Keep it SMART, Keep it Simple


How smart planning can help you avoid the rush for results.

When a client with an ecommerce site rocks up to me and goes “Hey Lee, I need 10,000 new leads from my website!” I say ok that’s great, I think I can help. And thus a conversation begins, twisting and turning, dipping in and out of reality, from the past to the future and back again, finally landing on today – or at least I try to make it do that if I can because invariably, if no action can be taken today then what sort of conversation would we be having? A hypothetical one probably. Interesting that may be, but useful in the here and now? Not always.

The only way I know how to help my clients get what they want is to focus all my attention on getting to the bottom of what they meant by what they said. Just because they asked for 10,000 new leads, doesn’t mean they actually need 10,000. That might sound obvious but I’ve met plenty of project managers, developers, designers, and account managers who simply take the client’s first words as gospel and start firing out solutions. Getting on with it is all well and good, but where exactly will that get you if it turns out what they wanted is not what they needed, or vice versa?

So how do I go about understanding what the client means? Well I don’t say let’s do some SMART planning that’s for sure! That would be like turning on the cold tap while they’re under a lovely warm shower. Most of the time, clients like to do the talking and describe things from their perspective, they don’t want to be walked through a planning exercise (which comes from my perspective). Instead I hold myself in check and offer up SMART questions as the conversation flows. There’s no reason you can’t do the same. If it works for me, it can work for you.

By wrapping a SMART framework around my client’s thoughts, hopes, wants and needs I can make better sense of them and help them decide what the next move might be. Staying with the example above, here are the sort of questions I work into the conversation, albeit not necessarily using this exact wording:


What do you mean by “lead? Who is a lead? Where are they? What do they want to buy from you? When? How, and how much, do they want to spend with you? Why? This is about qualifying and quantifying who the target is and their motivations.


When you say 10,000, could you actually process 10,000 new leads? If not, the client could be wasting, time, effort and money. Asking them to walk me through their sales process, from the website to the product/service being delivered, usually allows me to identify potential problems and assess whether that process can handle 10,000 – if it can’t then they either need to change the number or their processes.


Is that target in any sense achievable with the resource available i.e. how much and what type of effort, time and cost are they and I going to have to invest in producing that target?


Is asking for 10,000 new leads (or site visitors for example) relevant to their website / business strategy? Quite often, it’s not new leads a client needs, but getting better at growing existing clients or getting better at converting the leads that already come through.


When do you want 10,000, by next week? Or by the end of the year? How frequently? All at once? Or in batches or dribs and drabs? Or you don’t care? Is there enough time for implementing the strategy and hitting the target?

Using this technique doesn’t get me all the answers because most clients haven’t thought their problem through in this level of detail, which isn’t a problem because that’s where I come in, but they often change their minds about what they thought the problem was and the objective once the answers do come out.

In short, if I’m not SMART, I quickly get caught up in the rush for results rather than building up a clear understanding of what the best solution might be and what to do next.

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