How To Handle Unreasonable Client Requests

At many points in my career, I’ve been faced with the predicament of sky-high performance expectations that can’t be fulfilled. Here's how I handle it.

Here’s a familiar scenario: your client asks you to increase performance, revenue or volume without a commensurate lift in budget or resources. At many points in my career, I’ve been faced with the predicament of sky-high performance expectations that can’t be fulfilled.

The inability to manage expectations can damage your professional relationship – but this challenge can easily be resolved. Here are several ways you can handle situations where a compromise is necessary.


1. Approach the ‘ask’ objectively

Faced with this dilemma, I have often needed to push aside the initial panic and fear of disappointing my client (or business partners) and think it through. Sort out what work is doable, and what overwhelms you.

Can I explain exactly why these expectations are too lofty and unreachable? If not, it may be a matter of being given too much at once; rather it is a problem that can be solved one step at a time. It’s easy to be overwhelmed until you buckle down to actually do it.

If you’re up against too many obstacles, approach the work objectively. Outline the tasks required to get the results. This will give you a starting point to work with at the very least.


2. Ask a seasoned expert

You aren’t the first business owner to be met with an unreasonable client request–and you won’t be the last. Ask a trusted peer in your industry how they have dealt with a similar problem. One person’s stress-free approach or simple steps to handle the seemingly impossible can help you gain perspective.


Photo: YFS Magazine

What have they achieved under the same time constraints and budget? Do they have a strategic approach to managing expectations? Maybe they have a great method that covers their bases early on in the process. Humbling myself in this area has helped diversify my professional network and cultivate meaningful relationships with other experts.


3. Illustrate how realistic goals are met

I’ve never met a client that is interested in hearing why something can’t be done. Instead, I use past examples of work we’ve achieved with adequate resources. Highlight previous wins that show an increase in capability, but take note of how each key performance indicator was reached by tracing your steps.

Maybe your last marketing campaign surpassed original goals and you’ve been asked to do it again – only better this time. Were your past wins due to the time of year, a budget for original content production or a real-time moment on social? Did you use special software to give your campaign a boost? Before agreeing to start what you can’t complete, use previous wins as a roadmap for what you can do.


4. Prioritize

Listen to how your client discusses goals. Then look at how your work fits into a bigger picture. If you can’t meet two objectives simultaneously, focus on what will yield results and what will make the client happy. I always work towards a single core goal of a project, leaving the non-essentials for later.


Photo: © robdoss, YFS Magazine


5. Focus on the positive

Highlight what’s working. Track the progress and show what you’ve achieved since you began the project. I have a personal rule to never report an isolated downturn, setback or obstacle by itself. For every piece of bad news, you can find something good to show for your work.

When you show due diligence on your end, whether it’s with a report or status call, it makes it difficult for anyone to attribute unmet goals to your own negligence. This is a simple way to cover your bases.


6. Set expectations early

Before you sign a contract or scope of work and say “Sure, no problem,” explain why the goals, workload and resources aren’t aligned. Communication is essential to ensure you’re not the scapegoat for attempting the impossible.

Manage expectations before you start work on a project. Explain what you will do in order to work toward the outlined goals. Also share that these steps may not suffice given certain parameters (e.g. budget, time, etc.). This way, there are no surprises once you’ve consistently communicated your capabilities.


This article has been edited.

Zach Binder is the Co-Founder of Ipseity Inc, Member of Forbes Councils, Member of YEC, Entrepreneur, Marketer and Consultant. He loves graphs that go up and to the right. Connect with @zebinder on Twitter.


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