Questions blackboardI was recently asked to provide some young associates with my methodologies for delving into client solutions in light of customer needs to develop both marketing strategies and copy for everything from web sites to print brochures.

I had no idea what I’d say. “I just do it,” was the first unhelpful thought that came to mind. To avoid making a fool of myself in front of my colleagues, I paid close attention during my next client engagement. One thing, and one thing only leapt out at me: acknowledgment of ignorance.

“Talk to me like I’m stupid,” is one refrain I repeated more than once when talking with the new clients about their unfamiliar solutions. I pretended no intimacy with their jargon or terms-of-art. I didn’t nod knowingly when they discussed details far beyond my knowledge. Instead, I interrupted with “what’s that?”

I learned this lesson the hard way. Early in my career, I sat through a meeting with a client going 1000 miles per hour, while I trailed behind at a snail’s pace. Young and stupid, I assumed that the seasoned veterans in the room understood every word the client said. They had to understand; they weren’t asking questions; they were taking dutiful notes and nodding sagely. Of course they understood.

After the client left the room, I asked, “What did she mean by xxxxx?”

“No idea,” came the universal response. We had just sat through a meeting to get information and had gotten none because we, as marketers, were too proud to admit that we did not have in-depth knowledge of the workings of software developer tools, or security protocols, or virtualization, or whatever the client was talking about.

But it wasn’t our job to know those things off the tops of our heads. It was our job to be able to quickly grasp them in context of the audience and their needs. To grasp them, we needed information from the client, and we had just failed to get that. We had failed to do our jobs.

What you don’t learn from your client can hurt you, and them. Listen, and never let your pride stand between you and the information you need to provide excellent client service.

Let them talk to you like you’re stupid until you feel you know your prospect and your product.

What are your opinions on this topic at hand? Any useful tips for acquiring necessary information from your client? Leave a comment below and let us know.

-Leonce Gaiter, Strategist & Sr. Writer