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When clients are stupid

Hint: never

One of my pet peeves is when I encounter people who refer to their own clients as stupid. I am certain that in occasional times of frustration some of us may think this, however a quick, automated logic-based thought process reminds us not to think this way, not to act on this thought, and definitely not to say it out loud. It is counter-intuitive.


One reason I have heard for others thinking that their clients are stupid is because they feel they know how to conduct some aspects of business better than the client. For example, one guy I worked with many years ago, let’s call him Ricky, was on a team that was hired to research and profile all the clients’ competitors. Ricky said exasperatedly: “Shouldn’t they already know this stuff? Wow, they’re pretty stupid.” This is shallow thinking. Yes, they should already know who their competitors are, and investing in third-party objective and thorough research helps them learn anything they didn’t already know about the competitors, and validates what they already thought they knew. Keeping up with who is doing what in your market is extremely important. Research, analysis and market monitoring are not necessarily core competencies of every business person, or of every company, in any market. And the client is smart to outsource these activities to intelligence professionals. Ricky needs to see that he was adding value for his client, and he ought to try to learn exactly how and why.


Another reason I have heard for one to think that their clients are stupid is because they are trying to convince the client to do something (usually to buy something), or to think something, and the client is not buying into it. I once worked with a person, let’s call him Joe, who was a pushy sales guy. Joe would push and push, he would argue, he would propose, he would suggest. Joe would try to make a convincing argument, and Joe would be insistent that he understood the client, the challenge, and that he had the solution. And then if the client did not buy, he would call them stupid behind their backs. This is ridiculous. Joe was a terrible at sales and did not do a good job of convincing the client to buy his services, and Joe did not make the effort to understand the client’s reasons for not engaging. Maybe the client did not have the budget. Or maybe the client had another solution they were turning to. Maybe the client did not prioritize the challenge in question. Maybe the client had different selection criteria that Joe was not satisfying. A smart and savvy client, that understands - or at least makes a good effort to understand - what to invest in and when and with whom, is the best kind of client, because it means you can earn their trust for a longer term relationship, and not just a one-time purchase.


I believe that clients are people and companies that have their own cultures, their own ways of doing things, their own ways of making decisions, and their own core competencies. When these do not align with my own, it just means that the client is going through what they are going through, and they may or may not need what I have to offer as an input to their process. People and companies do not have to be like me, think like me, and do what I would do in the same scenario. And this does not make them stupid. It makes them an entity that is on their own journey, at their own pace. It makes them different. And I am lucky to know them, to encounter their journey, and to possibly have something to share with them.

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