6 assumptions designers make about client relationships

Following on from looking at assumptions around presentations, selling and pitching, in this final piece in his series, trainer and coach John Scarrott highlights some of the assumptions designers make about client relationships.

Our assumptions direct how we think, feel and act. Yet, most if not all of the time, they are hidden from our sight. On first glance, we often argue strongly for their validity. That’s because they create stability. On second glance, they can be the very foundations of what holds us back.

Take a look at these. If you recognise any of them, you may wish to ask yourself the following questions: What if this were not true? What difference would that make? What small thing can I do to start to change it?

• Our clients don’t understand us, what we do can’t be understood. We don’t particularly want it to be. If it is understood, what we do will lose its magic. To keep things mysterious, we create a trade mark process to make what we do more complex. As long as we maintain this assumption it makes it okay for us to not understand our clients. We can both coexist, finding each other sometimes intriguing, sometimes baffling and frustrating.

• We’re in an inherently short-term industry; pitch, win/lose, pitch win/lose. Clients are here today, move tomorrow. Staff are here today, leave tomorrow. This is just a given. We invest cautiously in building relationships beyond the pitch stage as we know clients will leave. And we invest cautiously in our people, because we know they will leave too. And we keep our options open when it comes to new relationships, steering clear of specialisation for fear of missing out on an opportunity.

• The relationship is only when we’re working together; we invest a lot of time in our clients when we have an agreement to work together. And we stay in touch with them, asking them regularly whether there is a project on the horizon. Other than that, we need to keep hunting for work and they don’t want to hear from us if there’s no project. They’ve got other things to do if they don’t need us for a project.

• We don’t have time to follow our own recommendations; we don’t treat our own business like we treat our clients. We find reasons for this. We’re too busy doing what we do for our clients, or pitching. “Innovation”, “segmentation”, “differentiation”; these are all important, but we haven’t got time to do them for ourselves. We can’t afford to take our eyes off of work and onto ourselves.

• We understand as much as we need to about our client’s business but no more; we haven’t got time to get into our individual client’s world. We’re too busy.

• My client knows what they want and we’re here to deliver it. My client holds the balance of power in the relationship. They’re paying us for our creativity and we’re supplying it. In challenging them we would be questioning their understanding of their own business, which feels wrong. We wait to be approached rather than go to our clients for a conversation. They know when they need us.

John Scarrott is a Trainer and Coach working with design professionals on their approach to influential communication. Find him on Twitter @JohnDScarrott or check out his website where you can find other articles on the area of influential communication.

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  • Robert Solomon October 4, 2017 at 7:36 pm

    If you want to build on what John says in this post, you might want to check out my book, “The Art of Client Servce,” which addresses these and other challenges in-depth. You’ll fnd the lnk to the book’s website at http://www.artofclientservice.com .

    • John Scarrott October 6, 2017 at 8:15 am

      Thanks for commenting Robert, your book looks like a very useful follow on. I particularly like the idea that a great relationship leads to great work.

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