It’s always tricky to share an honest opinion, even when a client asks you for one – you shouldn’t lie and say you like something if you don’t, but you need to be careful that you don’t screw up a good client relationship by being too blunt. (This sounds a lot like dating, doesn’t it?)
I’m reminded of the time I met with the president of a small company who showed me some design ideas that I thought were pretty bad — but before I gave him my honest opinion, he also (thankfully) told me that it was his wife who drew the illustrations.
One time I wasn’t so careful, though. I was doing a direct mail campaign for an insurance company and the client insisted on using a customer testimonial with a picture. It was a really, really bad picture. It made me laugh out loud when I saw it, and I joked and said we absolutely had to find a different customer. That’s when I learned the customer was a relative of the person I was working with. Ouch!
So what’s my advice? What do you say when a client asks for an opinion?
A few tips:
- Never offer up suggestions or comments on the spot. Tell the client you appreciate being asked, but you need some time to consider all the angles. They’ll usually appreciate your diligence, and it gives you more time to think it through.
- Try to find out more. Ask clients why they are seeking feedback, if they’ve had success with similar approaches in the past, or if they’ve shared the idea with others. You might also have a chance to gather info from others in the organization: “Hey, Tom, Sally asked me for some feedback on this. Do you have any background?”
- Remember that marketing is both an art and a science. Just because you don’t personally like something (the art) doesn’t mean it won’t be effective (the more measurable science). Think about goals, do some research and make sure you’re evaluating things objectively. This can then be used to explain why you like or don’t like something. And, it shows you base your advice on facts.
I’m not saying it’s OK to be indecisive, or that you should nod and say you like things you don’t. Marketers are hired for their advice and counsel, not to be “yes” people. But my point is to be careful how you do it. If a client asks your opinion, that’s a good thing — it means they trust and value your expertise. Just give yourself the time you need to retain that trust.
Scott Fiene is the assistant dean for the Integrated Marketing Communications program at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Contact him at Safiene@olemiss.edu.