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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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.