As a member of a software implementation team, I consider building credibility with new clients extremely important. Fortunately, clients usually have many positive interactions with people at Atomic Object before meeting with us, which tees up the relationship.
Nevertheless, there’s often a noticeable skepticism from clients before implementation begins. This is understandable, as these clients are trusting us to build their dreams or prototype out the next evolution of their business. Breaking these barriers down quickly is essential. The faster there is mutual trust, the faster we can begin to build great software.
So how do you build credibility? It comes down to trust. The client needs to know that they are in good hands, with a team they can count on for solid, well-reasoned advice. I try to accomplish this by listening, doing research, and asking questions.
At the very start of the project, I think of myself as a sponge. I need to understand the ecosystem surrounding the project. This includes the stakeholders’ expectations and constraints, plus how the software needs to work and for whom. Clients often offer up a lot of useful information during the first few meetings.
Interestingly, I’ve found that clients unintentionally hint at their risks and concerns early in the relationship. An experienced consultant can pick up on these encrypted messages and figure out how to decode them before they have negative consequences on the project.
Research arms you with knowledge of the industry, the client’s competitors, and the proposed designs/system. You want to dive deep into the domain, system, and users. Ultimately, you’ll want to be able to ask relevant questions.
I take the learnings from the clients and the research to build a mental model of how I think the system needs to work.
3. Ask Questions & Give Suggestions
It’s now time to ask questions about the mental model. The goal is to identify any discrepancies in the system. A few examples:
- Will this work for a particular user?
- How does this part of the system talk to another?
- Are there places where more value could be captured?
I think of questioning and suggestions as two different but closely linked steps. I first focus on questioning the basics to prove to myself that the mental model of the system is accurate. Then I describe my mental model to the client to see how it matches up with their understanding.
As I feel more confident, I start picking away at inconsistencies in the model, places where the system might not work for users, or places the system might not be capturing all the value it could. I rely on my past experiences with client projects or similar systems I’m familiar with.
By this point, the client should have noticed your interest, learned that you understand their problems, and heard about your plan for moving forward. Through each of these steps, you’ve accrued credibility. There are many approaches to managing a relationship with a customer, but I’ve found these to be the fundamentals.