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How to negotiate and win with tough clients

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It is essential in any negotiation to understand what the client wants.

Often an early misunderstanding can escalate into a full-blown battle of egos that can cause problems. We don’t want that!

I’ll be discussing the various types of clients (particularly the tough types) and the ways you can tackle them – and hopefully win them over!

You'll also enjoy this episode of our new podcast...

Display empathy

As mentioned before, one way to win against clients is to understand what they really want. The trick to this is not to try to persuade them on what you want them to do, but instead to understand what they want and then link your offerings to their values.

To do this, you must care and listen very carefully to what they say, and also listen for what they do not say. Often clients will say more with their tonality and body movements than they actually do with words.

This takes practice. It’s a skill that will provide so much value for your clients because one of the most important factors for them is the need to be heard.

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Many clients will oppose a great idea simply because they want to be ‘right.’

So the way to win with such clients is to win without fighting them and understanding what they want to achieve.

More on Millo: 2 simple ways to keep your best clients for life

Demonstrate your expertise

Another way to negotiate and win with clients is to establish yourself an expert and authority in the area that you operate in.

Expert knowledge is not enough to get the respect of all clients, and in order to get their respect, you must first give them respect.

The greatest victory while negotiating is to demonstrate your expertise without preaching or telling the client what to do.

A great way to demonstrate your expertise is actually to ask lots of questions and use what is called the Socratic method.

The Socratic method is using the power of questions skilfully to gather more information from your client.

The client will tell you what they want and then it is your job to show them how to achieve it as painlessly as possible. This information is vital because this will be your leverage if negotiations get tricky at a later point.

Once you can remind the client and demonstrate what you are proposing will fit in with what they want, then their resistance will fall away.

It is important to do this elegantly because some angry clients will ruin a project just to prove that they were ‘right.’ No kidding!

‘Presenting’ yourself

The way that you present yourself will also have a significant impact on how you can influence your clients.

The ability to adjust the tone of your voice while asking question, making statements or giving commands will also make a huge difference.

For example, with a question, your voice would typically rise upwards at the end of an important question.

It is important not to overuse the question inflection because it makes a person sound unsure about what they are saying.

The statement is a normal tone and should be frequently mixed with information that the client thinks is important.

The command is a statement that suggests that the client take a particular course of action. A lot of people get commands wrong because they raise their voices louder and adopt an aggressive posture. That is not the correct way.

The correct way is to have a downward inflection to your voice and it could even be said with a quiet voice.

Another important factor is your physiology, and that is how you move your body. A person’s body speaks even when no words are being spoken and non-verbal communication is even more powerful than words.

In order for these things to have maximum effect, you must be in rapport with your client and he or she must be open to what you are saying.

If you forcefully convince or manipulate someone, then they will typically get that feeling of buyer’s remorse soon afterwards, and that will potentially be harmful to your relationship.

Cut your losses

Sometimes you simply will not be able to save the relationship, or you may not get along from the beginning of the relationship.

There are a whole host of reasons why people will not get along, and in those cases it is important to save your integrity and simply say NO to a client. The truth is that sometimes the best deals that you do are the ones that you avoid.

There is a huge worldwide market of potential clients and no one particular client should have power over you to control you. Like I mentioned before, respect must be a two-way street and if you have a few options open to yourself then that will enable you to relax and focus on creating value and not on thinking of losing out.

The ultimate situation in a client negotiation should be a win-win scenario for both parties – although in reality that will not always be possible.

Negotiating is often very challenging, and of the most important things to remember is that no deal or client should ever be worth losing your self-respect and dignity for.

To conclude, a client that is being difficult or tough, will typically just want what is best for their business. Clients that are just there to fight or throw their weight around can be avoided and defeated once you have enough of other options available.

If you have any comments to the views expressed here, then please do get in touch in the comments below. I would love to hear your experiences with tough clients and how you managed to deal with them!

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About Brian Grant

Brian Grant is the founder of Anisometric Inc. – a consultancy that helps entrepreneurs to increase their profits, improve their productivity, and enhance their brands. He is also the creative director of the Anisometric Group – a creative design consultancy that works with clients such as: Adidas, Coca Cola, Aston Martin, Playboy, Sony, and Fiat, to name a few.


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  1. Hi Brian. Thanks for sharing your insights here, it was very helpful in that I often feel quilty for declining a client’s request.

    I recently had a client requesting certain file types, which I absolutely do not provide due to the nature of graphics. As a professional Graphic Designer, I have extensive knowledge with regard to file types, thus I provided additional information that explained the differences between file types. My client refused to read the one page document by making it very clear to me she didn’t have the time and that other designers have provided her with the file types. Her argument was that if other designers provide it, so should I.

    It was a rather difficult situation and I still refused to provide the file type. The file type I provided retains the quality of the graphics at a much smaller size and can be used across all platforms, which will be better for my client. I explained all of this in a very calm and professional manner and still my client was upset. As a result neither of us will want to work with each other. It is difficult to gain trust when amateurs are being unethical only to keep clients happy. It affects my work tremendously and I do not see it changing any time soon.


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