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Gini Dietrich

Saying No to Clients

By: Gini Dietrich | April 14, 2011 | 
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All you people have failed me. I have not a single Facebook question to answer this week. So, instead of seeing my pretty face, you get some written something instead.

OH WAIT! I’m wrong. I just scrolled through a lot of status updates and found this from Andy Donovan. Yay Andy! You saved everyone from failure!

“Coming off the presentation this week with you, Carol Roth and Les McKeown – how does a new entrepreneur learn the delicate art of saying “no” to a client request that seems over and above what has been agreed upon? Especially when at the beginning of your career and still ensure the relationship moves forward without any hard feelings?”

But you still don’t get to see my pretty face because, well, I haven’t showered yet. So how about I do our #FollowFriday via video tomorrow?

Andy’s question is a couple of weeks old, but it still works.

This is a really hard question for me to answer because I don’t like to  say no and that’s the culture I’ve built at Arment Dietrich. I’ve noticed that when I push my team to say no to a client, they push back about really wanting to go the extra mile.

Whose fault is that? Mine.

So we’ve really begun to be very clear about expectations and priorities. Everyone is responsible for not going over budget (which is how we measure overservicing) and we are in constant communication with clients about what has been agreed upon and what they’re asking us to do.

For instance, we have one client who we all adore. So, when he asks for something, we automatically want to say yes. But we found very quickly we were overservicing, to the tune of almost double what he is paying us. We sat down with him, went through the initial marketing plan and the extra things he was asking us to do and asked him to help us prioritize. He was very open to doing that and, during our weekly meetings with him, the team reminds him of the priorities and asks if there is anything he wants to change.

It works really well because he’s constantly aware of what we’re working on, but also what the priorities are for the month and quarter.

How do you say no to clients?

Oh! And don’t forget to go to Facebook and ask a question so I have something to do next Thursday!

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

78 comments
Julie Walraven
Julie Walraven

Interesting, Gini! It's a problem I often encounter and one I often struggle with. Your solution sounds like a good one. I think sometimes people really don't realize they have stepped over the boundaries. Sometimes the other question comes in when they don't seem to comprehend the price. Some people are always looking for a bargain and others are honestly in financial trouble. The heart in me gets in the way at those times. I now tell myself that if I want to, I can help for free but undervaluing my services doesn't help either of us and will make me resentful eventually. It is ok to say no.

BillyDelaney
BillyDelaney

Smart! Do you offer him to continue and pay more, or just remind him that he is over the top of his budget?

Griddy
Griddy

Hello Aunt Gini and Lisa and the entire fabulous team over at A.D :)

This particular problem - saying No - is a big one for me actually. I often think that I've turned pro bono. I have trouble saying no - but I'm getting much better cause I kinda got tired of my generosity (in servicing my clients) being taken advantage of.

What makes it even more difficult is when you're friends (IRL) with your client. I start to panic when they ask for something new and that I know I have to tell them that it's not included in the original proposal.

I'm so eager to do a good job that I often feel like I would be disappointing them if I didn't do that extra "little" thing they asked for.

I have what I call a "Proposal and Letter of Agreement" that I send my clients to sign. It includes a small note - a very detailed job description - a total price - and my terms and conditions - payment policy and cancellation policy.

I'm not sure people read past the price part though. They usually sign it and send it back to me and tell me okay - begin. What they don't get is that before I begin it says - 50/50 for the payment policy unless otherwise specified. I can count the projects where I've been payed a fee upfront to start on one hand. Sad but true.

I have found myself writing extra sections and doing more research than what was originally agreed upon. I was shy at first. I still am at times - especially with my recurring clients. I'm learning though. I've grown a pair recently - and as much as it kills me to do it - I have to. I'm tired of working for free. I really am. People mistake kindness with being naive - and that's one thing I'm not. It's fine to be kind - but don't let folks walk all over you - because although sometimes it's not intentional - many times it is. A client knows exactly what they've asked for and when they ask for more.

So now - I'm very clear about defining the creep but I do so with a smile :). I hate it but I do it!

#rantover.

Thanks for the reminder Gin.

Happy Friday

Cheers

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Wow, reading the comments it's at least comforting to see I am not the only one with the 'over servicing bug.' Some of it comes from professionalism, always wanting to do a good job, not settle for good enough. Some of it's looking ahead to future projects. IDK.. I've had the 'come to Jesus, that's a No' talks a few times with mix results. Right now I am trying to do what @sydcon_mktg and a few others mentioned: start it out right from the beginning. Manage those expectations better, define project creep and mostly start of with the kinda clients who 'get it' from the start; know any? ;-) FWIW.

Ricardo Bueno
Ricardo Bueno

It's super easy to want to over-service and over-deliver especially when you're first starting out. What you come to realize however is that this will start to ware you down and it doesn't scale (at all).

What you should be doing early on is setting clear expectations up front via a contract. A contract that specifically hi-lights deliverables and a contract that specifically hi-lights a price for billable hours for work that's completed outside of what you've already outlined. So as to say, yes, I can work on these things for you at the billable rate of "x" ...should I add that to your existing contract to get started?

There's no need to feel guilty about it. That's sort of the point of the contract. To bring both parties to an agreement of what's expected, how much it all costs, management a timeline, etc. I think the reason we want to over-service is because we want to keep the client happy. Keep them happy by managing those expectations, and finishing the project ahead of schedule. You don't have to say no to everything else, but you're within every right to charge for anything that wasn't previously agreed upon.

Just my two pennies ;-)

hackmanj
hackmanj

This is a delicate balancing act some times, my take aways are the transparency and communication. Lay it out there, review, remind... good stuff Gini!

Joe

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

Your post reminded me of an event that happened decades ago. I was a bright-eyed and bushy taiked young Personnel Manager in a national retail chain. We were expanding rapidly. I was frantically busy finding Store Managers and Trainees, trying to educate managers that I was not a dumping ground for all their "people problems," and trying to fend off all sorts of ridiculous bureaucratic demands from our Head Office in another state.

I also had a boss who believed that each of the four managers who reported to him were at his beck and call to satisfy whatever whim, fancy, notion or even genuine priority that occurred to him whenever he had it.

Finally I worked out that the only way to deal with his demands was to sit down with him at the beginning of each week and agree my priorities for that week. Then, when he'd burst into my office and say, "Noone, there's a problem out at XYZ store with the new trainee. Get out there and fix it right away." I'd smile sweetly and say; "Tom, I'm more than happy to do that. But I do have two store manager interviews this afternoon and I have to finish the report on staffing projections that the CEO wants by 9 a.m. tomorrow. Which one do you want me to drop?"

Would you believe that after a while he stopped bursting in?

As a consultant. I'd always sit down with the client at the start of an assignment and agree on two things: exactly what we were trying to achieve and how we'd measure success..

Isn't it nice to know that some things don't change?

Make sure you have fun

Regards

Leon

HLeichsenring
HLeichsenring

"No" on a stand-alone basis is difficult. It is even not easy to say “no” when you explain why. But to explain why, makes it possible. Transparency is not only a must in the world of social media but also a great help in business.

I am an business, you, my client, are in business. We both have our goals to reach at the end of the day. So let us find a way, how to make something possible that is not possible with the budget agreed on.

Kind regards from Germany

Hansjörg

Kinguin
Kinguin

So what would be the correct way to handle this if you on "down the totem pole" of the marketing team and need to say this to the manager/director? "No" to some can come across as insubordinate.

TamiSmith
TamiSmith

Seems to be the theme this week for me! We have a code name for it 'SOS' shit-out-of-scope. It can sink a ship if not controlled. :)

PattiRoseKnight
PattiRoseKnight

This is something I struggle with too. I worked for 30+ years at a major PR agency and saying no in any way shape or form was not allowed. Old habits are hard to break but it is better to say no than to overservice. When we overservice we aren't able to bill our time and that means we won't get paid. And when we overserive one client we find outself underservicing a different client. That's my two cents.

Mywritingworld
Mywritingworld

Every one has a different nature, and it is very hard to treat everyone with one set of rules. The best way is to know the psychology of people in general and base your relationship rules that can apply to most. Keep some stronger strategies handy in case needed. I do not like blunt replies, as I am always nice.

Fran A

dinodogan
dinodogan

I start my relationship with clients very bluntly. So when it comes time to say no, I say it very bluntly and with a smile. They are startled by it (usually) but theres never any hard feelings. They pay me because Im suppose to know better.

If I throw in some silly logical explanation as to why not, they are usually satisfied with that. And if they probe even further I punish them by explaining exactly why not...this usually takes over an hour and they want to blow their brains out by the time we're done lol

Nick
Nick

Wait, I can say no to you? No! This feels great!

bitSecure
bitSecure

I say "Here's some things we CAN do for what you're paying us", or "Sure we can do that. Here's how much it's going to cost."

a_greenwood
a_greenwood

Thanks for sparing us the horrendous experience of seeing you unshowered. :-) Good post--I have to admit I have never heard the term "overservicing" though I have certainly done it with several clients. (Okay. That sounded odd. Anyway.)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@BillyDelaney It depends on the client. The one I used in the example does not want his budget to increase so he's more than happy to prioritize. :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Griddy You also need to learn how to say no to Skype calls in the middle of the night, but that's a different topic, B.

hackmanj
hackmanj

By the way, 3 people so far clicked like on Facebook. I couldn't help but think:

"Joe Hackman Likes Saying no to Clients"

I know they changed likes but I am still hard wired to think that, unintended humor? :)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Leon You're always telling me to have fun! Fine. I'll have fun.

This is a really good story that I'm going to use when coaching my team. I'll be sure to say, "Leon says..."

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@HLeichsenring Hello Germany! Thanks for the nice response. I agree transparency is a must...in all aspects of business.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Kinguin Hmmm...that's a great question. Mind if I have someone on my team answer that? @MolliMegasko , how do you tell me no without coming across as subordinate?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Mywritingworld Fran, always wise words from you! I don't like blunt replies either, as I'm like you. And you're absolutely right in that one size does not fit all.

Marcus_Sheridan
Marcus_Sheridan

@dinodogan I'm going to piggy-back off of Dino here. I think it all starts with setting the right tone very early on in the process. As an owner of two businesses that are very, very different, this principle has been a saving grace for both.

For example, with my web coaching company, I tell clients bluntly-- I'm not here to babysit you. If you can do it yourself (whatever 'it' is), then you should be. This is about empowerment and pushing you out of the nest. Are we clear??

Anyway, great topic Gini, as always, but let's make sure we get to see that pretty face next time ;-)

Marcus

DougLeavy
DougLeavy

@Nick Someone said "No' to Gini once. That person has not been seen since. Rumor is they are wearing cement Nike's in the Chicago River...

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

@bitSecure I'll be using those right along with @ginidietrich .. great way to put it.. and per @TamiSmith hilarious SOS.. it'd be easy enough to say "that's a smart addition, great way to expand on the scope of the current projects.." so that'll be this more work, than more money.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@bitSecure I don't know why that's so hard for us to say, but you're absolutely right. Great phrases to use!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@a_greenwood LOL! I love that the image of me not showered got you to say more than "great post." HAHAAAHAH! You've really never heard overservicing? It was built into my DNA at FH. We overserviced every client. In fact, wrote off $1MM in fees one year for one client. Insane.

MolliMegasko
MolliMegasko

@ginidietrich @Kinguin I love this question. I ever say no to Gini or even any of my co-workers. If I don’t think something will work, I try not to focus on why (as not to put their idea down) but focus more on a solution and bring different ideas into the mix. One of what I consider my strengths to be is brainstorming and this helps me keep my creative side moving. It’s always better to do this in-person (or over the phone) vs. email this way you can bring the person you’re saying “no” to into the idea session and help them still feel a part of the new solution.

Danny Brown
Danny Brown

@DougLeavy @Nick Its why Mr. Dietrich has a spring mechanism between his neck and chin - gives the impression of nodding in agreement all the time...

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Ricardo Bueno @karyd We have one. When I first bought it for the office (along with milk and flavorings and all that stuff), people went nuts. It was REALLY funny to watch productivity skyrocket because they were having 13 cappuccinos a day. They mellowed out after a while.

Ricardo Bueno
Ricardo Bueno

@ginidietrich @Danny Brown Oh, and please excuse typos: "than" should be "then". It's the afternoon and I've missed my afternoon espresso :-/ We have a fridge full of Redbull but there's no coffee anywhere to be found. Go figure.

Ricardo Bueno
Ricardo Bueno

@ginidietrich @Danny Brown I definitely see your point. I'm speaking from a design perspective having managed dozens of web design projects in my niche (real estate). Clear expectations up-front (always). If anything changes...anything at all..I'm sorry, but those are billable hours and changes. That expectation needs to be set up front while you're negotiating the contract. Otherwise, when you give someone slack, that gives them the impression that they can ask for a little more, than a little more and next thing you know, you've done 3x's the work for less than half the pay. I'm happy to say "yes"...but I'm billing you for it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Ricardo Bueno LOL! This was seriously very valuable. I guess the only time this doesn't work is when the contract or proposal changes (which happens all the time in our business). Like I said to @Danny Brown below, sometimes you get into a client's business and, after 90 days, you realize they didn't give you all of the information and there are things that need to be accomplished before some of the things in your contract. That's really where we see trouble - when the clients says, "We want X and Y for the same amount." Uh. No.