How To Prioritize Client Wants vs. Needs

By Chelsea Williams
Senior Copywriter
Aug 2 2022 read

Even in a professional context, with everyone trying to be on their best behavior, we can’t escape our humanity. 

In a service business, you’ll encounter clients on good and bad days, in frustrating moments and in states of relief. With this volatility comes a substantial amount of emotional demands. If you’re not careful, you can spend a considerable chunk of your time juggling ad-hoc requests because you think you have to keep every client as happy as possible.

As a software company, we’re especially familiar with conversations about how our platform could work better for a wide array of use cases. And while we aim to improve consistently, we’ve learned how critical it is to be discerning about clients’ individual suggestions.

Mandy Anger, Accelo’s VP of Product, is an expert at sifting through the most important requests from our users’ conversations in the Accelo Community and with our support team.

We asked her for some gems of wisdom about the art of prioritization around clients’ wants and needs, and we’re sharing them here with you. Her advice may inspire you to strike a healthier balance between focusing on your business goals and keeping your clients happy. 

What differentiates a need from a want when it comes to clients?

Mandy: How difficult it is for someone to do their job without the thing they’re asking for. If you were to rank it from one to five — one meaning they can’t do their job at all and five meaning fulfilling this request would simply result in more delight, true needs are in the one to three range. 

When you're having a conversation with a client and they’re saying, ‘We need this thing,’ they’re leading with a solution because they don’t know how to communicate the problem. 

So if they’re coming with ‘We need this ad campaign,’ for example, that could just be the only way they know how to express a potential solution for a problem they can’t quite nail down — and it comes out sounding like a want. It’s our job as solution providers to talk them through their use case down to what the problem is. 

The need is what’s underneath the surface request. Maybe they actually need just a mailer or a website refresh, but they’ve anchored into this one thing they think will solve their root problem.

It can be a real challenge to get clients to reframe. Sometimes they’re right, but often you can meet their needs quicker, with a more elegant solution or by changing a process they haven’t thought of.

Do client-based businesses have an obligation to respond to every client wish?

Mandy: “I do not believe that it’s the responsibility of any business to respond to every client wish. A business should first be responsible to itself. 

If a given wish doesn’t align with your corporate strategy or business goals, you should not follow through with what they’re asking for. That’s why it’s helpful to understand the root of what they’re requesting and whether it fits with your mission.

I’ve seen so many startup companies thinking they have to do what everybody wants in order to stay afloat. In tech, you might end up with an overwhelming, heavy product that’s not cohesive because you’ve built it around one-off requests. The equivalent in a service business is struggling to provide ad-hoc services that are customized to each client, then having no consistency in what you’re offering or how you price it. 

But once you get out of that early stage, it’s important to cull the dead wood. What’s the core of what you want to be providing? You can’t please everyone. Make it work for the 80%.

That means that, sometimes, you just have to have the hard conversation and say ‘no.’ I’ve found that 90% of clients would rather hear just ‘no’ than someone trying to placate them.” 

In a business in which clients are constantly asking for changes or new services or options, how do you decide what's most important?

Mandy: “It comes down to answering the ultimate question:Is the value more than the cost? Does the value your client will enjoy outweigh the cost to your company, or is it the other way around?

You have to have a really strong vision, strategy or set of company goals to go through this evaluation process and feel good about the result.

I’m also a real fan of frameworks. We use a couple of frameworks that are specific to product and engineering: the RICE prioritization model and the SWJF agile development framework.

If frameworks don’t apply to your industry, and many times even if they do, it’s important to make decisions based on data and business cases. It’s so much easier to accept an outcome when you remove the emotion.”

Let's say I run a digital agency and my account managers are bringing me random requests from different types of clients. How should my team and I go about organizing and considering them?

Mandy: “This is where having some kind of standards helps. Create some criteria.

For day-to-day prioritization, select a few data points, such as monthly recurring revenue (MRR), client size or number of clients requesting. If those are the data points you always consider, then you can have your team compile requests in a uniform fashion and follow a process for how you’ll review them.

Now, when you’re doing quarterly or annual planning and trying to prioritize bigger initiatives, you’ll also want to consider time.

Let’s say you’re in IT and you’re trying to set up an entire server room versus just doing some maintenance. That’s not just a matter of importance or data points — it’s about what your team can feasibly get done and when.

On the other hand, accountants might need to make prioritization decisions on a seasonal basis. If someone were to come to them in March or April (at least in the US) and request to change banks, they’d have to say no due to the burden of tax season. This helps you put the right people in the right place at the right time.”


Prioritizing 101: Mandy’s Top Tips for Responding to Client Requests 

  • Start with what your business is trying to achieve. It all comes back to alignment with your core goals. It’s easy to veer away from your ultimate mission when your client base starts to expand and you realize they all have different expectations. But think about it this way: If your business doesn’t survive and grow, you won’t be able to serve clients at all! Keep those blinders on and stay grounded in what matters most.
  • Listen for the unsaid. What is that client really looking for? The truth is, they probably don’t even know. Imagine getting frazzled with car troubles and going to search for something in an auto parts store. If you haven’t had a mechanic check under the hood yet, you may not know what it needs. So, you end up wandering, wasting time and money on something that doesn’t work. That’s what your clients could be doing when they come to you with what feels like an emergency to them. The real need is hiding — it’s what they aren’t saying. Your team can help them sort through the weeds if you’re aligned first.
  • Know what you don’t want. Some businesses make the mistake of asking for feedback willy-nilly, with no plan for how to handle it when it comes in. If you cast your net too widely, you’ll get a lot of extra catch. Be ready for that, and set parameters around what you care about most before you allow those client surveys or one-off emails to overwhelm you.



Prioritizing according to Mandy’s advice is easier when you have solid business goals and meaningful data. Accelo can help you track what matters and build stronger relationships with your clients.

Schedule a demo to explore its capabilities.


About the Author


Chelsea Williams is Senior Copywriter at Accelo, where she shares unique insights with service professionals and tells user stories via blogs, eBooks, industry reports and more. She has over 15 years of B2B and B2C writing experience — primarily in tech, sales, education and healthcare. Chelsea is an AWAI-certified Master Copywriter trained in brand storytelling and microcopy.

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