The Nonspecific Approach
6 min read

The Nonspecific Approach

Table of contents

In a business meeting recently, Peter and I discussed various approaches to effective presentation. He was very detailed in his examples of presentation, whereas I preferred something less precise. In this instance, he opted for saying what a wonderful job a vendor could do, whereas I was more comfortable with talking about what had been done, and the result of it.

The Nonspecific Approach

In my view, the detailed approach has several drawbacks.

It is restrictive for you as a provider; it may commit you to producing results that circumstances make impossible.

‘For one flat fee, I will load this new software onto your computer network and have it operational on the first day. You will be 100% satisfied with this software and the quality of my work. I will also provide technical support for the first year—all for the same flat fee.’

May I ask when you developed a taste for charity work? For one flat fee, you will attempt to load this new software onto your client’s computer network and discover that none of the current software has been updated since it was first installed. That shoots the morning. You will run anti-virus and anti-malware scans, which also have not been done in at least four months, and have to remove loads of toxic junk. The system will have to repair itself. By the time the network is ready to receive your new upload, it will be late tomorrow. None of these extras have been covered in your presentation, but must be done before you can proceed. Through no fault of your own, you’ve failed to meet your deadline. Additionally, the client in this example is so challenged by computers in general that he will have you on speed-dial, and you won’t have an uninterrupted meal until the end of your contract. For one flat fee.

It would be better to say, ‘For an initial fee I will review and prepare your system as needed. When everything is in order, I will upload this new software. Barring delays, your new network will be operational tomorrow. I think you will be pleased with the result. The initial feed also includes X hours of technical support for the first year.’

In both cases, you’ve told the client what you will do, and what the client can expect, but in the Nonspecific approach, you’ve qualified your claims and left yourself room to adjust. ‘Barring delays,’ allows you to update all that other software and run those scans as part of the service before making the upload. It also shows foresight—you are expecting the unexpected. ‘You will be pleased,’ is softer than ‘You’ll be 100% satisfied’ because you can’t guarantee satisfaction. Some people are naturally ornery.

Details can create unrealistic, or at least inaccurate, expectations in the person with whom you are speaking;

‘My approach to solving this problem requires no more than three treatments, and you will feel better almost immediately. You will be cured!’

No two people are exactly alike, nor are two problems, no matter how similar. The slightest variable can affect the outcome significantly, but because you’ve committed yourself to specific results, you’re in a bind. Person A does very well; Person B is unresponsive, and you may find that Person B is doing something that blocks the effect of your treatment. Here, details put the entire responsibility on your shoulders, and Persons A and B only have to sit back, let you do your work, and expect great results. If they don’t get it, it’s your fault. After all, they’re paying you to do the work.

It would be more prudent, then, to be less exact in your claims. ‘My approach to this problem generally requires only a few treatments, and some people notice relief very quickly. You will be part of your treatment team. When the initial crisis is over, we can review and determine whether further treatments, or other changes, would be beneficial.’ (That is to say, ‘if you’re being treated for high blood pressure, and you put salt in everything you eat, all of which is fatty fried food, we can discuss a radical change in diet.’)

The Detailed presentation can make a client feel he has limited options.

‘I’m the best web designer you’ll ever meet. I can design a website for you that will guarantee you a minimum of 10,000 hits a month, with a 30% increase in your revenues in the first quarter as a result. I do this for all my clients and they are completely satisfied. You can’t let this opportunity slip by you!’

I would never take this approach. ‘I’ve designed websites for clients that have increased their viewership by 50% a month, and have resulted in substantial increases in revenues. I would be interested in doing this for your company; I already have some ideas.’

No one likes to be told what to do. People like to make their own decisions, but of course, they don’t always recognize their options, or evaluate them accurately. While there are people who will say, ‘How can I say no?’, there are many others who reject an aggressive presentation. When you talk about what you’ve done for other clients, and suggest what you could provide to your potential client, you’ve said all you need to. The client will make the decision based on the information you’ve provided, and will own his decision because you led him in the direction, and then allowed him to find the solution himself.

Too detailed focus may impair the client’s ability to be creative with the services you provide.

The other drawback to being to detailed in your claims is that you may unintentionally introduce tunnel vision into your client’s thinking. ‘I can write blogs for your website. I can give you three super blogs a week, for $X! I’m a terrific blog-writer!’ (Notice—blog, blog, blog.) If you’ve been very focused in your presentation, and remembering that people don’t like being told what to do, you’re apt to get the response, ‘We don’t want a blog. Thanks for your time!’ A less focused approach would leave room in the client’s thinking for him to realize that, ‘we don’t want a blog on our website, but we have been thinking about a regular in-house newsletter, and he could write that for us.’

It can land you in court.

I’m not an attorney, and this shouldn’t be construed as ‘legal advice’, but we’ve all seen reports in the media of frivolous law suits being filed. They are settled out of court, or decided in court by a jury, for ludicrously enormous amounts of money. With this in mind, there are people who threaten law suits over the slightest disappointments. So imagine that you tell a client, ‘This is a very easy task; with my modifications, it will take you no more than one hour.’ When the client can’t accomplish that task in one hour, he can claim (in court) that you misled him.

It would be better for both of you if you were less detailed. ‘This is a simple task. With my modifications, you should be able to do this in very little time.’ Your promise, and the client’s expectation are more flexible.

I would like to say something about the ethics involved here. A nonspecific presentation may sound like you’re trying to hide something, or con your client into a specific choice. This is not at all the case at all. What you say in a nonspecific presentation is the truth in general terms—the difference between ‘it rained a lot’ and ‘it rained four inches!’ You aren’t overloading your client with non-essential facts. If the client wants specific information, he’ll ask. Everything you say is true, but not so specific that differences become exaggerated irregularities. You are allowing your (potential) client to use his imagination, to make his own decision rather than you forcing a choice on him, and even allowing him to thik of other uses for your talents.

However, let us not be too nonspecific. Otherwise, you’ll be looking for the stuff inside the thing at the place, and I doubt you’ll ever find it.


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