How to Work With Design-Clueless B2B Software Clients

Let’s face it: Some clients know they need better Web design, but they don’t know the first thing about what good design is.

Presumably, this is why they hired you. After all, the best Web designers play a consulting role as well as a design role. Designs shouldn’t just be pretty, but functional. Not just awe-inspiring, but user-friendly. It’s your job to explain to the client how to achieve all of the above.

Unfortunately, B2B software companies are notorious for thinking they “know” design when they really don’t at all. That’s because their staffs are composed of super-talented techies who sometimes confuse technical prowess with superior knowledge of the digital aesthetic. Sadly, they’re often wrong.

Here’s how to make working with these clients less of a headache and more of a reward.

1. Be patient.

Patience

There’s a good chance your client will show you several designs he or she really likes. There’s an even better chance that many of them will be, shall we say, sub-par samples.

Don’t jump the gun and tell them how you really feel. Let them talk. If they’re the kind of client who likes to be in control and has a very specific vision for the company’s new Website, it’s your job to hear them out – even if you think that vision is completely off the mark.

Why? Two reasons:

  1. The client spent a lot of time researching these designs and feels strongly about the samples; you should let them have their “day in the sun,” so to speak, and
  2. You’ll learn a lot about the client by listening to what he or she has to say.

So be patient. Save the criticism for later. In the discovery phase of any new Web design project, letting the client put forth a vision and share concerns is an integral part of the process. Even if you’re working with a gaggle of B2B techies.

2. Be critical.

Critical

Just because you’re patient doesn’t mean you can’t put your foot down if the client’s designs suck. After hearing their vision, there comes a point where you’ve got to open the floodgates and start being critical.

Remember, a designer is also a consultant. You want to lead your client to the most effective design for whatever they’re trying to accomplish. When you point out their errors, be sure to tell them why you think their approach is off.

And try to make a business case for your critiques. Relate your design suggestions to practical concerns, and show the client that poor design choices mean fewer leads.

3. Be persistent.

Persistence

They might try to fight you. Don’t let them.

In the end, both sides will be worse off if you cave and design something around their misguided ideas. They’ll be generating fewer leads from their Website, and they’ll think it’s your fault.

Yes, being too persistent could cause you to lose the gig – especially if they’re skeptical of your suggestions. That’s why you have to walk a fine line between persistence and positivity. Let it show that you really care about the direction they’re taking and that’s why you’re pushing so hard in a particular direction.

On the other hand, some of these B2B tech guys are so consumed with data migration, consulting with hardware providers, and getting their clients to ditch legacy applications that they may not think looking at your wireframes is the most important thing in the world. With those kind of clients, you still have to be persistent. It’s just a different kind of persistence.

4. Demonstrate value.

Value

With difficult clients, you have to demonstrate value constantly. Everything from the prices you charge to the designs themselves makes a difference. If you can’t show how listening to you is a good investment, it’s going to be hard to convince the client that your criticisms and suggestions are worthwhile.

In the end, good design is effective design. It helps convince a B2B software vendor’s audience that this is a company to engage with. It looks good, sure, but it’s got to help the company advance its business goals.

And therein lies the value behind great design and great designers: Show even the most difficult clients that listening to you will improve their bottom line, and you’ll get your way every time.