How to Give Customers What They Need, Not What They Want

How to Give Customers What They Need, Not What They WantWhether you refer to them as clients, customers or accounts, your experience working with any of these groups has likely presented you with the tough decision to either give a business what they want or to give them what they really need.

If you are lucky, these two areas overlap and you look like a hero as you deliver favorable results to your smiling clients. All is right in the world!

But sooner or later, after enough years in the business and after working with enough people, you will find yourself stuck between a rock and a hard place as you deal with clients who bring you ideas that you know are not going to help them achieve their goals.

Henry Ford alludes to this conflict in his quote, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” Often, customers are too close to their own business to see the bigger picture of what it really needs to get to the next level. They will ask for a bandage to fix a gaping wound, when really the underlying problem – and its solution – is much deeper.

So how do you gracefully persuade customers to accept your recommendations for what they need when this differs from what they want? Let’s take a look at five steps that will get you headed in the right direction.

Be kind, but honest when sharing your opinion and expertise

There is never a need to be rude or condescending when informing clients that you do not believe their ideas will achieve the results they desire. Remember, they have sought out your expertise because they want your input. Strive to build a relationship based upon kindness and honesty so that you are able to openly share your opinion and they are well received by your clients. The more your clients trust you and the more your track record of advice has panned out in their favor, the more likely they are to listen to your recommendations in the future.

Offer real examples backing up why something may not be in their best interest

Some clients will want to see proof as to why their idea is not good for their business. Do your research and offer real examples or statistics of other businesses that have used a similar idea or strategy only to have it yield less than desirable results. Another method is to back up your own ideas with research and examples. Don’t just tell your clients, show them why you and many others have found your idea to be of greater benefit.

Give them (only good) options from which they may choose

Give your clients a sense of control and involvement by presenting them with options from which they may choose. The key is to give them only options that will help achieve the same overarching goal. By controlling the options presented, you can help steer your clients toward only good decisions, whether they know it or not.

Get them excited about these options!

Your clients may come to you with a “bad” idea because another business did it (likely in a different industry, with different goals and a different budget) and it looked cool so now they want to do it too. They’re excited about it and for that reason alone it’s attractive. Use this “shiny object syndrome” to your benefit by turning your “better” options into other, shinier objects that catch their eye. Your excitement for these options will get them excited as well. Best of all, they should love that these ideas are new and different from what another business has already done. They will get to be among the first!

Offer praise and encouragement (even if it was your idea)

Finally, step off your soapbox, get down from your high horse and take a back seat to receiving the glory when your ideas deliver the results you’ve promised to your clients. All the credit you could want will make its way to you in the form of a nice paycheck. Until then, be a cheerleader for your client and offer praise and encouragement for their smart decisions that have helped them to achieve their goal.

How have you had to delicately steer your customers toward what they need, and not just what they want? Share your personal experience by commenting below!

6 thoughts on “How to Give Customers What They Need, Not What They Want

  1. I had a client, many years ago, whose wife fancied herself to be a copywriter. She wasn’t. The client was the Managing director of a company which manufactured bathing soap among other things. So, one day he shows me a headline written by his wife and asks me, no, not asks, tells me to use it for his new ad. By a superhuman effort I avoided falling off my chair. It was so ridiculous.But hey! I was only 25 and he was the head of a multi zillion buck company. So, I said I’d give it a shot, went back to my agenncy and showed it to my boss. Being more a pragmatic businessman more than anything else he said “Use the damn thing. This guy’s business is very important to us.” So we used it. It bombed.

    The lesson I learnt from this episode was: Let the client screw whatever and whoever he wants (wife included), but not the copy.

    1. Thank you for sharing your story! I’ve also worked with different people who felt different ways about giving the customer what they want vs. what they need. Now as “my own boss” I stick with my morals and give customers what they need before what they want–otherwise, with such different philosophies, we cannot do business together.

  2. Another A+ post, Stephanie. I like how you insist, albeit diplomatically, giving your clients the best advise that they need to hear. Telling clients what they want to hear, in my opinion, is the easy way out but unprofessional and unethical.


    1. Thank you! Yes, I can’t stress enough the importance of kindly giving clients what they need before what they want. In the long run, giving a client what they want (if this indeed differs from what he needs) will not produce a fruitful and lasting relationship together, plus it will comprise morals and professionalism. Glad you enjoyed this post.

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