Tackle Challenging Project Conversations with US Clients with Ease

Posted On: August 26, 2020

Are you part of an IT or software development team that is struggling to have conversations with US clients about extending deadlines, adding or removing features from a project or any change in the scope of the project? I’d imagine almost every offshore development team has encountered this problem, and wondered how to tackle challenging project conversations with ease. Let’s take a look at how easy it can be to do just that.

Tips on managing client expectations during difficult conversations

Some years ago, I consulted with a team in India that was struggling in how to communicate to a US client the need to prioritize features in a product release of an e-commerce website. There were three features left to complete, the client was requesting the release date to be moved up by one week though there were some elements of the project they were having a challenge communicating to the client about. 

I got involved meeting with the team investigating the situation and trying to figure out project milestones, deliverables, and their understanding of their client’s business, among other aspects to help them formulate their own communication plan.
The video and the script are below along with a few questions to ponder. 
In the video where do you notice:
  1. Small talk being used with the client? (Hint, it may not be the normal ‘How was your weekend?‘ kind of small talk.) 
  2. How the India team weaves in knowledge about the client’s business, their customers (end users) and their client’s concerns about the project? 
  3. Notice how the conversation with the client can be conversational, casual, yet professional. This helps build rapport with US Americans.


Case Study in Tackle Challenging Project Conversations with Ease

Case Study: Understanding Clients Business/End User to Negotiate Changing Requirements/Deadlines


Before getting into the transcript, I’d like to stress on the fact that each situation, each team has different communication and personality dynamics. How each team structures client engagements also impacts this communication strategy. How each team in India ‘drives’ the meeting is critically important. There are a few factors I look at specifically to see if you or your team tackle the client-service provider balance in a way US Americans appreciate. Some of those tips are found in the video found here.

Another way of looking at the scenario in the video is that if user stories are applied properly, this can also help in the “negotiation” process. A great “formula” for user stories is given in an article from Scruminc dot com on User vs. System vs. Job stories:

User story formula:
As a *role/who* I would like to be able to *action/what* to achieve *business value/why.”

Or, if applied to our example, one user story could be:
As a customer, I would like to be able to pay using a secure payment gateway so that my transaction is safe and secure.

What are a few other user stories you can grab from the case study? (In coaching programs, I help you to articulate these user stories with more ease and confidence.)



Video Transcript:

[00:00:01] Hello, everyone, this is Jennifer Kumar. I would like to share with you a case study. Now, this case study has two main players. One is an IT consultant team in India and the other is a US client. Obviously, with people working across cultures in a virtual environment, there are going to be cultural differences. I’m not really focusing on that for this case study.

[00:00:23] What I would like to focus on is what…. where does the I.T. consultant team have leverage in a challenging conversation?

[00:00:36] What is the US client looking for in this relationship?

[00:00:42] And how can that kind of be used to create meaningful conversations where both parties feel good, especially when we have to tackle some difficult conversations like extending deadlines or adding resources to a project, or maybe adding a feature that the client didn’t know about. And, you want to be able to convince them about that… Or, the opposite, convincing them of removing a feature and how, you know, how that will actually still create a viable and successful end product.

[00:01:24] So, how can you, as an I.T. consultant team, use that information from past projects to leverage current conversations?

[00:01:35] And, how can you get into the mind of your client so that they understand that you know their business and because of that, that’s why you’re proposing certain solutions?

[00:01:47] So, it’s not just your expertise in your software development skills, but it’s also the understanding that you know their business, you know what they’re trying to achieve by creating this product with your team.

[00:02:01] So, here’s a case study. The two main players are the IT consultant team in India and the US client. I never talk to the US client.

[00:02:10] So, all of this discussion is based on my consulting with the I.T. consultant team in India and helping them create a communications strategy to extend the deadline of a launch of an e-commerce website. So, that was the original intention, actually, which was to extend the launch date by one week or five business days of this e-commerce website. But, however, after I sat down and brainstormed all of the details with them of this project, we realized we didn’t need to extend the deadline, but we would need to do a little convincing on something.

[00:02:47] So, the three elements we looked at here were what were the things left to finish for this website launch? There are three tasks left to do. What were the timelines and time needed for each of these tasks? And the priority level, too, was their technical. The technical elements of the discussion, which I’m not going to get too much to at all on this in this case study and also talking about the customer’s business and their customers using the website, their understanding of that whole process that I will touch on.

[00:03:26] So like I said, the original intention was to launch this e-commerce website, let’s say, five business days or one week from the time of this call that they were going to have, let’s say, May 1st. But they wanted to extend that to, say, May 7th. But we actually realized that they could launch it on time on May 1st. And this is how the conversation with the US client went.

[00:03:48] So Hi, US client. We have some really good news. As you know, we’ve been kind of debating whether or not we can launch this website on time. We’ve had some technical challenges and some other challenges that we want to talk with you about on this call. And after reviewing and brainstorming all that, we actually realized, you know, hey, we can deliver this. We can launch this on time for you on May 1st with the login page and the payment gateway done. What do you think?

**Note – To “buy time” in a difficult conversation, or when you don’t know an answer, use the phrase “I’ll think about it… and get back to you in the next call…” In fact, the team used this phrase while wrapping up the previous call, which “bought them time” to consult with me!” 

[00:04:14] These were the two… two of the three things that needed to be done so they knew the client would come back with…

[00:04:21] Well, that sounds good, but, you know, we still need the product reviews. Where’s that? And, how can we possibly launch the website without that?

[00:04:31] Well, this is what the the team in India said as a response to that.

[00:04:37] Yes, it’s very important to have a review section. However, that was the thing that we’ve been having a challenge with. As you know, many of your products are new to the market. Even websites like Amazon don’t have any reviews of these products or they don’t have these products on their website yet because they’re new to the market and other websites that sell products like this or sell these products already out there are also lacking reviews or good reviews or reviews that would make your website look good. We didn’t want that kind of problem, also. I mean, we can definitely share a report with you of what we found. If you’re wondering about that. As you know, two of our team members have been working diligently on that. And, actually, that was something else we wanted to ask you about is if know, we could actually use, you know, kind of move those two team members over to working on the payment gateway and the login page… That will really ensure that we have enough resources and time and people on those two tasks to get that done by May 1st. And then after the launch date on May 1st, we’ll move everyone over to working on that review section because it’s a little more complicated. What do you think about that?

**TIp, ending your ideas with a question not only turns the conversation back to the US client, but makes them feel you are giving them options and control. The CEO of Suyati in Kochi, India would agree

[00:05:50] The conversation went back and forth for a while and of course, the US client was quite worried about the testimonial section.

[00:05:59] And, this also came from our brainstorming session. So, at some point in that conversation, that I.T. consultant team came back with, “Yes, we still understand that you’re very concerned about the product review section and you would like… It would be ideal, obviously, to have that on the website with the launch. But, also keep this in mind that, you know, a lot of your customers who are going to purchase these products, we know they found the demographic of around 30 to 35 five years old all the way up to maybe 50 years old. So these are mid-level career professionals. They tend to have busy lives. They work long hours. They probably have, you know, one to three children. So they’re busy after work, you know, shuttling them to various sporting events and school activities and all of that kind of stuff. So, because of that, even if they were to purchase something on day one, let’s say they went on to the on the website on the launch date and they purchased something because it is an e-commerce Web site, it’s going to take two or three days for them to get that if they decide to go with priority shipping at the earliest. So they would get it, let’s say, at the earliest, by Thursday, maybe Wednesday, Thursday of that first week after the launch. Now, we know that they’re busy, like we just said, so they probably won’t even open it till the weekend will take some time for them to figure out how to put it together or where they’re going to use it or how they’re going to use it. So, by all estimate, best estimates that review could be written by Saturday or Sunday, which gives us plenty of time to get that review section code in and out the door with with whatever modifications you would like. What do you think about that?”

**Knowing the cultural context of your clients and their needs is important to negotiating project scope and deliverables (time frames). The CEO of Techolution, based in Hyderabad will agree

[00:07:52] So, the client was actually pretty impressed with this, that, you know, hey, here’s the team that actually now they understand my business. They have something to say about how my customers are behaving, what they’re doing and everything. So, the US client was duly impressed… but actually said, “You know, but we are worried about what will go into that section and each product page. What do you think we should put there?”

[00:08:17] So, they said, “Well, you know, how about we talk about that offline? We could come up with some kind of disclaimer or some other wording, whatever you would like to put there in its place, you know, until that that module is ready. What do you think about that?”

[00:08:33] So, the client was actually really happy with all of these ideas and solutions. So, the client was said, OK, yeah, we’re happy with this. Let’s launch it on May 1st, the original date, but with only the log in page and the payment gateway, because obviously people need those two things to order anything online. Meanwhile, one of my team members over here, this is US client talking, will reach out to one of you maybe tomorrow and have a discussion for around an hour or so to kind of think of what we’re going to put in as a placeholder where that review section is going to be. But, I think this is a really good alternative and I think we’re pretty happy with this. So, let’s go with this. We’re so happy that you took some time to think about this and understand the complexity of the project and also understand our customers behavior. That really means a lot to us. So, yeah, let’s go ahead and extend what we need to extend, but still launch it on the original launch date of May 1st.

[00:09:34] So keep in mind that my brainstorming session with them actually took about three or four hours and their call with the US client took around an hour or so. So, when you’re not used to going through this process, it will obviously take some time. But then once you do it a few times, you start building up the skills to actually identify these points as you’re going through a project.

[00:10:04] It will become easier and you won’t need to spend so much lead time brainstorming and coming up with a communication strategy. So I hope you found this case study interesting.

[00:10:16] And I definitely use this as a base for coming up with your own case studies or ideas for communicating better with your client. Thanks for listening.


Want to hone the skills you need to tackle challenging project conversations with ease? Check out our programs Managing Client Expectations and Deliver Impressive Status Updates or get in touch with Jennifer Kumar (blog author and video host) today.


Related Posts:

Delivering Impressive Status Updates 

Tips for Negotiating [Change Requests] Persuasively
English Phrases to use in Client Demos and Meetings
Speak English Confidently with US Clients


Find your Program!

Find your ideal program in just a few clicks.
Select Industry > Learning Level > Skill, to see 1-3 suggested programs.