Plus, it will go a long way in translating the look and feel of your concept.

Let your team shine

The team lead does not always need to be the star of the show when it comes to client presentations. It’s important to remember that every team member is a resident expert. If someone on your team came up with the leading concept, encourage them to speak about it. Not only does this create an atmosphere of empowerment and equality within your team, it allows the person most connected to the concept speak with passion about their idea.

“A leader’s job is not to do the work for others, it’s to help others figure out how to do it themselves, to get things done, and to succeed beyond what they thought possible.” 

Simon Sinek
Author of ‘Start With Why’ and ‘Infinite Game’

Every review is an opportunity to delight

Once you and your clients are well into a project, it can be tempting to make design reviews more casual and routine — checking off boxes and handing over deliverables. However, keep in mind that each design review is a milestone to be celebrated and an opportunity to call out your team’s brilliant work. If schedules allow, try to block out a live demonstration with key clients and stakeholders for each design review.

Ditch the Lorem Ipsum

In my experience, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is dummy content. While I can’t offer the perfect solution to the inevitable “But what is it going to say?” question, try adding validity, intrigue, or humor to your mockups.

To find the perfect dummy content for your next pitch, do yourself a favor — bookmark this amazing resource for ipsum generators.

The ever-expanding list includes many gems, my personal favorite…

Bluth Ipsum!

Written by Karen Wittekind for Full Swing Digital

Karen earned a degree in Fine Arts from Indiana University, Bloomington.

She has 10+ years of professional experience and has worked with organizations big and small, including several Fortune 500 companies.

© Karen Wittekind. All rights reserved.

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