You’ve been working at the position of Project Manager for five years. You think you understand clients and all working processes. You follow the rule: “Think like a customer. Feel the pains of the customer”. But much as you tried, you are still the manager, who acts using your company’s working templates.

I have been working at WEB4PRO since 2012. We have succeeded to complete over 20 projects from scratch since then. Now I have taken a maternity leave. So, I’ve got the time for starting the own project. This is my story about how it was.

Step Into Client’s Shoes

My project is a medical website from scratch. I made up my mind to bring it to life, and I began with the preparation. First, I created mockups and short project requirements with the detailed description. Then I sent these data to WEB4PRO for the estimation, as I completely trust my team. I know they follow the timeline and provide the high-quality result.

But… “What if I look up some market offers? What about checking some other companies? Do they understand client’s business and needs?” – I thought.

So I got down to business.

Follow the Client’s Routine

I sent a lot of requests for quote. We started communication with 11 contacts. There were various executors: company representatives and freelancers. I prefer working with companies. The company could cover the risks when some unexpected problems arise. Furthermore, a company can provide a complex solution. I decided to compare all candidates by several aspects.

Proofs. Portfolio

We considered a lot of offers. We focused on two things along the way: portfolio and the quality of works there.

I evaluated the portfolio by the websites it included. The most criteria for we were the websites design, compatibility, mobile versions, complexity. Also, I tested the main features. I declined the companies if their portfolio contained bad-made websites. Those websites were too old, too simple, unattractive, inconvenient. But the high-quality works caught my eye even if it was not relevant to the medical field. The relevancy was not the main factor for me. If the company built a great website, it could do a good job for us. So, I came up with the following:

The example of work may not be from the client’s business area. That’s great if it has some features like the customer’s project does (even if it’s a contact form functionality). The good portfolio must consist of complicated, modern, and beautiful works.

First Interaction

First, I provided the companies with links to mockups and the project specification. I requested the project estimation, hourly rate, and a technical solution. I wanted to check their level of understanding the client’s requirements. The result was curious.

Three people gave the estimation right on the same day, on Saturday. According to WEB4PRO standards, we provide the estimation within 3 working days. I knew the work scope required for our project. That’s why costs and terms the candidates suggested looked strange for me. They seemed too short.

Many candidates revealed their hourly rate. Also, they provided the project duration expressed in months. So, I couldn’t understand the final cost. Project duration expressed in months doesn’t make any sense. It’s much better to express it in hours. When we multiply the project term on the hourly rate, we get the final cost.

In conclusion, I declined several candidates for the following reasons:

  • improbable estimation;
  • the absence of related questions;
  • inattentive learning of project requirements;
  • unclear estimation expressed in months;
  • low level of communication.

Most freelancers replied within two days. They all suggested we contact via Skype and discuss the detail.

Due to all these facts above, I made the next observation:

When you first interact with the client, you set the first contact. It’s very important to understand customers needs and wants right on the first stages. They’d like to hear the questions related to their project. Also, always give the project duration expressed in hours, not in months or something else. Costs must be easy to calculate. It shows your honesty, and it saves clients’ time.

Skype Call

I talked to five candidates. I didn’t like the ones who asked me the odd questions. I understood they were not ready for negotiations. Also, the candidates who didn’t have any creative approach were not the right people for my job. Definitely, they were not good at identifying customer needs.
The others were well-prepared. They asked the right questions and expressed the interest to my business. Some candidates even learned our competitors. One company showed the great approach to the work processes. Here is the process routine they follow with the clients:
  • 2 weekly email reports: 1 working-plan report, 1 results report;
  • Trello dashboard as a tool and how-to-use guide for customers;
  • 1 weekly Skype call;
  • key project manager for communication and the team members the client can refer to;
  • payment within the certain number of days after receiving the invoice.

This information made me more confident in that executor. So that, Skype call is one of the most important steps in building relationships with the customers. On this step, you can start discovering customer needs. I understood the following:

When we communicate by voice, we gain trust. Skype call is a good way to do that. Learn project requirements and speak in a friendly manner. Show that your understand the client’s problem. It deserves the respect.

Project Estimation

understand clients: provide clear reports

Project duration. The candidates determined the project term in months, more seldom – in weeks. Nobody provided me with the detailed estimation broken into small milestones. The most I’ve got was a description of the work scope broken into work processes. They were backend development, frontend development, web design, management, testing, and analysis. It didn’t help me to understand the final cost of project development.

Engagement models. Almost nobody wanted to use the Fixed Price model. The reason was the necessity of incorporating some extra tasks and edits along the way. The solution for that was the following. They offered to follow the Agile model with breaking the project into milestones. We had to pay for each milestone. This works well enough.

Candidates ready to work on fixed price required the approved high-fidelity prototypes. High-fidelity prototypes are interactive mockups allowing the simulation of user actions. In this case, your cooperation starts with creating such prototypes. And the company includes this works to invoice.

Business Proposal. Several candidates impressed me with their business proposal. It’s convenient to receive negotiations result packed in a beautiful business proposal. This way you can find out the main points without any efforts.

The business proposal consists of the following parts:
  • technical solution;
  • description of the project team;
  • project duration represented in graphics;
  • final cost;
  • payment terms;
  • presentation of the company, etc.

It is very useful, and finally, I can say:

While requesting the estimation, customers look for the details about the future cooperation. duration, engagement model, and the final cost. Create a complete business proposal. It may include negotiations results, technical solution, and information about your company. Highlighting the main points shows your care and respect.

See What Matters

understand clients: see what matters

I became a client for a while. I had a chance to make sure of a great importance of knowing your customer. I checked cooperation systems implemented at WEB4PRO and the other companies first-hand. Now I know what the clients want.

Qualitative portfolio. The more complicated, beautiful, and modern works you show, the better.

Video Skype call. There is more trust between people who can look at each other. If we take WEB4PRO, here we always talk via Skype using video if the client turns on the camera.

Understanding the problem. It’s nice to get some questions about your business, goals, target audience, differences from competitors. That shows you know how to meet customer expectations.

Lean business processes. It’s very useful when the company knows how to work with clients. It’s great when their managers are always ready to help you out. That makes you feel convinced.

Open hourly rates. Good when executors don’t hide their hourly rates. A clear estimation should include the cost for project managers, analytics, QAs works.

Detailed Estimation. It’s better to express the project duration in hours. Also, breaking the process into milestones makes the difference. That helps the client understand the final costs.

Friendly communication. When you feel convenient speaking with a person, you’ll like to talk again. You event don’t pay too much attention to high rates and prices if the person is friendly.

Adherence to deadlines. If the executor sticks to the schedule at the beginning, they might adhere to the deadlines along the way.

Long-term partnership. I noted the company which described their partnership with Australian clients. Their projects were large enough. Who knows, but they tried to support their achievements. But all in all, they impressed me.

Results of negotiations. It’s pretty useful to receive an email with the results of negotiations after the meeting. This type of report is a must-do point at our company. So, now I’m confident in its efficiency and necessity.

Business proposal. It helps to sum up the main ideas and points of cooperation. A good marketing kit provides the full picture of the business processes you are going to follow.

What you can do to be on the same wavelength with a customer:

  • learn client’s project requirements;
  • wonder about the client’s values and business ideas;
  • don’t ask the needless questions: try to find the answers in the project specification;
  • don’t hide your hourly rate. Be honest;
  • prepare detailed project estimation;
  • and the main: keep your word.

Do we have anything to improve? Of course! Anyone who works with customers should always work on understanding clients needs. But it’s pleasant to note that we are on the right way at WEB4PRO. Our work processes are well-thought-out. They help the whole team work well and cooperate with customers with the high efficiency.

What do the clients want? Well, the clients want to understand what happens and what they pay for. They want to be confident in the executor, and they want to secure themselves from risks. Finally, a client is a person, who wants to deal with friendly, honest, and professional people.

How to understand clients? – Step into their shoes at least once. Then a lot of steps and routine work points will matter much more to you. These are my words, the words of Project Manager:)

P.S. This rule works with any person, not only with your clients. As Harper Lee says in the book To Kill A Mockingbird, “You never understand a person… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

The featured image: the scene from “What women want”. The main character climbed into women skin in the truest sense of the word.

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