Give New Clients An Early Win

In a world where there are fewer traditional, tactile deliverables, we need to rearrange our thinking about what we’re doing for clients. I want to suggest two specific things.

First, think of your primary deliverable as communication and not the completion of tactics. The more upstream your work, the more likely your work results in transformative ideas that you implement together, with your client. But the value is in the idea, primarily, and that value is preserved when it is implemented.

This is particularly true if there’s a lot of legwork before the deliverable actually gets delivered to the client. In that setting, what you are delivering is communication. What else is there?

The communication could be:

  • An update on progress.
  • Initial, rough concepts that are still undefined but have taken sufficient shape that you can describe them. Think whiteboard drawings, a few paragraphs depicting a solution, a prototype, or what research is coming next.
  • Clarifying questions to demonstrate that you are working and trying to understand with sufficient clarity.

More and more, the communication is the deliverable, and the more upstream you are with a client, the more that’s true.

Second, peel off a portion of what you are doing and deliver something that will benefit them early in the process. The important thing to note here is that the early, small deliverable will be different for every client. So listen carefully to where you might score an early win.

Every early win resets the clock, giving you a longer leash to keep working and then put them at ease again. If they have to reach out and ask for this, it’s not as impactful. This should come to you before they ask. You are anticipating when they will get itchy for an update and you’ll intercept that objection.

These are almost always simple things that are easily within your reach:

  • An introduction to someone.
  • Some supporting materials or ideas that they will use to sell to someone upstream from them, more easily winning approval from someone they need to convince.
  • Filling in a knowledge gap to bring them up to speed on some change in the marketplace.
  • Smoothing over some political tension that you navigate on their behalf, without the other person even knowing it.
  • Getting a big project back on track in order to feasibly deliver something by the original deadline.

Whatever this is, it needs to be done very quickly. Within a week. These early wins are like pulling the thorn out of a lion’s paw. Until you do that, the client can’t relax and think about the bigger picture.

Stellar communication and early wins–especially if you don’t seek to take obvious credit for them–will get those relationships in a new world off to a great start.

Remember, too, that clients are far more likely to notice deficiencies in the process than they are to notice deficiencies in the quality of the work.

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