Managing Expectation Series: 5 Tips to Improve Client Understanding (Tip #3)

Published: September 1, 2016

We’re in part three of a five-part series. Be sure to read our first and second posts to get caught up!


Try to avoid projects where the scope is to “get me whatever you can.” Get as detailed a definition of the scope as you can. What is the problem the client is trying to solve? It’s your job to understand why the project is necessary. This is particularly important when working with senior executives. Take a more consultative approach, and ask questions like these:

  • What decisions will be affected by possessing the information you seek?
  • Will the results, directly or indirectly, help save or make the company money or save the company time?
  • What do you need to know, vs. what would you like to know?
  • What is driving the need for this particular project at this particular time?

As in golf, you have to see the shot to make the shot. Even if you do see the shot you won’t always make it – but it sure increases your odds. Likewise, intelligence providers must understand the objective so they can ensure that the right questions are being asked and the right analytical framework is being used.

Another important factor in managing client expectations is to assess whether the project can even be completed. Not every question about the competition or industry can be answered. If it could be, your professional services likely would not be needed.

Be forthright: If you don’t think you can get an answer or valid perspective, say so. This is particularly true when you are working with a senior executive. Although there might be some disappointment from the client when told that what is desired cannot be obtained, disappointment is better at the start of a project than at the end.

However, you can significantly minimize the frustration clients might feel when told what they want cannot be obtained, by immediately sharing that some alternative and equally valuable insight can be acquired or developed.

Later this week we’ll share our fourth tip on deadlines and communication, so be sure to check our blog for an update.