It can be super frustrating when a stakeholder doesn't know what they want, but it's an inevitable part of working with stakeholders.
The first thing to do is to get them talking about their end goal. You should ask questions like:
- What is your goal?
- Why are you doing this project?
- What do you hope to get out of it?
- What is your budget?
- When do you need the project done?
If they don't have answers to these questions, try asking them in different ways until you get somewhere. In these situations, you can use the following tips to guide the stakeholder toward a solution that works best for both of you:
- Ask questions to make sure you understand what they are looking for. For example: “What do you mean by…?” or “If this feature was available, would it solve your problem?”
- If you don’t think they know what they want, ask them if they would like help coming up with a solution. You can also offer them an array of options from which they can choose their favorite idea or solution.
- Try asking them about the types of products or services that might fit well into their overall business model.
- Ask about what kind of customers they want to attract and how those potential customers may differ from one another (for example, by age or location). This can help give you an idea of who will be buying the product or service, as well as what they might be looking for when shopping with your stakeholder's company.
- If they still don't have a clear idea, try writing down some ideas together and see which ones resonate most strongly with your client or if there's something in particular that they want to avoid. You might even consider creating a survey for your clients and sending it out during busy times of the year (like January). That way, you can gather feedback from your clients directly about what kinds of products or services they're looking for—and then use that information to guide your own decision-making process.
Here are some dialogue examples on how to diversify your questions to get you somewhere.
Stakeholder: “I need you to create some content for my website.”
Freelancer: “Okay, what kind of content do you want?”
Stakeholder: “I don’t know. I just know that I need it.”
Freelancer: “Okay, is there a goal or purpose behind needing the content? What do you hope to get out of it?”
Stakeholder: “Just… make the site look nicer.”
Freelancer: “Well, can you give me an idea of what that means? What kind of design style are we going for? Do you want something more traditional or modern? Are there any colors or fonts that come to mind when you think about this project? And what size should the design be? How many pages should be included in the new design? Are there any other pages on your website that need updating? What does the current design look like and how does it match up with your company brand guidelines?”
Stakeholder: Hello, I’m looking for a freelancer to help me with my business.
Freelancer: Hi there! I’m glad you reached out. The first thing I want to do is ask you some questions so I can understand where you are right now.
Stakeholder: Okay, that sounds good.
Freelancer: What kinds of products or services do you provide? And what kind of customers do you serve?
Stakeholder: We sell [product type] and [service type]. Our customers are primarily [target customer demographic].
Freelancer: Great! That gives me some ideas about what might work well for your site. Are there any specific features that are important to your business?
Freelancer: Hello, [stakeholder name]. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today.
Stakeholder: No problem; I'm looking forward to hearing what you have to say.
Freelancer: Great! Well, let's start by talking about your business model—what kind of customers do you want to attract?
Stakeholder: Well, we're targeting people who are interested in saving money on their utility bills. We think we can help them do that by showing them how much money they've been wasting on things like heating and cooling their homes.
Freelancer: Okay… so do you sell products that might help people reduce their energy consumption?
Stakeholder: Yes! We have a smart thermostat that helps people save money on their heating and cooling bills by automatically adjusting temperatures based on real-time data from local weather stations and other sources.