Six Traits of Outstanding (& Outstandingly Successful) Clients

In over 15 years of consulting, I’ve had the privilege of working with hundreds of clients and stakeholders. While many of them were memorable for different reasons, some clients have been truly outstanding in terms of our working relationship and what we were able to accomplish together.

These clients came from diverse roles, backgrounds, and industries. Their projects ran the gamut from small websites to mobile apps to IoT devices to complex web apps. However, they share several traits that directly contributed to the success of their respective projects.

1. Outstanding Clients Are Enthusiastic

They are excited about the thing that we are building together. They believe that it will be successful, and that it will create positive change and new opportunities in the world. They have a mission, and they talk about it a lot, in design meetings, in sprint reviews, and in our other interactions.

Why it matters: For software consultants, our clients’ enthusiasm is contagious. At Atomic, our job is to help our clients succeed. We do our best by our clients every single day—but I’ve seen teams accomplish extraordinary things when inspired by an enthusiastic client’s contagious vision. We want to know our work matters.

2. Outstanding Clients Are Empowered

They have the ability to make unilateral decisions about their product, or they have the drive and the skill to quickly achieve buy-in from other decision makers within their organization.

Why it matters: Custom software is expensive, and agile teams move fast. A client who can act quickly and decisively will enable the software team to work efficiently, avoiding extra time and expense related to rework, uncertainty, and constantly shifting priorities.

3. Outstanding Clients Are Engaged in the Process

They attend all sprint meetings and design reviews, and during the meetings, they participate actively and constructively—their phones and computers are stowed away (or used for relevant note-taking), they are tuned in to the conversation, and they provide relevant, constructive feedback. They express feedback in terms of user needs and business problems, giving the team room to suggest design and development solutions that fit those needs. They also respond quickly to e-mails and Basecamp posts, providing solutions, answers to business questions, and requested feedback within a half-day or less.

Why it matters: Regular, active participation from client stakeholders means that nobody is surprised by development progress or client expectations/feedback. Quick turnaround on Basecamp/email means that the development team remains unblocked and can work quickly and efficiently. The worst clients and stakeholders are the ones who engage sporadically, attending meetings and interjecting questions and feedback without knowing project context.

4. Outstanding Clients Are Pragmatic

They understand that there can be multiple solutions to a problem, and they are willing to agree to the one that will optimize for user needs and development cost. They are willing to take a “minimum viable product” approach, delivering a feature that does the job and enhancing the feature based on user feedback or usage patterns.

Why it matters: Clients who are willing to trust Atomic’s designers and developers when it comes to UX and workflows are able to achieve the ultimate bang for their buck. They will get more features completed than the client who insists on a particular workflow or user experience pattern. Clients who are willing to rely on our experience, taking our advice on which features to cut and which features to optimize, reap rewards of increased user engagement and efficiency.

5. Outstanding Clients Extend Trust

They chose us as a vendor because we are experts at custom software projects, and they trust us to solve their problems in the best way we know how. They rarely challenge our technology choices, development approaches, or design recommendations. When they do, it is because they have a solid argument grounded in their superior understanding of their own business objectives, user needs, or domain expertise.

Why it matters: One of the most demotivating things to a software team is the feeling that their client does not trust them to do right by them and the product. Our makers know that software clients will always have more ideas and more problems to solve than they have budget to spend—we are motivated to work efficiently and find the best solutions for the job. We would never purposely use an approach that we did not feel was optimal for our client’s needs and constraints.

6. Outstanding Clients Are Appreciative

During sprint demos, design reviews, e-mail communication, and at project close, they express their satisfaction with the work that was done and the progress that was made. Recently during a sprint demo, one of my clients said, “This feature is so cool, I’m going to cry! Great job, you guys!” Everyone on the team left the meeting feeling great and excited to start the next feature in the backlog.

Why it matters: It’s human nature—everyone wants to know that they did a good job. Clients who express their satisfaction with our work during sprint demos, design reviews, and other communication will reap the rewards of a happy, motivated team that wants to go above and beyond to meet milestones and make the project succeed.

Atomic’s makers will always do their best to deliver a fantastic product and optimize for project success. Clients who adopt the behaviors outlined above will be rewarded with a team operating at peak efficiency, producing the best possible software product under the constraints of time and budget.