9 Types of Clients You Will Encounter as a Project Manager

9 Client Types You'll Encounter as a Project ManagerCustomers are the lifeblood of any business. Whether B2B or B2C, it’s always the customer you’re trying to impress, whose needs you’re trying to meet. Yet this isn’t always as easy as it seems. Dealing with people can often be the most difficult part of your job. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much time you spend delivering good customer service; there will always be customers who are unsatisfied with your support or service. The key to success is learning to handle these situations head-on, staying neutral, and not getting emotional. This will allow you to serve your customers and protect your integrity.

As I continue to manage more projects, it becomes clear that there are a few distinct types of clients that I interact with. This list describes the most common ones, but it’s important to think of these like astrological signs. There may be twelve of them, but the way each person displays the traits associated with their sign is always a little different. So while there are dominant features associated with each personality type, the way they manifest themselves can vary. Chances are that you’ll be able to picture a few Chill Bills or Bitchy Sallys as you read through these descriptions. The most important things you can take away from this article are getting a better understanding of your clients and how to handle each different personality type you’ll encounter.

1. Chill Bill

Clients that fall into the “Chill Bill” category are some of the easiest ones to interact with. He pays his monthly fees on time without a hassle. As long as you deliver what’s promised in the contract in a timely manner, you’re good to go. Chill Bills don’t require weekly updates and wouldn’t take the time to read them even if you send them. (TIP: It’s still better to send the updates, no matter how chill Bill is.) Chances are he won’t respond to your emails unless there is an absolute emergency, such as a website that has gone down. Give him tangible results just like you promised and he’ll be forever loyal.

PROS: He’s always on time and doesn’t bother you.
CONS: He can be hard to reach.

Typical Conversation:

You: Hey Bill! Great news! The website is finally launched!
Bill: silence
You: Hey Bill! Just wanted to follow up and make sure you saw that the website is live. Please let me know what you think!
Bill: silence
You (Two Weeks Later):??!!!!! Where is this guy!?! I guess he likes it.

2. Bitchy Sally

This client always sees the glass as half empty and can always find an excuse to complain. The variety of things she’ll find to complain about is just staggering! She’ll undermine your efforts and refuse to compromise. She’ll take weeks to provide you with information or review your work, but will have a conniption if you miss a deadline by even a day. She’ll fly off the handle for the slightest mistake but provides no real feedback. The criticism she offers is anything but constructive, which can make her extremely difficult to deal with. A Bitchy Sally has her own reasons for sticking with you whether it’s price, accessibility, or a previous relationship, but this is definitely not a client you want to interact with on a daily basis.

PROS: She will pay on time and provide feedback (whether or not you want it. Could be a con).
CONS: She can waste a lot of time and create frustration for you and your team.

Typical Conversation:

You: Hi Sally, how are you? Just wanted to follow up on approval for that landing page I sent you. Please let me know if you have any edits.
Sally: Is this even English? Where did you say you earned your degree? This needs to be entirely redone.

3. Tricky Dick

This guy always finds a way to squeeze additional requests into the work you’re doing for him (even though it’s not in the contract and won’t fit in the timeline you’ve provided) without paying anything extra. No matter how many emails you send requesting the additional resources you’ll need to continue the project with these add-ons, he’ll find a smart way to ignore it or turn it around and still ask for the additional work. He thinks he’s smarter than you.

PROS: He’s willing to do whatever it takes to complete a project. He works just as hard as you because he doesn’t want to pay extra.
CONS: It’s hard to make a profit with this client. If you don’t have your deliverables clearly outlined in your contract, you’re going to spend a lot of additional time on his project without compensation. Think twice about upselling to a Tricky Dick – it may be more trouble than it’s worth.

Typical Conversation:

Dick: I need you guys to review my new product feed ASAP.
Your Programmer: Hi Dick, how are you? The bug on your website has been fixed. Please let me know if you encounter any other issues.
You: Hi Dick, I saw your message regarding your new product feed. Because it is outside the scope of our current project, it will require additional resources.
Dick: Oh thanks, Programmer! I’ll review and get back to you.
You: Uh… what about me, Dick?

4. Simple Sam

Poor Sam, he doesn’t really know anything about or really understand the services you offer. Really, it seems the only thing he does understand is that he needs them. If he’s not constantly interrupting you to ask you questions like “What is a URL?” or “What does PPC stand for?” he’ll be so silent you’ll think you’re talking into an empty room. Ultimately though, his intentions are good and he’s very willing to cooperate.

PROS: You’ll have no issues with payment because he knows he can’t do the work himself. It’s also easier to upsell a Simple Sam because he’s willing to trust you and will follow your lead. Like an elementary school kid follows his teacher, a Simple Sam will let you take the wheel.
CONS: You’ll need a lot of patience. You may have to repeat things a few times, even if they’re really basic things about your industry. Communication is usually one-way since it’s you talking and him listening (not very exciting or challenging).

Typical Conversation:

You: We’re going to be doing marketing for www.yoursite.com, which includes a content strategy, PPC —-
Sam: What’s PPC again? Can you explain that a little further?

OR

Sam: When I go to my Facebook page, I see ads from my other competitors. Why is that? (And a list of questions follows, interrupting the consultation process.)

5. Fusspot Jim

A Fusspot Jim is a client who needs an update every single day. He’ll email you at 4:40 in the morning (which should really tell you something about him!) If he doesn’t hear from you for 48 hours, he’ll freak out thinking you’ve abandoned him and his business. He’ll call you randomly during really busy times, even though he knows calls need to be scheduled. Every single detail needs to be reviewed and approved by him before it can be implemented. Ultimately, this guy doesn’t trust you to do the work and will try to micromanage everything you do for him.

PROS: This particular client will present an opportunity for growth. His perfectionism will only enhance your portfolio (and maybe even get you an awesome testimonial or point of reference).
CONS: Again, your patience will be tested. Don’t lose control.

Typical Conversation:

Jim (at 4:40am): Guys, I think one of my links is broken. Can you look into that?
Jim (at 8:00am): It’s been almost four hours and I haven’t heard back. Do you know what’s going on with that link?
Jim (at 1:00pm): GENTLEMEN! I’ve been contacting you for hours and have not heard back about this issue. PLEASE GET BACK TO ME. This is hurting my business.

6. Curt John

Curt John doesn’t take too long to respond to your emails. He’ll go through every single detail of the Excel sheet you sent and provide you with very extensive feedback (if you specifically ask for it), which is helpful. The downside to this is that he expects you to respond very quickly, which means he can be impatient at times; though otherwise his messages are pithy, even borderline rude. He has no time for social niceties (such as hellos or thank yous) and his messages are very direct and to the point.

PROS: John is like a kid that does his homework on time with the least fuss possible.
CONS: His directness can be annoying or seem rude. It can be difficult to get a read on whether or not John is happy.

Typical Conversation:9 Client Types You'll Encounter as a Project Manager

You: Hey John, how are you? Here a few articles for you to review. Please let me know if you have any edits or questions. Thanks so much!
John: These are okay.
You: Thanks, John!
John: silence
You: !??!!?!!

7. Eager Kim

Eager Kims are always polite, don’t require extremely detailed updates, and will only bother you with emergencies. When she updates you, however, she is very thorough. She follows up and understands your obstacles. She genuinely wants to help and will ask how she can do so. She’s eager to make your relationship successful. She’s your dream client so don’t disappoint her! Take the time to respond nicely, be thorough without getting into minutia she doesn’t care too much about. Meet her on her level.

PROS: Almost everything is a pro about this client.
CONS: I haven’t found any!

Typical Conversation:

You: Hey Kim, how are you? I just wanted to let you know we’re almost done with this project and should have everything ready for you to review by the end of the week. I know that’s a little later than planned. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns before then.
Kim: That’s fine! I can’t wait to see it!

8. Behind-the-Scenes Ben

These guys operate behind the scenes. Ben is not really involved in anything you do or your communication with the rest of his team. However, when he decides to get involved, you can tell that he has no idea what’s going on, what his team has approved, or what you’re working on. This can create misunderstandings, frustrations and delays as you work to get him caught up with what your team and his team already know.

PROS: Ben’s team is generally easier to work with and can help you when he doesn’t understand something.
CONS: He stays behind the scenes and only gets involved when he doesn’t like something.

Typical Conversation:

You: Hi Karen, just wanted to check on the progress of the blog installment.
Karen: Hey you! We’re almost finished. We just need to implement the design.
Ben: Hey guys, what’s going on here? I thought we had already finished this weeks ago. What happened to the press release? Did we get our monthly report? I haven’t seen anything.
You: Hey Ben, how are you? Have you had a chance to read our previous discussions? All the answers to your questions are there. (??!??!! This guy!)

9. Know-It-All Tim

This client is a designer, marketer, programmer, copywriter, and project manager. Not only can he do your job, he can do it better than you! He’ll even try to train you. He’ll question your authority and test your patience. Tim is definitely not an easy guy to deal with because he has a hard time listening.

PROS: Tims really care about their projects.
CONS: However, they don’t listen, know better than you, and can give harsh criticism at times.

Typical Conversation:

You: Hey Tim, I saw your question about using that keyword in your blog post. I don’t really think that will help your organic traffic, but we could use it as part of your PPC campaign.
Tim: With all due respect, I don’t think you understand what you’re doing. This has nothing to do with PPC. This article needs to have this keyword. Let me know when you have added it.

Sound Familiar?

It’s not surprising to find a handful of clients that fall into each of these categories at a decent sized firm. We’ve all dealt with Know-It-All Tim and wondered why Simple Sam can’t be more like Eager Kim. As a project manager, it’s your job to find effective ways to handle each type of client and minimize frustration and maximize collaboration between the client and your team.

What clients do you find most difficult? Do you have any helpful advice or funny stories? If so, tell me about it in the comment section!