Some service-based entrepreneurs believe making their decades-honed skills and competence look easy imbues clients with instant confidence in their choice of vendor. Others choose to mask their tasks in big words, fancy charts, unexplained metrics, and a great big “show” that conceals the actual, hands-on dirty work that churns out those great results. And some take it one step further, kindly keeping those mundane, tedious, complex task-related factoids far removed from their clients’ pretty little brains.
I employed a vendor just like this; however, they made one misstep: They didn’t count on me to look behind the curtain.
My line of contact at the ad agency was incredibly protective of her prodigy video advertising whiz. He was executing some highly advanced lead generation and retargeting strategy that was apparently well over my head — and hers as well. Perhaps if it had worked like a charm, I would have accepted an explanation veiled in that much secrecy. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
After a few too many months (and too many thousands of dollars) allowing this whiz kid to execute his brilliant strategy to no avail (i.e. no results), I needed to see exactly how his sausage was not being made. Despite all the jargon he threw into our debrief, it was clear he was experimenting with an unnecessarily complicated campaign that wasn’t producing results. In other words, he was practicing his new “technique” on my business — and on my dime. Once I realized this vendor was hiding behind complexity as a crutch to buy them time for the competence they lacked, I didn’t skip a beat parting ways.
The takeaway? Keeping your clients in the dark is not a winning strategy — and it just may backfire if you’ve oversold your skillset or capabilities.
When building my first business, I hired a firm for a major tech project — and I paid them well over $70k+. A few years later, after selling the unused product to a new operator, I was tasked with cleaning up a few technical issues and restoring the product to working order. After hiring a subject matter expert for an objective review, the verdict wasn’t great: The build was shoddy, the team took shortcuts, and much of the technical functionality was deprecated due to the poor decisions made by the original vendor.
Following up with that vendor for a repair and update quote, I mentioned the critique by the objective third party — and I was shocked at the vendor’s response: They pretty much trashed their old work, chalking it up to their earlier growing pains and insisting they had a much better team now. Sadly, their improved team doesn’t get me back the $30k+ it cost to fix their initial mistakes. Further, hearing them trash their own work made me wonder if they’d ever believed they were delivering the high-quality product I’d paid them (handsomely) for…
The takeaway? Don’t trash your old products or services — especially to a client who paid (a lot) for them. If today you’re trashing last year’s work, who’s to say next year you won’t trash today’s?
After a browse through an impressive website and a convincing discovery call, I hired a highly in-demand firm for some critical financial and legal work. This firm is big, busy, and I’m probably their smallest client — or among them.
Therefore, I let it slide when the CEO wouldn’t respond to my emails. Or my phone calls. Or give me an ETA on the documents that were already months late. It wasn’t just the CEO; the old receptionist had pulled a Houdini, and there was seemingly no way — or no one — to contact. At this point, I was actually scared.
I can accept if a firm is overbooked, understaffed, and requests some leniency on deadlines. I can understand if I’m not the first or the biggest or the most important client. What I can’t comprehend, however, is why a one-sentence status update email is too much to ask — especially after I’ve already paid $20k and handed over every requested source document.
The takeaway? No matter how busy you are or how ill-received you believe the news or update will be, delaying only makes it worse. Don’t wait for your clients to lawyer up just because you want to respond with the finished product; a revised ETA may be all that’s needed to quell their mounting concerns.
Many people think peanut butter is a pretty magical food. There are PB&Js, fluffer nutters, Reece’s Pieces, and so much more. Really, what kind of person wouldn’t like peanut butter?
Raises hand slowly.
Yeah, I’ve never liked it. I’m not even allergic to peanuts — just not a fan. But if your company specializes in all things peanut butter, are you still going to attempt to jam it down my throat?
I recently had a very similar experience with a technical marketing vendor whose specific offering hasn’t exactly tickled my fancy yet. I mean, I’ve given it a chance, but it’s failed to provide an ROI anywhere near my company’s other marketing activities. To be frank, I just don’t think it’s right for our product, our price point, or our audience.
This vendor, however, is sure it’s right. So sure that they’ve attempted every permutation of their services to hopefully fit into my company’s needs. The problem isn’t their competence; it’s their rigidity in believing and purporting that their services will ever be the right fit for my business.
The takeaway? Be objective and open-minded if your competency isn’t what your client needs. Rigidly asserting that it’s your way or the highway isn’t likely to gain their repeat business or peer referrals down the line.
I’m typically a fairly thorough due diligence-er. That’s code for I can (and usually do) research and stalk all my options down to their core before making a decision — especially a business decision. Some salespeople, however, are just so darn good at their job that they convince you — even me — to proceed with reckless abandon. In my case, this head partner’s shrewd, robust knowledge of his domain, coupled with his bold, but calming confidence gave me the feeling that I was in 100% safe, smart, infallible hands.
This salesman’s unwavering confidence rendered me utterly dumbfounded when his firm’s deliverables didn’t measure up. Or even arrive, sometimes.
Every time I got him on the phone, that bulletproof self-assuredness (or just brilliant salesmanship) dispelled my worries, leading me to believe I was the crazy one for second-guessing their work. But no — they actually did make mistakes — big ones. Repeatedly so. After calling out their mistakes, inconsistencies, and lack of follow-through, I came to realize I’d been bamboozled by a master of charisma and charm. Thus, the wrong firm won my business.
The takeaway? Schmoozing only goes so far. It might get you in the door or bag you the first sale, but it requires a commensurate quality of product or service to keep that customer coming back and happy. Suffice it to say, I won’t be.
If you’ve ever used Amazon (which is probably 99.999% of you reading this), you’re probably well aware of their generous, customer-first policies. In case you aren’t familiar, they go like this: The customer is always right. Hands down. It doesn’t matter if you spend $1 or $1000; Amazon believes you deserve the quality product you expected…
Some vendors, however, have developed the opposite policy for dealing with dissatisfied customers: Rather than apologize for their subpar product (or at least offer to make things right), they blame the customer’s limited budget and shame them for the bells and whistles they didn’t purchase, implying that those were required for an optimal experience.
For example, let’s say you hire a social media advertising team with an agreed-upon retainer and ad budget. Three months in, and their ads are failing the ROI game (true story). You decide to discuss the performance issues, only to be told that the subpar ROI on ads is your own, penny-pinching fault. Why?
- Your ad budget is too low (but it’s the one you both agreed upon…)
- Ads don’t work without an active social media presence, so you should have hired a separate team to manage that…
- To be honest, you need a total rebrand, so you should shell out at least a few grand for new logos, colors, and perhaps a full site makeover…
The takeaway? Budget bullying is a great way to turn off an already on-the-fence customer. When’s the last time you purchased additional services or upgrades from a vendor who had gravely failed to meet your expectations? Exactly.
Speaking of upselling and cross-promoting additional services (and how doing so after poor product or service execution isn’t great form), there’s another wrong time to hack these offerings: Prematurely.
Upsells and cross-sells are just that: They’re additional products, tangential services, and premium, advanced, higher-end options you may successfully sell to happy customers who just can’t get enough of your initial offerings.
The key phrase? Happy customers who just can’t get enough…
The takeaway? The same way you wouldn’t propose with a wedding ring and honeymoon flight tickets on a first date, you don’t necessarily want to inundate your customer with sales pitches before you’ve fully won them over.
Upon establishing a positive ongoing relationship with a client or customer, it may become relevant and appropriate to cross-promote partners, suggest a colleague’s services, or recommend a favorite vendor or product. But realize a recommendation isn’t risk-free or failproof.
What do you say when the client returns with a negative experience with your referred vendor? It’s up to you, but there is one fast track path to incinerate your credibility in one fell swoop: by trashing your own prior suggestion. The more you swear by a product or service, the more damage you can do to your credibility by switching sides from brand champion to critic.
The takeaway? You and your client can disagree about a product, but flipping and flopping to align with their experience and perspective is only going to further call yours into question.
You walk into a grocery store with no prices to be seen. After filling up your cart, you approach the cashier to check out, expecting her to scan the items per usual, tell you the prices, and send you on your merry way.
Instead, she asks: “So, what’s your grocery budget today?”
She didn’t ask how much you believe an avocado should cost, anchored by your decades of life experience shopping in produce sections mired in fruit and vegetable price tags. She asked how much you could possibly spend.
What’s your answer? Do you go low, hoping she’ll somehow make all your items fit in your aspirational $20/week budget? Do you go high, hoping she’ll counter with a total that’s well under your budget?
It doesn’t really matter what you say; she’s put you in an awkward position to guess — or attempt to strategize your way into the right price range. You’ll never know if you got a good deal or got taken…
That’s exactly how it feels when price tagless fee fishers ask “What’s your budget?” without any semblance of established price ranges for their services. You may start to wonder if they’re making up prices on the spot, adjusting them up or down to fit every prospect’s number — or the number in their bank account. While this may be a popular tactic with high-ticket service providers and business coaches, it doesn’t make it come off any less sketchy.
The takeaway? Before you remove all price tags from your online store in favor of a fee fishing form, consider the psychological game you’re forcing your prospective customer to play. Is that really conducive to an ongoing, transparent client relationship?