Don’t Die Wondering. Insight into Buyer Motivations and Onboarding Clients

A recent conversation with a client got me to thinking just how important and valuable it is to ‘just ask’ rather than speculate when it comes to client requirements.

In summary:

A client dropped me a Slack message over the weekend. His agency have landed a new client and they are in the final rounds of contract discussions.

My client’s contact had been speaking to his internal legal & compliance team to try and simplify buying the agency’s services. The compliance team had suggested supplying a “pull down rate” rather than raising a scope of works for each task.

My client, responsible for contacts at the agency, wanted to get a second opinion on the meaning and motivation – hence the Slack message. Our conversation sparked a few reminders about understanding buyer motivations and onboarding clients.

Here’s what we discussed…

  • Your contact is probably not the only buyer
  • Ask, don’t guess. Understand the client’s questions – don’t waste time spending hours speculating what they might want
  • See this as a great opportunity to bond
  • What’s behind the question?
  • Be honest

Your contact is probably not the (only) buyer.

In this case my client had already dealt with Procurement and now Legal were sticking their oar in. There was my client’s main day-to-day contact, but also his boss – the CMO – who was the ultimate budget holder. The main contact works in a team who have some influence on the CMO’s decision, but some of the team will have also lobbied for the losing agencies. It’s critical to understand how your clients buy and who is influential in the process. And just as important to anticipate their drivers.

Don’t guess – understand the question

The agency team had spent the weekend trying to double guess what their new client meant by “pull down rate”. They even asked me. I’ll be honest, it’s not a term I know, though of course I could have an educated guess. My advice? Ask the client. You could spend a lot of time creating a solution addressing the wrong thing. Sometimes you might feel like asking is impolite (it isn’t), or reflects badly on your knowledgeability (it doesn’t) – whereas guessing is almost always time consuming and dangerous.

It’s a chance to bond

There’s a chance your contact doesn’t know what this term means, particularly if it was a term passed down by the Legal team. He may be relying on you to help him understand or maybe he just needs the nudge from you to go back to ask them what they mean. No one wants to look foolish by not knowing the technical lingo, but if you don’t know either, he may feel more confident in querying or at least adding clarity to the request. And if that’s the case, you’re already starting to co-create solutions before you’ve even started work. Bonding at its best.

What’s behind the question?

OK, so your new clients are asking you to adapt your normal approach to pricing and service supply. You may or may not be amenable to that. But if you don’t know why they are asking you to adapt, you’ll struggle to engineer a solution that will suit both you and them. Get on a call and start to probe. Failing to fully understand the ‘why’ is something you’re likely to regret further down the road.   

Be honest

One push back to all this worthy advice might be “but we risk looking stupid if we don’t understand the term”. This is totally untrue and is simply your thinking getting in your way.

Apart from all the positive reasons listed above to make the call, it’s an opportunity for you to be honest. To tweak down the “b*llshit and bluster” filters and to open up to the client.

Great relationships are built on trust and in this case my client has been given a golden opportunity to demonstrate their preparedness to be open and vulnerable. Having done their best to understand the question (for example, checking with an old lag like me), this has become a super powerful, and a not-to-be ignored, opportunity.

I hope the above is helpful when you’re next faced with a puzzling or ambiguous request.

If you like this sort of condensed business advice – much of which is based on real world client conversations, make sure you sign up to Rambling On, my bi weekly email for business leaders.



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