A woman walks into a doctor’s office complaining of shoulder pain. She tells her doctor that she recently had to replace her pillow. The new pillow is causing the pain, she says. After all, what else could it be?
A good doctor knows that causes and effects can easily get linked in peoples’ minds, even if they’re not actually related.
A crucial ability marketers must demonstrate is the capability to identify client pain points and provide effective solutions.
Your outside perspective and your experience puts you in a perfect position to do so — but you’ll need to do plenty of prep work to have the vision they’re looking for, and that means asking the right questions.
Just like the doctor, you’ll need to sift through client challenges, both real and perceived. When you get to the truth of the matter, you can truly help your client succeed.
In this article, I’ll explain:
What your clients really want from you.
How to identify client pain points.
The danger of addressing the wrong challenge.
Ready to better serve your clients? Let’s get started.
Why do your clients hire you?
It seems like an obvious question — and an easy one to answer, right? Clients hire you to do their marketing for them and to help them achieve their goals. These could be project-based or ongoing, but in their eyes, your help is necessary to get them there.
But we can zoom out to see the bigger picture and really understand our role. It’s not just about a single goal or one-off campaign. What your clients are really hiring you for is your expertise and your outside perspective.
Clients hire your expertise
Clients are hiring you for your expertise. This seems pretty obvious. You are the expert marketer who has done the research and can develop a plan. You possess a combination of knowledge and experience that they hope you can bring to their situation. When they invest in your time, they gain valuable insights and guidance.
You are worthwhile to your clients because you know what you know and have done what you’ve done.
Clients hire your perspective
It can be hard for anyone to solve a problem when they are inside it. For clients, you offer a fresh, expert perspective from outside of the organization. This separation is key. You are not embroiled in office politics, part of a clique, or resentful because of a withheld promotion. You are neutral, with only success in mind.
You can help them understand the problem: Clients sometimes misunderstand what’s in front of them, causing them to think they’re facing a different problem than they actually are. They might even misunderstand their product or their customer base. Your first job is getting to the bottom of the client’s challenges.
You can help them understand the solution: John Dewey famously said that a problem well-stated is a problem half-solved. When you’ve done the first part, you can more easily explain the solutions that address the challenges your client is facing.
For example, a client might think they need a complete website redesign because they aren’t getting the traffic they need. In fact, their real problem might be marketing strategy or conversion optimization — neither of which would be solved by a website redesign.
How to identify client pain points
So, how do you identify the challenges each client is facing? How do you separate the real problem from the perceived ones? It starts with asking the right questions.
Ask the right questions
Remember the woman with shoulder pain? The one who was sure her new pillow was to blame? She might not have remembered the two hours of playing frisbee.
Although they can sometimes misperceive a problem, client team members are still a vital source of information about what challenges the company faces.
The key here is to talk to as many stakeholders as you can. If you satisfy yourself with just the C-suite, you run the risk of missing key insights from the rank and file.
You should include questions like these:
What is the greatest strength of your organization?
What is the single biggest challenge you face?
Do you believe your organization is structured and staffed appropriately?
How would you describe your company’s culture?
What makes your customers choose you over your competition?
What makes other customers choose your competition over you?
You could ask these questions in interviews, focus groups, surveys, or other methods, but the goal here is data collection. Try to gather as much information as you can, then you can begin to look for patterns and red flags.
But we can’t just rely on what we hear in interviews. Next up, research.
Do your research
You should balance what you hear from inside the company with what you can learn from the outside.
Learn about their business: Look at the client’s entire business and really get to know what they sell, be it a product or service. Read customer reviews, traffic details, and other user data reports.
Learn about their industry: Next, research everything you can about their industry. Who are the most established brands? Who are the most interesting newcomers? How has the industry changed over the past five years? Who’s driving that change with innovation?
Use what you learn from research to balance and contextualize the information you get directly from client team members.
Reassess along the way
Just as your business is not the same as it was a year ago, your client’s business will develop and change during your time with them.
When it comes to work we do with clients, the kickoff is critical. Research shows that the beginning of any business relationship will dictate the course of the entire relationship. As the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
In the early stages of your work with a client, they are looking for evidence that you are worth what they’re paying you. They want to see clear demonstrations of expertise, acumen, and insight. They want to see that you understand their problems.
If, in fact, you do understand them better than they understand themselves, it’s likely you might be in a position to tell them that their perceived problem is not their actual problem. This can be hard for any business leader to hear. The more work you’ve done, the more evidence you have, the more intellectual capital you’ve built, the more likely it is that your client will be willing to hear and accept your diagnosis.
A woman walks into a doctor’s office complaining about shoulder pain. A good doctor listens, asks questions, observes, and then offers a prognosis. Sometimes, the pillow has nothing to do with it.
Do the work ahead of time so you know the client and the industry. This way, when you help them chart the course forward, you know they’re on board with your vision.
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