8 Ways to Win in the Conference Room

April 21, 2009

Posted in Small Business.

I’ve been working with clients since college. I’ve always had a client-service type of job, working on projects of all sizes. And I’ve learned a few things about how to do great work – in spite of the difficulty of working for clients.

1. Set Expectations

The absolute key to customer satisfaction is expectations. Always meet or exceed a client’s expectations. Some people translate this into “under-promise and over-deliver” but that’s a load of crap: do you really want expectations set that low? A real rockstar “overpromises and overdelivers.”

2. Let the Measurements Speak

Having measurable outcomes is key to real success. If you don’t know what you’re shooting for, you won’t know if you got there. This comes in really handy when meeting with clients and trying to overcome a conflict. Defer to objective measurements – analytics, surveys, whatever you can.

3. Be Prepared to Compromise

This doesn’t mean you have to compromise your principles, it means you have to pick your battles. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter. After all, the project isn’t about your ego or portfolio. The best battles to fight are the ones where personal opinions (subjective) are putting success of the project at risk (objective).

4. Educate

If people fear what they do not understand and they oppose what they fear, then education is the first step to changing minds. But you can’t just make it up or you’ll lose credibility. If you know what you’re talking about and can speak intelligently and decisively then you can build a case for your point. Even better, teaching sets you as an authority.

5. Find Common Ground

At some point, you may find yourself disagreeing simply to disagree. After taking a contrary position, it may not be that you’re truly opposing each others’ positions. If a person closes his mind, he may not agree to anything. The key here is to find something to agree on. Agree to come back to that issue later. Focus on another area for a while. It doesn’t always have to be project-related, either. If you both agree that the sky is very blue today, it might help open minds enough to revisit the point and shift perspectives.

6. Test it out

In web projects, usability tests or A/B testing (Google Site Optimizer) can be the easiest way to win an argument. Cut the argument off and agree to go whichever way the test leans. If the overwhelming result is in your favor, great. But be prepared to lose this battle if the test goes the other direction. Whatever you do, don’t invalidate your testing process by ignoring the results when they don’t suit your own opinions.

7. Offer Something Extra

If you are finding it difficult to find common ground, you can also make outlandish promises and then keep them. “I promise I will do an extra mockup for free” can knock people off-guard and leave them with very little to argue about.

8. Apologize

An apology is the great defuser. It doesn’t have to be personal or intentional – if you fail to meet the client’s expectation then sometimes an apology is what’s called for. No, it won’t make things right – but it can clear the air and get the client back on the same side of the table.

It’s Not Really About Winning

After all, winning in the conference room is not about being right and the client losing. It’s about both of you winning: doing the best work for the client possible, achieving their goals, and still being proud of the work when all is said and done.