How to handle awkward client conversations

Presented live on Tuesday, January 22, 2019

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How do you handle those difficult conversations where your client gives you “feedback”? What about when a client tells you how they think your copy should be written?

In this live Tutorial, conversion copywriter, Joanna Wiebe, walks you through two ways to handle those awkward conversations when the client forgets why they hired you.


Joanna Wiebe: Today, we are talking about client management, specifically, how to push back when your clients give you what they like to call feedback, when your clients tell you how they think your copy should be written.
We all go through this. Everybody has experienced this. If you’ve done any copywriting at all, you have very likely sat through a conversation or many conversations where the client decides suddenly that actually, they’re the copywriter in the room and they’re going to give you all the feedback and edits possible, and it’s not just feedbacks, feedback based on accuracy or even brandings, or in style guide stuff. It’s like, “That copy’s too long. I don’t like that. Try it this way.” Those sorts of moments in your life as a copywriter where you’re like, “Huh, how do I get them to remember that they brought me in because they can’t do this?”
This is one of the reasons that I strongly recommend, as a side note, that people try not to work with extraordinarily small businesses that think, “Oh, I would do your job if I only had the time.” That’s not going to be a great client to work with. We want to make sure that we’re working with clients who get that we have special skills that they don’t otherwise have access to, and that’s part of everything to do with conversion copywriting.
Okay, but even still, you are still likely to get people in review sessions in particular, so a client that hires you, someone that hires you, they’re sold on you, they love you, they’re like, “Oh, that’s so great. I want wait to work with you,” and then the rest of their team comes in, and they don’t know you. They don’t know anything about you. Some of them might be copywriters too or people who’ve been doing the copywriting, and they don’t really like that you’re there. They haven’t been sold on you, or they kind of like that you’re there, but they think a copywriter should just do as they’re told by marketing managers, by the UX person, by whomever else in the room.
There’s going to be lots of situation in which clients and people on your primary client’s team are in a position where they think that they need to give you feedback. The reality is that they do need to give you feedback, but you need to control that feedback. We have other tutorials on exactly how to do that and what to ask for. Of course, we talked about this in the 10X Freelance Copywriter so I’m not going to get into those parts. Right now, I’m going to get into the actual art of the pushback. I’m going to walk you through a couple scripts.
Okay. Let me start by sharing my screen. Here we go. You should be seeing my screen now. It is a keynote on the art of the pushback. These are two ways to handle those moments when the client just totally completely forgets why they hired you in the first place. Now, this, without question, these conversations can feel awkward especially the first times that you’re handling these conversations. The first few times that you have to go through a conversation like this or even the first or second time with a client. All the new clients you take on, you are likely to have to go through pushback with them. That’s another reason it’s nice to retail clients rather than to keep cycling new clients in. If you can retain them, then they’re sold on you, and you don’t have to have these awkward conversations anymore.
What I really want to encourage is we tend to run away from those awkward conversation. I have seen extremely strong copywriters stand in front of a room, present their copy, have people who are not qualified for their job give them feedback and then those copywriters actually live edit on the spot like, “Oh, okay, great.” Then, they go and change their copy. I sit in total horror watching it happen because if your clients believe that they can do your job, my question is why are they paying you so much? Little wonder you’re not getting paid as much as a lot of other copywriters are if you live edit in front of your clients.
The goal with live editing for those well-intentioned copywriters is to avoid the awkwardness like, “Okay, fine. We’ll just do what they say and move on.” Their face gets red. They just like go for it. I encourage you to sit in the awkardness. Let it be awkward. In fact, make it awkward. Make it a little bit awkward. Allow it to be awkward. It’s going to be because you have a room full of people who have forgotten that they can’t do what you can do, and this makes for awkward conversations, but we’re going to have those conversations, so we’re going to have a couple ways to handle those conversations.
The first one, when somebody asks or suggests that you make X, Y or Z edits, instead of doing it, ask a question or a couple of questions. Now, what are these questions? This is kind of like you’re playing a chess game. You know where you want to get. You know you want to get them to a place where they, again, recognize that you’re the expert. This is where the more you take, again, training on how to be an expert copywriter and be really good with clients, the easier these conversations will go, so you’ll be like, okay, you recognize that as a conversion copywriter, the one they brought in to do this, we’re going to help them generate more revenue.
You’re the one who understands the rule of what. You’re the one who understands stages of awareness. You’re the one who gets copywriting frameworks and formulas. That’s you. You do those things. You’ve done the studying on copywriting, so knowing that that’s there, you don’t have to force that information on your client. You have to get them to remember that, that you’re the one who knows this stuff, so we want to ask questions that lead them there, not rando questions, questions that when they answer them, they’ll start to remember, “Oh, yeah. I don’t know.”
A couple examples, when the client says … You present with your copy, and it’s like, “Okay, any notes?” You’ve already guided them through the type of feedback to give you, but they jump in with things like this. “Oh, well, we tested that and that didn’t work. We tested emails that are long. Long copy doesn’t work for us. Okay, we tested that and it didn’t work.” You say, “Oh, which part did you test?” “Long copy. We tested long emails already. They don’t work.” “Were the recipient’s pain, solution, product or most aware?”
Ask that question, and suddenly, people are like … because they don’t know. This is not you being a jerk. This is you legitimately looking at them in eye. You’re not being smirky. You’re just, “Oh, okay.” You’re accepting that. Sure, they have tested. Problem is that people take one test result and act like, “Oh, that’s always true for everything.” Your long copy might have been a really bad message. It might have been the wrong message for the audience in that time. If they just want a quick offering and you give them long copy, the long copy is going to underperform, so your job is to kind of coach them toward better understanding what those results really were and how they maybe don’t apply to what you’re about to talk about.
When you say, “Oh, were the recipient’s pain, solution, product or most aware? Do you know where they sit on the awareness spectrum?” then they don’t have an answer for that, and that’s where you want to get them, not by being a jerk about it but by really coaching them recognize what they don’t know. Then, you can just jump in and say, and you’re not being defensive or argumentative at any point because you know you’re the right person to do the copywriting in the room, and all you need to do is gently remind people that they’re not the right person, so then you can say, “Oh, I ask because the longer emails that we’re recommending are written for people who are late solution to early product aware where longer consistently perform as well. Of course, naturally, we’re testing these emails so we’ll know more about how well long copy works for your audience in these stages of awareness very soon. Any other notes on this one?”
That’s it. That’s it. Moving on, right? Pretty straightforward, ask that question. Couple more excerpts there. You write copy. Maybe it’s got instructional stuff in it like how to do something. If you’re writing onboarding emails, that’s it. The client then says, “Oh, cool. There’s actually a video that sums this up well, so let’s just swap that in instead,” with this idea behind it that everybody prefers to watch video, so you have to hear that. What do you say to that? “Do you happen to know what persuasion work the video follows?” to which the client is like, “Hm?” Everybody sits quietly like, “Persuasion framework?”
Then, you launch in with what you know, again, reminding them without having to say it that you’re the one who gets this stuff, so, “I ask because this copy is written using the PAS framework. It’s time-tested. It’s a really great fit for your One Reader on this particular page. Copy Hackers has done loads of testing with it. Basecamp uses it for their homepage, so it’s a really powerful framework.” The client’s like, “Oh, yeah, sure. Yep. The video’s just an idea for you.” You say, “Cool, thanks.” That’s it. It’s not awkward. You engaged. You got into the conversation. You reminded them without having to say it that you’re the one who gets this stuff.
Then, another one, “Our designer has some edits for the copy, so we ran your copy past the designer who’s building the page out. She’s got some edits.” “Oh?” This is always the most fun because designers love when copywriters tell them how to design their page, so we, of course, love when designers tell us how to edit our copy. “Oh?” “Yeah, when she started designing the page, it was over 8,000 pixels tall, so she’s worried about page load time and reading on mobile.” Those were all perfectly legitimate, super valid points, by the way, and you know that. All of these points so far have been valid. It’s just it’s not their job. Your job is to be strategic. Their job is to focus on inaccuracies, things [inaudible 00:10:16] has to review stuff like that, so we want to bring it back to just reminding them that they hired you for a reason.
Right. Page load time, you can help obviously solve this. That’s something developers generally take care of with long copy. When we write long copy, we hand it to the developer and the designer and we make sure that just they prioritize what gets loaded. Logo, of course, is another question, and we should develop custom pages for mobile if it’s a big enough concern that you’re rethinking the original copy strategy. Just putting it back on them and asking, “Are you rethinking the original copy strategy because we didn’t talk about mobile before? We didn’t make it sound like it was a big deal, and now, it’s coming up.”
Just put it back on them. Is it enough that we’re going to rethink the original copy strategy? They forget, by the time copy is going into production, two months, three months in some cases may have passed. They forget about the original pain they felt. They forget about how delighted they were with the copy you wrote, and they start getting worried about the things that they don’t know, so a designer brings something up, they feel anxiety around it. Your job is to allow them to have those feelings but to remind them that those feelings might not be that real, and if they are that real, we might have to re-address the whole strategy.
The client will be like, “Oh, honestly, it’s not that big. She’s just asking for some of the details to be cut.” “Do you happen to know if she has a background in conversion copywriting?” This might sound like jackhole stuff to say, but this is real. If you honestly look them in the eye and you’re not saying, “Oh, do you happen to know if she has a background in conversion copywriting?” You’re just like, “Oh, do you happen to know if she has a background in conversion copywriting?” Then, their answer is like … No, because you didn’t hire her for that job.
Okay. Those are some essential questions to ask to just remind, get the client back to remembering why they hired you in the first place and then, of course, actually sometimes reminding them why you’re there. Sometimes, people just plain forget, and they miss the mark and no matter how many gentle nudging questions you ask to get them to remember that you’re the pro in the room, they just purely need to be reminded, so with the one we were just looking at, the designer has some edits, you go through the whole thing and, “Do you happen to know if she has a background in conversion copywriting?” What if they pushed back further and they said, “She doesn’t but the copy is very long, Joan.” Okay, it is. “Also, the control copy, your current website, is very short but that hasn’t been working and that’s why I’m here. Here’s the thing. I don’t know enough web design to get hired for her job, and honestly, she doesn’t know enough about copy to get hired for mine. Are we still good with the original copy strategy or do you think this might need a bigger conversation?”
Now, you’re just getting real with them. You’re not here to monkey around with whatever little edits somebody feels like they need to make to your copy. This doesn’t mean you’re a diva. This means you’re the professional that was hired for the job, and if they’re relatively decent to good to great clients, they’ll get this. They’ll get this conversation, and they’ll realize that, yeah, they forgot. They forgot why they hired you in the first place.
Then, you get other ones where lots of members of the client’s team are just like throwing feedback at you like Pandora’s box wide open, so clients like, “Oh, we could tighten up the copy in some places.” Another says like, “Also, we avoid using all-caps in our email. I know you capitalized A-N-D in there. We don’t do that.” Another client, “Oh, and here’s a numeral where you should spell out the number because it’s under 10 and that’s a style thing.” You’re getting all of this stuff, and you’re like, “Holy mole this. Okay, got you.” This is where often, when clients are throwing a lot of stuff at you, sometimes, you just need to fully remind them.
When you’re presenting copy, you’ll usually walk through what are some customer data and all that kind of stuff but you’re no longer walking the client through why they hired you in the first place, so in the copy presentation meeting, you’re unlikely to be talking about how you got those great results for that company, that company, and that company. That happened way back at the beginning of the project. That’s what sold them on you in the first place. By this point, you may need to simply remind them especially those team members of what’s up.
You take in their feedback. You’re listening to them, and you say, “Got you. Just a quick reminder. Now, we didn’t bring this up at the beginning of this copy and review session purely due to time but writing emails is what we do. This is all we do. We write and test emails with focus on increasing paid conversions, and to be fair, we absolutely hear all the time that our copy is too long and things like that, but then we test it, and when we do, we do things like we cut churn for Canva or a triple paid conversions for Wistia or we increase upgrades for buffer. Everything you’re seeing here is based on years of testing this stuff. It doesn’t mean, of course, it doesn’t mean that it will beat the control but hopefully, you can take comfort in the fact that we’ll be testing this to see if it works with your audience like it does with so many other audiences. Cool?”
“Cool, totally. Awesome.” “Of course, it does not mean that I don’t welcome all of your feedback. I do. I’d just ask you to keep in mind that some of this is going to feel a little uncomfortable, might feel a little different from what you’re used to. We’re doing things differently, but we’re testing it all. Okay. Any other notes on this?” That’s it. Move on. That’s it, right? Everybody gets it now. It’s a little awkward. Things got a little bit awkward in there, but you had to go through the conversation. You had to have it because the alternative is very down deep, making edits based on what they say or flipping out or going like, “That’s not why you hired me.” Nobody wants either of those. You have to have the conversation though. You can do it respectfully, and of course, always be friendly while you’re doing it.
This is not a giant huge smiley face. You don’t have to over compensate, but you should be friendly throughout. You’re not in a bad mood about it. You’re accepting all of their feedback. It doesn’t mean you’ll incorporate all of their feedback. You’ll accept it all, and that’s it, okay? That’s awesome. Thanks so much for everybody staying on. This replay will be available shortly, and we will see you next week for the next Tutorial Tuesday. Have a good one, everybody. Bye.

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