As part of my district digital manager training at General Motors this week, my teammates split into groups and role-played scenarios with dealerships in attempts to address issues and maximize opportunities through digital marketing efforts. While every group made mistakes when conversing with the fake dealership owner and sales manager, the role-play was incredibly helpful in learning how to effectively communicate with clients of varying knowledge and understanding of the digital space.

Address pain points first


When addressing a client’s needs and opportunities for improvement, an adviser needs to have a good understanding of any glaring issues from the client’s perspective. A few of the groups came right out of the gate proposing solutions to problems the dealer didn’t know about, or consider to be issues. They didn’t immediately engage the client by asking probing questions that might have given clarity to the various metrics that we analyzed as a team.

To effectively communicate with clients, an adviser needs to first find out their wants and needs, address those, and then offer solutions to the fixes that a client is requesting. Take baby steps that will eventually lead into longer strides as the client becomes more comfortable. It’s difficult to put trust and faith into an unproven vendor or adviser, so showing your knowledge and the ability to solve problems is a good way to strengthen a relationship.

Don’t be a salesperson


This is similar in addressing pain points, but don’t try to immediately offer solutions to problems that you found. As clients receive countless pitches from third parties offering solutions to issues the owner or manager wasn’t even aware of, they will be weary when your solutions are attached with a price, whether it’s through additional vendors and programs, adding more budget for search engine marketing and advertising, or even hiring extra staff to evenly distribute the workload. Again, build that relationship, figure out how you can resolve the issues that they think they have and then offer advice or solutions once you’ve built more trust and proven your worth.

Information overload


One of the best ways to turn away a client is through flaunting metrics and expecting them to be instantly hooked. Metrics should be the WHAT for your analysis; it’s your job to ask the question of WHY. The metric itself doesn’t tell the whole story and it’s an adviser’s responsibility to figure out the prologue and any missing chapters in the novel. You won’t have a firm understanding of the plot if you only read one or two chapters in the middle of the book.

A bunch of numbers and correlations are not only confusing, but extremely boring to most listeners. Metrics should be shown sparingly and sprinkled into the story once an adviser determines that question of WHY the metrics are the way they are. When speaking with a client, you should stick with a few simple talking points that tie in with one another.

By doing this, they don’t get lost halfway through the agenda and completely overloaded with the stories and information that you’re providing. I made that mistake when role-playing; I had a lot of great ideas and talking points, but I addressed too many things that didn’t tie in with one another and didn’t transition well enough to keep the dealer owner on the same page. In our story I was reading ahead to page 35 and he got lost somewhere on page 27, which caused a bit of miscommunication and strained our fake meeting.

Don’t bullshit your client


Many advisers and salespeople fall prey to over-promising the services that they can provide to a client, only to under-deliver and lose credibility as a result. Some advisers will also try to act like they know everything, which is one of the worst ways to build trust and a relationship. It’s okay to tell a client that you don’t know if a service is offered through a program, or if it’s within your area of expertise to fix an issue that they’re having.

They will respect you for doing this far more than if you blatantly lie or bullshit your way through negotiating a solution or sales pitch, only to be contradicted later or tell them that you can’t do it. The only stipulation is to get back to them with the information that they requested in as timely of a manner as possible so that you aren’t wasting their time and you’re still proving to be a knowledge expert that can properly utilize resources to find the data the client is requesting.

Summary of how to effectively communicate with clients


It might seem simple on paper, learning how to effectively communicate with clients can be difficult until you form relationships and understand their wants and needs. In short:

  • Find out what their pain points are
  • Don’t try to sell them on a solution
  • Use metrics sparingly
  • Find out the WHY/the story behind the WHAT/the metrics
  • Try not to overload them with information
  • Focus on a few talking points that you can transition into
  • Don’t lie or promise things that you don’t know, or under-deliver on
  • Don’t act like you know everything; you won’t lose credibility
  • Build trust and a relationship by showing your worth
  • Start small and take baby steps

Hopefully this article proved useful in learning how to effectively communicate with clients. Even though it was a role-playing scenario with a few exaggerations on the parts of a few performers, it proved to be an invaluable learning experience for me that I hope to carry into the later stages of my career as a district digital manager.