Woman trying to help clients make decisions

How to help clients make decisions

Everything we do is around having empathy for our clients and our client’s clients.
Walking a mile in their shoes.
Understanding their challenges and their time constraints.
And I think many of us are getting much better – tools like customer journey maps and empathy maps help clients make decisions.
Problem is, even when we present all the facts, some clients still struggle to come to decision. Why is that? And can it be helped?

I’ll give you an example. One of my favourite clients used to embrace everything I presented. He accepted my designs whole-heartedly, with great enthusiasm. Often I didn’t even finish presenting before Peter* had decided how the design would be rolled out and possible extensions. Problem was, by the time I’d flown home to Melbourne, he would have changed his mind and many of (what I considered) my best ideas remain buried, gathering dust.

I now understand the problem wasn’t him – it was me.

The reason why my client struggled to make a decision was because  – even after dealing with Peter for over 20 years – I never stopped to consider what he information he needed to make a decision. In fact, I presented the same way to all clients, without considering their individual needs. Without considering what would help their decision-making processes.

We’re all human and we all process information differently.

Using the information in the diagram below, I now know Peter is a charismatic decision-maker. And I now know charismatic decision-makers respond to balanced information and results. So rather than join his enthusiasm and assume the idea was accepted, I should have completed my presentation by stressing my proposal’s features and benefits. And rather than just leave the designs, I should have left a written presentation outlining the strategies and justifying the solution.

I think my experience is common to many designers. Most present work exactly the same way, regardless of the client. That’s never going to work consistently because not all clients have the same decision-making methodology.

How to help clients make decisions

Some clients need to have all the facts before they can possibly reach a decision. Others want to canvas the opinion of colleagues and read copious case studies to gauge the risk factor. And for some it’s all about the numbers. They want time to diagnose statistics, return on investment data and cost/benefit analysis before giving approval to proceed.

Designers routinely design to allow for the different ways users process information. For example, annual reports present the results as infographics for those only interested in the big picture but they also offer the same information as narrative because there are other readers who love to delve into detail. So it makes perfect sense to present differently depending on your client’s needs.

I read about decision-making styles in an article in HBR’s 10 must reads: On communication. Change the way you persuade, an article by Gary Williams and Robert Millers, describes the results of their research  conducted over several years. They found that most executives have a default style developed early in their careers. Styles are reinforced through repeated successes, or changed after several failures.

There are typically five decision-making styles: charismatic, follower, controller, skeptic and thinker. Each style has typical characteristics, and responds to different arguments.

Decision-making styles

image explaining how to help clients make decisions


Design is not one-size-fits-all, because clients and end-consumers are not one-size-fits-all. By considering a client’s decision-making style, we can adjust presentations to suit their needs. Presenting the information they need may help clients make decision quicker. And make decisions that stick.

*name changed to protect the guilty.

If this article was of interest to you, you might also like:

How to help client’s give feedback.

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The way we respond to feedback can set the vibe for a relationship or a project.

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Carol Mackay

After 30+ years running a graphic design firm, I pivoted from client-focused projects to consult to the design industry. Now with the Design Business Council I use my experience, and research, as a design mentor and coach. I help designers build robust, sustainable businesses, and help businesses integrate, and profit from, design.

The core of the DBC is the building a design community – over 85% of designers work in businesses with less than 5 employees, many less than 3. That means designers don’t have the same support network of other professionals. The DBC’s solution is supplement paid gigs with mentoring breakfast meet-ups, informative UNseminars and practical workshops in Melbourne, Perth and Sydney.

An archive of her design work at mbdesign.com.au.
Her current work can be viewed at designbusinesscouncil.com and designbusinessschool.com.au.