Clients are the backbone of every business. The services or products they're buying from you are what drive your income, but it's your continued client outreach that will keep your business alive and profitable. Understanding customer needs is one of the greatest challenges of any business, yet it is also one of the most rewarding and fulfilling tasks. 

But how do you make sure you're addressing your clients' needs in a way that helps them advance their business? Here are five key tactics for understanding your clients' needs and therefore meeting their expectations.

1. Know their business

You need to understand your client and their business well enough to be able to sell them something.

If you want to get a better idea of what kind of project they need done, you could ask them to complete a discovery document or creative brief. The document can answer any questions you may have before an in-person meeting.

It’s important to build relationships with your clients. You're not just about work. You're not just employees; you're also human beings, so it doesn't hurt to get to know them outside of work. It doesn't mean you have to be best friends; it just means you can know a bit about them as people and share a bit about yourself.

2. Listen (really listen)

It may seem like the most straightforward advice but it’s often difficult for us as humans. We all know we're not perfect listeners. Listening carefully to your clients will help you understand and remember what they tell you, even if it isn't a formal meeting.

Being a good listener takes focus and work. We often prepare our answers before we listen to someone else. We tend to think about what we want to say instead of listening to what someone else has to say. It's true in both sales and business environments. Don't formulate your pitch while the client's talking. Don't respond until you have all the relevant information.

3. Ask questions and paraphrase for understanding

To do this, ask open-ended questions and, if this is an online branding project, consider using an online survey tool to get in-depth insights. Clients want to be understood.

Depending on your client’s needs, you may need to adapt your communication style to meet their needs. 

The added power of paraphrasing comes from the response of the client, who may be able to use the new information in his or her own words. Either they'll correct you or more fully elaborate on what they were saying, but both are likely outcomes. They will also likely give you additional information that will help you complete your project.

‍4. Bring new ideas to the table

Whether you’ve just started working for a client or are already working for them, bring solutions to your customers. Don't be afraid to suggest something else besides what the client had in their head. Customers will appreciate that you are offering them new ideas and perhaps even helping them identify needs they didn’t realize they had.

You may have a different service in mind, but if nothing else, this shows that you're listening and trying to understand your clients' needs.

5. Continue to circle back with the client

It’s essential to keep in touch with your customers, to ensure you meet their needs, and to see if you can offer them any further assistance. After all, having loyal clients is important to any business, no matter which industry they're in. This can also help ensure that you get retainers from your clients.

Here are two  examples of ways you can get back in touch with a client:

  • After completing a project, conduct a post-project session to review the results and discuss any issues that may arise. Ask for feedback on your work, and be ready to suggest additional work that you can do.
  • Conduct periodic reviews on an ongoing basis. For example, if you're working on a retainer basis and doing semi-annual or yearly reviews to see if the arrangement is benefiting both parties, it's worth it. It will also point out new opportunities for improvement.