Changing the Client Conversation

What’s on the iPod: Parted Ways by Heartless Bastards

Do not miss Jenn Mattern’s podcast tomorrow featuring special guest Princess Jones. Visit the podcast page at All Indie Writers for more info.

About a year ago,I decided to throw some of my energy behind a poetry career. At the time, I was co-partner of the 5 Buck Forum as well as working on building my business and running a risk management blog. If I wanted to write poetry, something had to give.

I turned over my share of the forum to Anne Wayman and I set about writing.

Monday, I hit pay dirt. My poem ‘Two Minutes at the Wall’ will appear in the Winter issue of Philadelphia Stories. Validation, and a sign to get more poems circulating. The goal is a book, but for now, I’m building a platform. Feel free to visit my Poet Under Construction blog.

As I was talking with a potential client a few weeks back, I realized there’s been a change to these conversations I’m having. The change, I’m happy to say, is internal. Still, that internal shift has resulted in some successful conversations that have left the impression that I’m the one writer they need if they’re looking for someone they can rely on. Some clients have told me they like my reliability.

Music to my ears.

It’s all because my attitude shifted slightly. No longer did I care about getting the job. Instead, I started caring about what the clients needed and how I could help them.

It used to be (and I bet some of you still feel this way) that my goal was getting the gig. Even once I stopped accepting just any price and started holding firm on my price, I wasn’t quite ready to stop “selling” myself.

Then one day, I had a conversation.

It was at a trade show in the exhibit hall. One of the exhibitors went into his spiel. He asked what I do. I told him briefly, adding that I work with a number of the people in that very hall. He then said, “What would you do to improve this?” and gave me his sell sheet handout.

Figuring it was just a question, I told him bluntly. “I’d freshen the wording and take the focus from your company to your customer. And I’d stick with half the words and make sure the ones I used created the most impact.”

Then I exhaled. You never know which client is going to take the advice as an insult to their “fabulous” prose.

One phone call and email later, I was writing his website and his sell sheets.

The difference between that conversation and my former way of communicating with potential clients; I was one hell of a lot more relaxed and I didn’t oversell myself. I just pointed out his needs.

Here are some ways to shift that conversation to a more collaborative one:

Make it about them. Tempting as it is to talk about your background, stick with talking about their company and their needs. Sure, you can say “Well, in this last client project I did, I gave them something like this, which I think may be what you’re looking for.” Just don’t give the usual laundry list of your credentials unless they ask for them. Save a little of that for your follow-up thank-you email.

Pretend you’re talking to a friend. Your best friend has just asked you how to solve this problem. You don’t say “Well, I have 15 years of experience in solving friend problems.” No. You say “Give me the details.”

Ask about past efforts. This, to me, is a smart question because not only are you showing interest in your client’s business, but you’re eliminating any duplication of efforts going forward. If they sent all those lumpy mail items for years with no measurable results, why go there again? Moreover, if they’ve used something for years that works, why not just tweak it a little to increase interest?

Listen. You can stand out almost immediately to any client by listening and hearing what they’re saying. Take notes, ask follow-up questions, tape conversations for private review later, and really hear what concerns them.

Suggest things. I have a client who needs a blog. I told them so five years ago. This year, they’re going about it. While I’ve yet to see it come to fruition, I’m tapped to write the posts whenever they do launch. If you see something your client could be doing with some success, tell them. Throw ideas out and brainstorm with them.

Just converse. Put your need to impress them behind you. Have a conversation. Let them use you as a sounding board whenever you’re able, and offer some free advice. Make that conversation a two-way one — no way you should be monopolizing it or letting them talk “at” you. Interrupt if you must and get some questions in. It’s a conversation, not a monologue.

Writers, have you changed how you interact with clients in those first (and subsequent) conversations?
When did the shift happen for you?
How else can writers create that new dynamic?

About the author




  • DevonEllington November 20, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    Congrats on the poem! That's wonderful!

  • Lori Widmer November 20, 2014 at 8:52 pm

    Thanks, hon. I'm just thrilled. 🙂

  • Weekly translation favorites (Nov 21-27) October 23, 2016 at 9:05 am

    […] Process 20 regrettable things I have actually said to clients How to Avoid Negotiating on Price Changing the Client Conversation 6 Easy Ways to Gain Visibility 19 LinkedIn Ninja […]