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Of course, many developers are outgoing and charming professionals. Still, you might feel the need to up your game when it comes to learning how to speak with clients — especially when there’s a big project at stake. For those not comfortable with leading discussion, however, this is easier said than done.
In this post, we’ll offer some thoughts about what clients are looking for in a potential hire. We’ll also discuss how to talk with new and current clients more effectively. Let’s get started!
No, you can’t just tell them to ‘Google it’
It’s a classic, supposedly helpful phrase that is anything but useful: “Google it.” This doesn’t really help the person asking the question, and is a dismissive response that sounds like: “The answer you seek is too complex for your puny brain” (but with less Morbo).
We’re not suggesting that you need stellar oratory skills to be successful.
In fact, you can still communicate concisely and directly (and leave your inner Cicero be). By considering the client’s technical expertise and overall business philosophy, you can get your point across perfectly well using a bare minimum of words.
Let’s quickly discuss a few reasons it’s important to be able to chat with clients professionally:
- Clients look to you for authority and guidance. If a search engine were going to help them, they’d have already used one.
- You need to be able to sell (or upsell) your products and services, and doing that without a discussion is tough.
- The best person to talk about what you offer is you. Controlling the information clients receive is important, so being able to speak about your own services is mandatory.
Clients (whether they know it or not) are looking for all of these things. Otherwise, they’d have carried out their request internally. Being able to speak professionally is an important cog in a machine that prints out dollar bill after dollar bill.
As another old saying goes: “Knowledge is power.” You’ll often find that you’re able to speak more confidently if you can gain a little understanding about how communicating with clients actually works. If you want to understand that process, we suggest that you Google it.
See how bad that feels? Fortunately for you, we won’t leave you high and dry.
To please the client, you must think like the client
We shouldn’t need to reiterate this, but your clients are the most important part of your business (because they’re the ones paying you). Structuring your conversations around each client’s pain points and needs will ultimately benefit both of you.
Comparing how you talk to clients with what you do in your day-to-day work can help make the process clearer. For example, preparing for a conversation with a client is a lot like creating the front page of a website. Let’s break down how this works:
- Think about the action you’d like the visitor to take. In this case, the visitor is your client.
- Have a call-to-action ready that speaks to your visitors’ needs, and results in a conversion. For your client, this will be a broad “soundbite” relating to their initial query.
- Design the rest of the page (or in this case, conversation) around getting the visitor through the conversation funnel.
The second point could use a little clarification. Your clients will often approach you with one or more questions, which you should be able to answer immediately with a kind of elevator pitch.
For example, if the client asks, “Can you turn this project around within three weeks?” your response shouldn’t simply be, “Yes!” Instead, formulate a reply that you can base the rest of the conversation around. For example, you could say: “I can make sure X, Y, and Z are complete within that three-week timeframe.” This way, you’ll be better able to stick to the plan when the client inevitably wants to deviate, further cementing your authority and expertise.
OK, so here are the ‘Cliff Notes’ on how to speak with clients
We get it. Talking to clients is tough, and you prefer to work with abstract concepts. That’s fine; we can help you out. Below are some of the key concepts we think are important when communicating with clients. Sticking to these guidelines will make you look super helpful and attentive to your client’s needs.
These concepts are:
“Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail.”
This is just as relevant now as it was in high school. Take some time to collate all of the resources you’ll need before opening a dialogue.
Judge the client’s technical knowledge, and match your choice of language accordingly.
Rather than discussing “caching” and “file minification,” for example, simply talk about “speed improvements.”
This puts the onus on the client to generate topics for conversation. Plus, it makes answering their queries easier. However, don’t make too many promises along the way – especially ones you can’t keep.
Results for this one may vary, of course, depending on your current social skills.
Finally, you may want to look more deeply into how you can communicate effectively with your clients. Smashing Magazine wrote a comprehensive guide on the subject that we recommend checking out, if you want more detail on what we’ve discussed in this article.
The stereotypical developer is an awkward, bespectacled geek who can’t hold a conversation. This usually couldn’t be further from the truth, of course. However, it’s fair to say that communication skills aren’t always a high priority for those dealing with “ones and zeroes.”
In a nutshell, you have to talk to clients professionally, and about everything related to the project in question. Preparing for any major discussions ahead of time will benefit you, as will considering the client’s needs and designing your conversations around them. Learning how to speak to clients is a necessary skill — after all, your income and future work depend on it!