When a client leaves you a message along the lines of “We need to talk,” our first reaction is to cringe and start thinking of all the bad things the client is going to throw in our face. We instantly tense, and formulate our push-back strategy when the client starts bringing up the issues they find unsatisfactory, or worse, we think of hiding in the closet and trying to avoid the conversation altogether.
Stop right there.
A client calling you and letting you know that they’re not satisfied with the service or product you’re providing is the start of improvement. It is a GIFT! I know it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. No one likes to receive criticism. But if you can open your mind up to the idea that your client is trying to help you improve, then every piece of criticism doesn’t lend itself to “you’re not good enough” or other fear-based thinking that isn’t helpful for growth. Instead, this type of feedback can be transformative.
In this post, I’m going to talk about three types of negative client feedback, and how we can overcome them:
- “I’m not satisfied with [X], and I want a discount!” Our initial response is to push back on something like, “Well you have access to the other 90% of the features, don’t you? Or I’ve given you great service except for the ONE day you called me when my kid had a 103-fever, and I wasn’t available!” At the bottom of this statement, is your client saying that you as a service or product provider hurt their trust, and now they want to hurt you too (in the pocketbook).” Your client is saying, “I’ve seen this issue, and I’m worried that you might be like the other product or service providers out there and you’re not going to meet my expectations.” Your first response is to acknowledge or restate the experience your client has had. Restating the problem might sound like, “I understand that recently, our product has not had all of the functionality we promised,” or “I understand that I wasn’t there for you on the day you needed me.” It’s critical that your client feels that you HEARD them. Next, you want to work on a strategy for working through this trust issue together. A good follow-up question might be, “Moving forward, can I give you updates on how the repair is going so you’re always updated on the status?” Or “Would you like to meet on a more regular basis, so we can address items that come up more proactively?” You can even ask a more open question than that, “Moving forward, what can I do to make you feel more confident in my [product/service]?
- “Your [product/service] looks funny.” Clients may pick apart the aesthetics of a design feature or something you created. The bottom line is, your client is picking on something that is more of a personal preference rather than something you can definitively say is wrong. Although you may not necessarily agree with the feedback, the best strategy here is to look for a middle ground where the client is getting what he or she is asking for, and you don’t feel like you’re putting your firm’s reputation on the line by creating a product you don’t feel proud of. If you do a little more digging into “why” the client is looking for the change, this can uncover hidden drivers which can, in turn, help you learn how to steer the design towards something better. Either way, it’s an excellent place to have a conversation and make sure you and your client are on the same page for the project’s goals.
- “Your [product/service] has a proven defect.” If you’re dealing with software, maybe the software application has a bug, if you’re dealing with graphic design or a writing project, perhaps it’s that you have too many typos. Either way, at some point, a client will bring up an issue pertaining to quality. Quality problems are the best opportunities for growth. When you uncover quality issues, these are vast areas to look for improvements in your process. Are you rushing through critical portions of your project to meet deadlines? It might be time to look at your QA process. Although it’s never fun to have a client point out quality issues, it’s a massive benefit to your company if you use it as an opportunity to innovate and improve.
Creating a strategy for responding to client feedback (negative or positive) is critical for growing your business. Although we don’t usually look forward to challenging conversations with our clients, these conversations are often the most significant catalysts for organizational change. The next time you are facing a challenging discussion with a client, remember this is a tremendous opportunity for growth.
- Stop blaming everyone, yourself included. It doesn’t help. Everyone has experienced a slump.
- Re-connect with your network. When is the last time you called some of your friends in the industry? You don’t have to call with the mission of getting a new job, but just try finding out what’s been going on with them. Sometimes helping a colleague with a challenge can help you feel better. You don’t have to tell them you’re in a slump – you can say that you’re experiencing growing pains and you’re just connecting and looking for new ideas to help inspire your team.
- Learn a new skill. Change is the only constant in the universe. In an ever-changing industry, it’s always a good idea to stay current on new trends and technology. If you or your team is not feeling energized or the negativity is too strong, a team-building exercise (as small as an unexpected trip like going out for coffee) can help.
- Look for resources you have internally. Stop looking outside for the savior. Yes, it could be that we’re lacking in some way, but then we start selling ourselves on the idea that we’re failing because we’re lacking in a specific talent. That might not be the case.
- Trust as a foundation. Establishing trust as a major element of your team is key to getting the most out of employees in your organization. What you can see in a lot of organizations are elements for creating distrust. Although time sheets are required for billing, and open floor plans are more efficient, your employees may feel like they’re constantly being watched. Although some of these tools and strategies may be operational necessities, creating ways to make a workplace feel like a place of trust are even more important than ever.
- Failure is okay. Not only should failures (big and small) be okay, but the lessons learned should be rewarded. If your team is pushing limits to their creativity, there are bound to be some failures along the way. At Facebook, “Fail Faster,” was a key mantra. The faster the Facebook team failed, the quicker they got to the right solution. The main point being, once your team gets over the fear of failure, solutions and success come faster.
- Have a framework to work through disagreements. In many organizations, the fear of conflict can paralyze progress. As a team, it’s important to have a framework for working through problems so these issues don’t fester and create blocks in your team’s productivity.
Working and winning projects can be an intense process. Long hours and tight deadlines can really create a lot of drama for proposal teams. In order to keep the team working well, a deep foundation of trust, openness to failures, and a framework to work through disagreements are all key to making sure a team survives all of the bumps in the road. Contact us for more help with training your proposal team.
Boost Proposal Team Morale in Five Ways
A proposal team working on a tight deadline can create a steam-cooker-like environment. Even the nicest marketing professional can get snappy when an architect, senior planner, and project manager are giving three different directions for an upcoming shortlist presentation. Although it’s important the best product gets submitted to the client, breaking down the team in order to get it to that point is not ideal, because usually there is another deadline sneaking up immediately behind your current one.
Avoid crushing your proposal team’s morale by using these five tips during your next project pursuit: Delegate and Support New Team Members, Communicate Daily, Be Positive, Don’t Practice “Dirty Delegation,” and Make Internal Debriefing a Positive Experience.
1. Support New Team Members
In the 11th hour of presentation prep, it’s easy to want to take the PowerPoint privileges away from the struggling newbie navigating the mouse and looking for the right function for the past 10 minutes, but don’t do it. You may not remember it, but you were once new to your job. The novice navigating PowerPoint might actually know what they’re doing, but the lack of sleep, nerves, and poor direction is causing this newest team member to move at the pace of molasses. In this moment, if you and your team can stay calm and patient, not only will you boost your team member’s confidence, you’ll build loyalty.
2. Communicate Daily
In agile methodology, there is a daily stand-up meeting. This is a short meeting (key word being: short) to address what each team member will be working on that day. If you have remote team members and you’re preparing for a deadline that’s 2 weeks away, a daily call (FaceTime even better) is a great way to keep your team engaged. If you don’t have time for 10-minute meeting leading up to the submittal or presentation deadline, why are you even chasing this pursuit? Make sure you discuss how your team will connect through the entire proposal pursuit process at the kick-off meeting.
3. Don’t “Dirty Delegate” or Redo a Proposal Team Member’s Work
If you’re in a management role, it’s very easy to take work away from a direct report (a.k.a. Dirty Delegation) or redo someone’s work if it’s not meeting your or others’ expectations. But guess what, not only did you just insult your team member, you just built a wall of distrust between you as well. This team member is now going to have more anxiety about working on a project and it’s going to slow them down. If you have a new team member, you must give him or her time to learn how to work with your team. Otherwise, you’ll have turnover and you’ll have the “why can’t we find good people” problem.
4. Create a Positive Proposal Team Environment
It’s a common complaint in the A/E/C industry that marketing people can’t get their project teams to write narratives on time or produce slide content. Why? Your project teams are terrified to write content that’s going to be critiqued and ridiculed. Many times, your best engineers, architects, contractors, and project managers are not your best writers. They have the most knowledge but getting that information from their brains to paper is going to take positive persistence on repeat.
5. Make Internal Debriefing a Rewarding Experience for Each Proposal Team Member Involved
Most people hate the annual review process so you can imagine how an internal debriefing feels. Make this a positive experience by incentivizing team members to disclose lessons learned. Mark Zukerburg coined the phrase “fail faster so you can find a solution faster.” The idea that you can find the perfect proposal and presentation process for your team doesn’t exist, rather, you should consider a Kaizen philosophy or “continual improvement.” This type of environment creates a trust centered environment that results in great work and winning processes.
Whether you work on proposal teams within a large organization or a smaller one, building an approach that helps each team member function productively is critical to helping your firm win work. Whether you are a marketing coordinator, manager, or design professional, you can ensure your team creates the best proposal or presentation possible by delegating to and supporting new team members, communicating daily, delegating responsibly, being positive, and conducting internal debriefs. By creating a supportive, and learning-focused environment, you can build proposal and presentation teams that love pursuing new opportunities without the stress and fear.