I have worked with a number of people over the years who felt it was a weakness to admit not knowing the answer to a client question or to suggest that there isn’t one single ‘correct’ answer, but I have never subscribed to this view. In fact, I see it as a strength rather than a weakness, but maybe that’s just me?
To err (or not know) is human
We naturally want to demonstrate that we are experts in our field, but this can sometimes mean it is tempting to provide absolute ‘black and white’ opinions on every related topic, i.e to tell people they ‘must‘ or ‘must not‘ do this or that this is ‘always‘ or ‘never‘ the case. Now obviously sometimes this is appropriate, but I believe that in most cases there is a ‘grey area’ rather than a series of absolutes, let me give you a few examples…
For instance, I always suggest that a company will benefit from a professionally designed logo (I am a little biassed), but I realise that lots of people don’t have the funds or don’t currently see the benefits of having a strong brand. I could wail and gnash my teeth about this complaining that they don’t know what they are doing, but why be so damned disrespectful? Everyone is entitled to their opinion and there are businesses that survive perfectly well without a professionally designed logo (or one at all), why should I try to cajole someone into getting me to design them one? A key Pixooma Principle is that we put the client first and we don’t try and sell them something they don’t need or want. I believe that a strong brand can improve any business but that it’s for us to gently educate rather than strong arm people into seeing our point of view.
Similarly, it would seem logical to claim that you ‘must’ have a website in this modern age. I would say that yes, in the vast majority of cases an online presence is very important, but there are (admittedly rare) cases where it is not as vital. I often say that given the first thing people do is check you out online, a website is a proof that you exist at the very least. It’s very easy to dismiss Wix, 1&1 and other website systems as being no use at all and yes they do have their flaws, but they do allow those on a limited budget (who can’t afford to pay someone to design and build one) to create their own site. There are reasons why using them is not ideal, but it is ridiculous to suggest that all startups should avoid them entirely, by doing so all you’ll do is come across as a pushy salesman. I can design websites, but I don’t know all there is to know about website development, however, I don’t try and bluff people, I simply say that I have partners who are experts in coding who I can call on.
Similarly, in the world of print, it would be simple to dismiss the Vistaprint as cheap rubbish (and lots of people do), but I don’t believe it is as straightforward as all that. I have heard very good and seriously bad reviews of Vistaprint, but what I tell people is this… the average time an actual human interacts with your file as it passes through their automated system is 12 seconds! That is why they shouldn’t be compared to a good local printer, whether or not the actual printed product is good enough, you simply won’t get the service, attention to detail or advice that you get from your local printer. Not only that, but once you look beyond Vistaprint’s advertised prices the story is quite different anyway: If you want a better stock, more control over the design and the finish of the print and if you want them delivered in good time then you pay more and the cost becomes more in line with a local printer anyway. Again though, to treat them as the ‘enemy’ and chastise prospects for using them achieves nothing (other than making you look bad).
I always find that when I meet a company representative who says ‘never do this’ or ‘ you must always do this’ about every aspect of their business and seems intent on demonstrating that they know everything, my gut instinct tends to give me warning signals about their trustworthiness. Conversely, if they say, ‘well you can do this’ or ‘there are benefits to…’ or they suggest that there is more than one way to do something and they resist the urge to forcefully sell me their services then I tend to trust them more.
And this links back to the original point: those that spout certainties about everything also tend to avoid telling you they don’t know something about a given subject, as they see that as a weakness. Why should this be? Are we all supposed to be infallible? To me, taking this approach is dangerous as at some point you are going to get caught out – why not just be honest? I think that your contacts will warm to you if you do and who knows if they trust you more they might come and buy from you someday? Yes, it is an approach that takes a lot longer than the aggressive sales approach, but I sincerely believe it results in more loyal customers in the long term.
We are not flawless experts in every aspect of the projects we work on, but that is why we use specialist partners for marketing, print, web development, SEO etc. (which relates to our other two core principles), as it allows us to stick to the design and project management – subjects we are expert in. In this way when we don’t know, there is a straightforward way for us to find out and come back to the client with the right answer (or answers of course)
Simply trying to cover up when you are unsure of the answer to a question is worse than saying ‘I don’t know’, and can come back to bite you. Next time you think that you can’t admit you don’t know something and are tempted to just come up with some bluster to cover your tracks, remember this entertaining video combining real politicians and clips from the political satire ‘The Thick of it”… remember honesty is the best policy!