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One of the hardest parts of working in client services?

Getting the client to actually tell you what they really want.

Maybe you’ve been in this situation: You’ve sent over iteration after iteration of a project, and yet nothing seems to stick. They keep coming back with more edits or revisions. Well, some clients are just difficult. Maybe you just need to buff up the team (I wrote about that here). It’s always on you to make the situation okay.

But other clients just need to be asked the right questions. Without those questions, you’ll never get the right answers.

There are three questions I always ask clients right off the bat that help me get a firm footing on our business relationship moving forward. While we may run into road bumps along the way, a strong beginning is the best way to start. These questions help tremendously in making that happen.


I ask them what their KPI is: their Key Performance Indicator. This is probably the standard for most of you already too. What is the thing they want us to accomplish for them? Is it views? Sales? Perception? Press?


You can go into what it means for your company and you: how are you judging us? What are the results you want to see that will make you say “This is a win”? What criteria will you be using to assess our work? This isjust as important as knowing what your job is, because it will determine how you approach the project and with what tools.


Number three. The biggest one for me: “What are you willing to tell me about your warts?”.

Meaning, this: a lot of people will not want to tell you about the internal politics. Or the money problems. Or the creative differences. I’m always trying to get clients to be as truthful as possible, because it is so important that you understand the issues at hand. Even if a problem within the client’s company has nothing to do with you, it can affect your work, and hence, your relationship with the client.

And clients struggle with answering that last question, of course. A lot of the time, they don’t want to tell me. But it’s important that you find them early, because it gives you what you need to navigate them the best you can.

1. What is the KPI?

2. How will you judge us?

3. What are the warts?