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Mary Ellen Bates
Bates Information Services, Inc.
8494 Boulder Hills Dr.
Niwot, Colorado 80503 USA
Tel: 303.772.7095
[email protected]
Skype: Mary.Ellen.Bates
by Mary Ellen Bates
Bates Information Services
"Is This All I Get For The Money?"

One of the most challenging parts of running any professional-services business is managing clients' expectations. We are delivering an intangible -- insights, information, analysis -- and we cannot anticipate what we will find when we first talk with a client. If we talk about the articles we will deliver or the charts we will complete, we are inviting our clients to judge us by quantity. If, instead, we talk about the insights we will provide, we frame the discussion around the value we bring.

One of my coaching clients recently told me about a project in which this issue raised its ugly head. While she had anticipated finding a good deal of information, she found that not much had been written on the industry she was researching. In her write-up for the client, she included a list of the resources she searched and the search strategies she used. Her client's response was, "Is this all I get for the money?"

Have you ever heard a similar question from a client, in which it is clear that your client was expecting things and you were delivering ideas? This raises two concerns:

1. You have been talking with your client about what you do (sources searched, strategies employed) rather than why you do it (to help your client make a better decision). If your clients expected more from you than just retrieval of information, then they would concentrate on the insight gleaned rather than the items delivered. You can deduce information from even meager search results. Finding nothing relevant might suggest that this is an idea that was tried and abandonded years ago, or one that is fresh and new, for example. This is useful information for your client, even if it was not what you had anticipated.

2. Whenever your client expects a specific deliverable, you set yourself up for failure. It is your job to ensure that your client understands that you cannot predict what you will find, only that you will provide a perspective on what you did and did not find.

As you talk with your clients, listen to how you describe your services. Are you focusing on what the client will be able to do with the results, or with the specific results you will provide? If you focus on your client's ultimate goal, then even finding very little can provide a great deal of information.

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