Managing Expectation Series: 5 Tips to Improve Client Understanding (Tip #1)

Published: August 25, 2016

Say you’re an intelligence director, and you get a call from the chief marketing officer: “Get me profiles on 6 private companies in 5 different countries … Identify their sales, operating costs, prices, margins, strategic initiatives, product development plans, IT platforms … I need this by the end of the week, and the budget is under $5,000.”

An exaggeration? Of course – but not by much. Do you regularly deal with these types of requests? Do your clients fully understand or even care about what will actually be required to fulfill their requests? How to you manage their expectations, especially the expectations of “C-level” clients?

Here we’ll launch a five part series offering tips and strategies to better manage the expectations of CI clients, based on practical experiences gained from over 20 years in the business.


Determine the biggest driver behind a decision to proceed with a project: Is it timing? Expense? Quality of work?

The bottom line is that good and fast work insight isn’t cheap. And, fast and cheap insight is rarely good. When time is truly driving a project, the goal is usually met at the expense of one of the other two factors. Immediate or urgent requests can be provided if the client understands that the information and insight discovered might not be as complete as it could be if more time was available.

It comes down to choice vs. chance. You have the power of choice to say “No” to taking on a project. It’s hard to tell a CMO or CEO “Sorry, we can’t help you.” Of course you wouldn’t say it in those words – but you do need to provide a reality check and make it clear what kind of quality can be provided in what time frame, and at what cost. Perhaps you can take on the project, but it might need to come at the cost of another project being delayed or dropped. Or you could scale back the scope.

It can be uncomfortable or intimidating to turn down a project request. But look long-term, not short-term. Business intelligence should always either save money or time, or make money or time. Any expectation that doesn’t contribute to meeting one of these goals is a waste of both.

Good things happen with better management of client expectations. People will be calmer when everyone is on the same page. You will be perceived as highly professional and gain credibility and respect. The net result will be that your client will have a positive experience and provide more repeat work, which helps the overall viability of your position and the CI function.

Our next post in the series will post later this week, so be sure to check our blog for insight on how seeking perspective, not precision is key in managing expectations.