Skip to main content

Working with the Demanding Project Customer

We, as business analysts, never have to deal with problematic or demanding project clients, right? Sure!

I’ve dealt with my fair share – a couple even just this month. And I’m sure the business analysis community out there who has to face project customers every day and hold their hands through lots of ongoing project activities have certainly had their share of demands and push backs that make them wonder why they even bothered to get out of bed that morning.

Related Article: Getting the Project Client to Focus on Requirements

We can say that the customer comes first. For me, that is almost to a fault – meaning if I’m working on a project in an organization I will often go above and beyond to make the project customer happy even at the expense of direction from my PMO director, mainly because I’ve followed bad customer advice from PMO directors in the past only to watch two very large projects shutdown as a result.

Yes, hindsight is 20/20, and I am very cautious in following that type of direction that seems to conflict with my project client’s satisfaction and the project’s overall well-being.

That being said, what happens when you are filling the role of the business analyst and working closely with those difficult or demanding clients and your gut tells you not to proceed? What if the client wants us to jump through hoops just to maybe get their business. Or a hiring organization asks you to go through just one more process, or just one more test or just one more demonstration before they make their decision?

I’ve had that one happen before. You end up having so much time dedicated to the process already that, even though you want to call them up and say “I’m out!” you hesitate to do so because “It’s just one more round” and you’ve already put ‘x’ amount of effort into it.

I had some potential clients recently who wanted me to put on a mock project kickoff session for them as “just one more thing” before moving forward. I still haven’t heard anything from them. And I have a software vendor who has gone in circles for two years asking me for proposals and then we will start…and then nothing. False starts take time, waste time and mess with your mind and planning process. It’s hard to say “no more” but at some point, you just have to.

How do we handle these types of clients? Better yet, how do we recognize and dismiss them before we go crazy or put too much wasted time and effort into them? Because if there’s one thing I’ve found it’s this – you can’t turn a bad client into a good one. It will never happen. So if you’re gut says “no” early on…you should probably act on that.

Here are my top three signs of a bad, overly self-important client and how to respond.

1. Show me first with some free work and then I’ll decide.

They want something for free before they’ve ever paid you anything toward a project or a consulting engagement. Run away the other direction as fast as you can. If you already have a good resume and a good reputation and some proof of that, you don’t need to prove yourself any further. The three times I can recall in the past few years falling for this to try to get a consulting client on board it ended up being a complete waste of my time and it disrupted my productive thinking and schedule of what I was doing for good, paying clients. No more.

2. My way or the highway.

You’re the expert so you’ll have to be the judge on this one. But if you have specific experience, and you know that way won’t work, but they won’t listen, run the other way.

If you can’t convince them that their way is not the right way, then you probably should not take on the work.

Now, if they don’t seem to care about their money and understand VERY CLEARLY that you are waving flashing red lights in front of them and they still want to pay you to proceed, then maybe you should just go ahead and take their money. Just be careful when considering what this could do to your reputation. Are they going to announce you to the world as a failure if it fails, as you know it will? Make sure it’s worth it to you.

3. Why can’t you do that? OR the price is too high.

As the business analyst, you are often the liaison between the customer and the project manager – though the project manager should and does have their own major amount of customer facing time and responsibilities. You are often – and in some cases, always – the liaison between the customer and the technical project team. In fact, it can be a little dangerous letting the customer have too much face time with the development team. The development team can end up being too open to the “little” requests resulting in what is known as expensive “gold plating” of dev work above and beyond requirements and the budget.

So think of yourself as somewhat of a gatekeeper. Telling the customer “yes” and “no” on requested work and dealing with those “the price is too high” complaints or feedback responses. And maybe it is – for them. Don’t sell yourself too short. Discounts are fine. Taking less pay for a remote position when it is very worth it to you to do so is fine. Again, just be careful because once you’ve discounted, you won’t retain that client if you raise prices later. That’s why when I discount something for a client I make sure it’s still worth it to me per hour and I clearly write it into the agreement that they will continue to receive that rate as long as they maintain continuous – that’s the key word – service from me. If they leave and come back, then I can assess whether I want them back and at what price.

Summary / call for input

The business analyst has lots of “customer” responsibilities – likely even way beyond what is written into their job description or what is planned on each specific project engagement. But, the project wouldn’t flow nearly as well without you.

How about our readers? How do you deal with difficult project customers or problematic (or cheap) clients? Share some of your thoughts and possibly even horror stories and let’s discuss.