5 ways to deal with ‘I’ll know when I see it’ customers.

By Michael Killen from Sell your service.

Who is this post for?

If you’re a graphic or web designer, we’ve all had customers who say ‘just get me something over, and if I don’t like it, I’ll let you know’.  This post is all about how to deal with them and most importantly, prevent ever working with them.

Usually, this customer starts with saying ‘I know what I like’, ‘I’ve got an eye for design’ or ‘I’ll be able to visualize it when I see it’.  Take it from me, they’ll never like what they see and what you do.  You need to get strict and have a process that deals with ‘knowsees’.

We’ve split this post into three parts.  1, during lead generation and qualification, 2, during the proposal and design stage, 3 during development and launch.

So why do some customers insist on being shown the final result, only to change their minds?

Because they don’t respect the design process.

Lets be brutally honest here.  Why I say ‘respect the design process’, I sound like a prima donna.  However, it is unlikely that I would ever question a solicitor or accountant.

Why?  Because I trust that they know what they’re doing.  I trust that the result will be what I pay for.  So why do customers with no design experience feel they can alter our process?  Usually because you haven’t positioned yourself as the expert yet.  So with that, lets get into it.

During the lead and qualification process.

So you’re talking to a potential customer and they mention ‘I’ve got a bit of an eye with design‘ or worse, ‘I’ve got a bit of web/graphic design experience’.  They’ll tell you that they know what they like and they know it when they see it.

However they’re often vague and don’t seem to be offering solid foundations.  You know the feeling.  Trust your gut.  You have a feeling already that they will be wishy washy.  Stop that RIGHT in it’s tracks.

1.  LEAD GENERATION – Insist that your process is key to this project succeeding.

You need to let them know straight away that you have a very stringent design process.  It works, it delivers results and it’s non negotiable.  You can easily sugar coat it, there’s no need to yell it at them.  But a firm and polite reason and statement is all you need.

“That’s great that you’ve got design experience/a keen eye for design.  I have dedicated my entire business model to a design process that works. I’m afraid I can’t budge on the steps we take anymore than a solicitor or mechanic can budge on theirs.”

Like I said, be polite, be calm but be firm.  If they say, ‘I know what I like, you’ll just have to show me’ respond with-

“That’s great that you can tell what you like, and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to do so.  We need to get mood board/design/concept ideas from you though before we can start.  I find my customers don’t get good value for money when it’s left too vague.”

Again, calm, polite but firm.  Notice how I never say the word BUT.  it’s an old tactic, but it works.  As soon as you say but, you’re offering resistance.  This is no more a negotiation than a toddler who demands a toy.  It’s not going to happen and you might have to walk away.

2.  QUALIFICATION – Your customers are terrible at writing briefs.

I’ve never understood how and why briefs get so much work and effort put into them.  Your customers will never provide the RIGHT detail.  They might provide too much, not enough, but never the RIGHT detail.

So, let’s skip the middle man and GIVE THEM THE BRIEF.  Use a template to hand out to every customer after the qualification stage.  Use questions like-

  • After the site is launched, I expect X in leads/traffic
  • When I receive the logo, I want to be able to use it on X YZ
  • This copy will increase the take up in newsletter subscribers by X%

Write down measurable and achievable goals (check out SMART goals) that they expect to get from working with you.

There is no need to have a brief pages and pages long.  We don’t need the process, that’s your job, we don’t need background or research, all we want it goals.

When it comes to design, a brief needs to be just as specific.

  • Our primary colour is #XXXXXX, our secondary colour is #XXXXXX
  • Our customers prefer to be communicated to by XYZ
  • We like the logos of X BECAUSE we like Y and Z about it

Provide them with the answers you need.  Think ‘what do I need to ask to prevent them from emailing me later’. We’ve all had customers email us halfway through the build stage and ask ‘can I change this’.

The more work we do here, the less negotiation there is later on,  If their brief changes, that’s fine.  But they need to provide the same level of detail you got in your first brief AND you’ll still be charging them for the work done.

During the proposal and design stage.

They’ve accepted the quote and proposal.  They’ve given you a decent brief.  Now we’re in the design stage.  We need to PREVENT them from wanting to make changes later on.  The basic idea, is to nail down as much as possible now, so that they can’t backtrack or change their minds…until later, when they have to pay for it.

3.  DESIGN AND PROPOSAL STAGE – moodboards and notes

When it comes to getting and idea of what your customer wants in their copy/website/graphics, use mood boards.  Again, no airy fairy ‘I am Formicho the great designer, I must never be looked in the eye’ nonsense.

The three main areas to look at are-

  • Competitor and similar industry websites/graphics/copy
  • Websites/graphics/copy that YOU THE DESIGNER like and want to share
  • Stuff that represents the company.

Set up a few Pinterest boards and get the customer (along with you if need be) to pin a few images.  Get them to write notes alongside the pin describing WHY they chose it and WHAT they like.  Have a few set up from research that they can look at.  Really involve them with this process and it will pay of dividends later.

Secondly, make notes.  Make notes like crazy.  Keep minutes and record meetings on your smartphone (I’ve never had a customer say no).  The most important phrase I’ve ever used, is ‘tell me more about that’.

Anything a customer says, such as ‘I like this bit or that piece’, I respond with ‘tell me more’.  I get them to deep dive into what it is about that section that they like.  They tell me why, what exactly and where they see it on their project.  It could be anything from a 3 column layout, to cell shaded style graphics.

With the goals in the brief and alongside the budget, you can counter ANY requests that are out of order.  If there is something asked for that just doesn’t fit.  You can first ask, ‘how do you see this moving us closer to the goals in your brief’.  And of course, you can always counter with ‘that’s great but it’s beginning the stretch the budget, I’d be happy to alter the quote’.

Most people (and I’m sure I’ll regret saying this) are not SPECIFICALLY trying to wind you up.  They just don’t know how much detail needs to be applied to any digital creative work.

Most customers assume that we like working on computers so much, that we like a change in brief.  That we’re just sitting here playing World of Warcraft or on Facebook until the phone rings.

Most of us are self taught, and proudly so.  For some reason, we’re the only industry in the world that is seen to do this. The truth is that EVERY SINGLE HUMAN IN THE WORLD IS SELF TAUGHT.  I’ve never met a plumber who’s said ‘I learnt everything I needed to at college or as an apprentice’.

We take life experiences every day and adapt our process.  Your experience is what your customers are paying for, let them know that and be firm.

4.  BUILD STAGE – remind them what the goal is.

In my experience, this is the most common stage for customers to ask for edits.  Or to add bits.

Some people call it feature creep, others call it scope breach.  The basic process is thus-

Lead >> brief >> proposal >> consultation >> design >> build >> launch.

Whatever you’re building. I mean this is the generic sense, it could be graphics, networks, websites, logos, copy.  Whatever.  This is the point where we aren’t editing, we’re building.


Why do we say this?  One reason…infinity.  If we don’t lay the line somewhere, the project will go on forever.  So we say, ‘right, once you’re happy with the design, I will start to build it.  Then we launch’.

As the customer sees the build coming along, depending on the solution, they WILL ask for edits.  Why?  Usually because they’ve seen something new, they have been told something by a ‘friend who is a designer’, or they want to keep adapting it because ‘it just doesn’t feel right’.

This is where we need to get firm.  The first response I send is always about time and budget.  I gently remind them that we’re in the build stage and I can’t add features, etc as I’m now building.

I will admit that scope creep is sometimes tough to spot.  Occasionally, they’ll say ‘yeah but I meant that bit over there’. So ask your customer, as sincerely as possible ‘why didn’t you mention this during the design stage?’

Their answer is usually ‘I hadn’t thought of it then’.  That’s literally the point of the design stage.  Architects can’t just add a floor on or an extra room.  Their plans are designed to react to the brief given and goals wanted.

Which leads to the second response.  If it keeps going on, ask them how does it affect the final goal.  If they can’t really define that, then just say that you’re happy to make the changes, but only after the project is completed.  Talk about how the main goal has been achieved with the design, and you’re happy to revisit the brief and talk about a new price and budget once it’s live.

This does two things, first, they will drop it.  You’ve agreed a price, stick to it, get the job done.  They won’t want to justify paying extra.  You’re not in a sales process yet, that can come next.  Jot down and keep reference to the jobs they’ve asked for.  Once the project is live and running, craft an email reminding them of the changes they wanted.  Send a quote and offer to start work right away (with a deposit of course). Boom, you’ve got yourself a repeat customer.

5.  LAUNCH- The repeat customer.

So first off, well done on the launch/delivery/flight.  Whatever you call it.  More often than not, a customer will ask to change something AFTER a launch.

This can work in one of two ways.  First, with many design projects, the content is change-able.  If we’re honest, there wouldn’t be any difference is delivering project 2.0 now or later or even originally.  Or, the customer knows you do good work and wants to continue the relationship.

Assume it’s the second.  What would you say back?  Essentially the customer is asking you ‘what you did was good, I want to update it please’.

They’re asking to continue to project.  You just need to say ‘that’s great! I’d be more than happy to take care of that’.  Now we can bring up the other jobs they mentioned throughout the WHOLE project.  Moving stuff, adding things, changing features.  Produce a comprehensive list and ask if that’s everything.

They will be thrilled at your pro-active approach.  When they say yes, just reply with an ‘excellent, let me get a quote together and I’ll send an invoice’.

What you’re beginning to do is solidify an ongoing a repeat business model.  You’ve taken edits that they’ve asked for and delivered a new brief with quote.  More and more stuff will ALWAYS come up, don’t ever doubt that.

As long as you’re providing value and sticking to your process, you can turn a ‘I know it when I see it’ customer into a long standing, trusting customer.  And that’s pretty awesome.

If you’re serious about positioning yourself as an expert, so this kind of stuff doesn’t happen (or at least happens less), then you can EXPLODE your profits with our FREE marketing plan designed just for digital creative professionals.  Sign up to the newsletter below, stop wasting time with low value customers and generate better quality leads RIGHT NOW.

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Claim your FREE digital marketing plan that generates LEADS AND PROFITS FAST.  It’s totally free and is the fastest and easiest marketing plan in the world, just designed for businesses like you.


Mike Killen

Mike is the world's #1 sales coach for marketing funnel builders. He helps funnel builders sell marketing funnels to their customers. He is the author of From Single To Scale; How single-person, small and micro-businesses can scale their business to profit. You can find him on Twitter @mike_killen.