The Four Paths
Marketing guru Seth Godin offers four paths for clients seeking designers:
1. Those Who Know What They Want – These are clients who have done their research and have a sophisticated vision available to execute upon.
2. Those Who Aren’t Quite Sure, But Know What It Looks Like – While these clients may not have a complete vision, they have a good head start. They have industry/competitor references available and understand the overall shape the work needs to take.
3. Those Who Understand What it Needs to Convey – These are those who understand that design has the power to convert, and know the end-goal but aren’t sure how to make that happen or what it looks like.
4. Those Who Will Know It When They See it – Perhaps the most frustrating kind of work, this approach is not recommended for either clients or designers unless you have an unlimited budget on the client-side, and unlimited time on the services side.
The Art of War
You may be asking, “How is this relevant for a design services agency?” Well, as Sun Tzu would say, the first rule of battle is to know your opponent. Not that we would equate clients as opponents, but the point being, the better & sooner we can identify with a client, the more equipped we are to handle their needs. While the above represent the four paths to working with a designer, the flipside is true in that the above represent common client scenarios. How we approach a project with a Type 1 Client is going to vary greatly from our approach with a Type 3 Client, and we should have the tools in place to identify the red flags common with Type 4 Clients before it’s too late.
Whether it be personal or professional, communication is the key to the success of any partnership. In asking the right questions at the onset of a new project inquiry or discovery we can typically advise as to client type. Often, our standard Sales Questionnaire may even lend the answers needed to establish client type, or if necessary, we can utilize the kickoff call to field any information that would help us make the determination.
Once we can start viewing the project and client through the additional context of Client Type, then we have a better sense of what questions to ask (as well as what questions not to ask).
Client Types in Practice
Here are a few recent, real-world examples whereby determining client type, we were able to efficiently execute on the project deliverables:
Scenario 1: Client delivers informed project requirements along with the questionnaire. During project discovery/kick-off call, the client informs the team of existing marketing site that should be used as an absolute reference for the project.
Takeaway: This is a Type 1 Client. Their expectations are well documented and referenceable and they are looking for a partner to execute upon them. By identifying this client early on as a Type 1 Client, we can work more efficiently towards their goals by eliminating discussions & discovery centered around aspects such as branding, style, look & feel, etc…
Scenario 2: Client who is a healthcare industry veteran requests a project proposal for a new product they are looking to launch. They don’t have much direction, however, they know that given their industry & status, know that it should convey trust and build upon their reputation.
Takeaway: This is a Type 3 Client. They recognize the value of design and understand its power to elevate and build credibility in a new product. However, they are still shaping their vision for the product, and as such, require our assistance in facilitating these conversations around brand strategy. This project will require more discovery and conversation upfront before we can begin focusing on more tangible deliverables such as display comps.
Scenario 3: Client with an existing site is looking for an update. They have grand ambitions, a good sense of direction & guidelines, however a modest budget and short timeline.
Takeaway: This is a Type 2 Client. They have a good vision, however, they need assistance reconciling what’s realistic within the project constraints. We can begin shaping conversations around maximizing our efforts within these constraints while spending less time on potential directions and possibilities.
Offering Context Through Client Type
Obviously the above scenarios are greatly summarized, and we could speak in great detail as to how we adjusted our process to best suit each client and project, however hopefully they can offer some context in terms of how to think about different clients types, scenarios, and how these can better inform our approach. I would encourage us all, whether you’re a designer, developer, analyst, etc… to think in terms of client type and how viewing the work through the lens of these four potential paths might change your approach.