Do You Speak Client?

Posted May 23, 2011

YOU:             “Tell me what kind of event you’d like.  Do you want something classical and formal or modern and understated?”

CLIENT:            “Um . . . I brought some pictures?”

We are a super creative industry, but when it comes to understanding our clients, we can really be a bunch of dumb-asses sometimes.  We live in our own bubble, a bubble where the locals speak Eventese.  We know that “classical” means crystal chandeliers, tapestry table runners, oriental rugs, carved oak paneling, blah, blah, blah.  And “modern” means an open loft with white walls, hardwood floors, maybe some sleek couches, etc.Inspiration Board

Or does it?  With so many designers of events, hotels and restaurants mixing modern and classical touches, even we’re not so sure anymore.  How then can we expect a client to know what these words mean?  Especially a client planning their first event, like a wedding, a company anniversary, or some other one-off event.  The truth is we can’t, and you can often drive a truck through the gap between what a client says they want, and what we think that means.

So what do we do?

  1. We keep trying to make the client understand our Eventese language.  We think if we use even more Eventese terms, and gesture more with our hands when doing so, they’ll eventually get it. Like the stereotypical loud American tourist abroad who, when the local doesn’t understand their English, thinks that if they just speak the same words LOUDER, that’ll do the trick.
  2. We guess.  We’re so creatively gifted and stylish, we can just . . . tell.  WE know what the client wants.  We look at what they’re wearing, how they speak, what names they drop, and then categorize them in our heads and spit out a design we think they’ll like.  Or more likely, one we think they SHOULD like, (if they knew what was best for them).
  3. We learn to speak Client. We could actually, wait for it . . . learn to talk to the clients in a language they understand. Pretty radical, huh.

Radical indeed.  Welcome to the world of Sasha Souza, wedding and event designer extraordinaire, who has cracked the code on speaking Client when it comes to event design.  Sasha’s come up with 10 simple non-event-related questions she asks all new clients.  The answers to each question give her specific insights into her client’s design preferences, which helps her produce Inspiration Boards that are spot-on.  She

Sasha Souza

Sasha Souza

uses these boards to then implement specific event elements that reflect the client’s vision.

Here’s a sample question:  “Where do you go on vacations?”  If the client says they go to spas and resorts, they’re far more likely to want to be in a ballroom; if they’re more the hiking and adventure type, they’re more likely to want a loft, barn, etc.

I was so impressed with Sasha’s methodology that I invited her to fly out to NYC from her base in Napa to speak at the very first live event hosted by the Event Leadership Institute.  (If you’re interested in attending, it’s on June 7th at the incredible Gansevoort Park Avenue hotel rooftop.  Click here for more info.)

Mind you, it’s not the questions themselves that are so special, though she will share those with the audience at our event.  It’s the concept of even coming up with them in the first place that I loved.  The idea of getting out of our own bubble and climbing into the client’s head to really understand what they want.

What’s the Benefit?

The impact is dramatic, and has several tangible benefits.

  1. The client feels like they’re getting a highly personalized design that is truly a reflection of what they want.
  2. The client feels more invested in the process because they’ve taken the time to fill out a detailed questionnaire.
  3. Sasha becomes known not just for great event design, but for really listening to her clients and knowing how to customize her work to meet their needs.
  4. Both parties save a great deal of time in going back and forth on concept development.  The questionnaire, when done right, is like taking the express elevator to getting a design that meets the client’s desires.

The questions and the answers will only get you so far, however.  The heavy lifting comes in reading the tea leaves, in learning how to interpret the answers. Read them wrong, and you’ll get a client that’s frustrated that after all the insight they’ve given you, you still don’t “get it”.  Experience and intuition need to take you the rest of the way.

So take some time and start learning to speak Client.  Get out of our Eventese bubble and get inside your client’s head, and you’ll be amazed at the results.

4 COMMENTS

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  1. Howard
    Tahira
    June 2, 2011 at 12:45 am Permalink

    You have hit a hot button for me. My cuurent favorites ” experiential” “tablescaping” “scenic crew” oh the list goes on instead of doing exactly what is needed – finding out what matters to the client. It is not about ” thinking outside the box” (there is no box) it is about first finding out what matters to the event and the people it is for and then the ideas can take root. Thank you fir this great post and for looking ahead to where we need to be.

  2. Howard
    Peter Urey
    June 8, 2011 at 11:11 am Permalink

    So true – listening is 80% of selling but so is summarising. Regularly recap – “so this is what is now in my head after oyr chat. You want xyz IS THAT CORRECT?” This lets client clarify but eventually they will say YES and that’s when they commit. Getting too Yes saves everyone’s time and reduces confusion. Hope that adds to the discussion. Peter. (It does doesn’t it?) y/n

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  1. Dare To Be An Icon 02/06/2011 at 10:42 pm

    [...] is kicking it off this Tuesday, June 7th, with a talk by Sasha Souza in New York City.  Howard …

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