Stuck making a big decision at your agency? Consider your Ideal Outcome vs. Minimum Acceptable Outcome

Written by: Karl Sakas

A client reached out asking for advice on a tough decision they needed to make—they’d tried working through it on their own, but they couldn’t make a decision.

They told me about their dilemma and I immediately realized why they were stuck: there was no perfect outcome for anyone involved. The client was going to have to balance some trade-offs.

I asked them a few key questions about their priorities and we talked through different scenarios. Ultimately, we found the right solution for their unique circumstances.

This comes up a lot in my consulting and coaching work—clients get stuck making decisions when they can’t see a perfect way through. Yet it’s not a cookie-cutter solution; “perfect” is unique for each agency leader. To tailor my advice, I start by asking:

“What’s your ideal outcome, and what’s your minimum acceptable outcome? And what’s the worst-case scenario?”

This helps when making major decisions because it forces you to consider your baseline outcome—anything beyond that is a “win.” The framework also clarifies the boundaries for everyone involved, so you can find an outcome that works for you. You might compromise on what you want, but you’ll still get what you need. This also lets you try to avoid the worst-case scenario.

Let’s explore how this decisionmaking shortcut might work at your agency.

5 Scenarios for Getting Unstuck at Your Agency

There are endless ways to apply the “minimum acceptable outcome” question—and ultimately make decisions that previously seemed impossible. Here are some agency-specific examples.

Business Development / New Business / Sales

The “ideal vs. minimum acceptable outcome” method helps in the sales process—especially for clients who may be on the fence about hiring your agency.

Let’s say you’ve got a prospect who expects more from your agency than their budget permits. Would you turn them down altogether? Not necessarily.

You can start by asking them which is more important: the scope of the work you’ll do, the results they’ll get, or sticking to a set budget.

If that client were to say that they couldn’t go over budget—let’s use an example of $20,000 a month—and elaborate that their ideal outcome is 100 sales qualified leads (SQL) a month but their minimum is 20 SQLs, then that gives you a boundary to deliberate internally. Using those numbers, you’ll be able to decide whether you can deploy the client’s budget to hit their target and, if you determine that you can, knowing their range will ultimately help manage the client’s expectations.

Client Relations / Account Management / Project Management

This method can also be a great tool for account managers (AMs) and project managers (PMs), as they weigh client goals against the scope of work they’re paying to accomplish.

For example, a client may have five different initiatives they want your agency to do at once, and you’ve concluded you don’t have the capacity—or client budget—to complete them all. You might ask them what their ideal and minimum acceptable outcomes are.

The client may respond that, of the five they initially asked for, there are three or four initiatives they’d ideally like to have done. At minimum, it might be two specific items. This gives you an opportunity to deliver Warmth & Competence—you might consider replying that you can start out with two and later follow up on a third. By doing so, the client is hitting their ideal range, but within a timeline that works for you… and that doesn’t stress out your team. For more on this, see my on-demand Agency PM 101 training course.

Dealing with Unhappy Clients

Sometimes, unhappy clients are an inevitable reality of client-facing work. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that every unhappy client simply wants a refund—they may be looking for an alternative solution. They might want you to fix the issue that made them unhappy, or they might have another idea that doesn’t involve you giving their money back. In every unhappy client situation, it’s useful to start by asking how they’d like to move forward with a resolution—what’s their ideal outcome, and what’s the minimum they’d accept?

It might be that their ideal outcome is something easily doable—like fixing the problem or adding scope that won’t cost you too much in labor, time, or money (or that is worth the cost if you want to salvage the relationship). It might be that their ideal is way outside of the realm of what’s realistic—in which case, offering a refund and ending the working relationship might be the best way forward for both of you.

The point, however, is that without knowing their “range” of preferences, you won’t know where to begin crafting a solution. Asking the client their boundaries will help you navigate what to do next.

Hiring New Employees

You can use the “ideal vs. minimum acceptable outcome” framework as you recruit employees, too.

Say a top candidate accepts your job offer—but then says they misunderstood the terms or benefits. For instance, they realized their preferred doctor is out-of-network for your insurance. Depending on their health situation, this could be a deal-breaker.

If this is a candidate you’re serious about bringing on board, it’s worth asking what it would take to sign them on.

Their ideal scenario might be accessing an insurance plan that does cover their needs, which may not be a realistic option for your agency. However, they may just want a modest stipend to cover the cost of their out-of-network medical costs. Maybe they want access to an FSA or HSA option to cover it that way.

By asking what might work for them, you’re not only giving yourself options to deliberate with your insurance provider, human resources, or finance teams. You’re also demonstrating you care about the candidate, and that’s more likely to get them on board.

Business Partner Negotiations

In co-owning a business, there are times when you are your partner will disagree. Or there may come a time when one partner is ready to cut back hours—perhaps they want to start another business on the side, or they’re ready to start easing into retirement.

The partner who’ll continue working full-time might ask what the other partner’s ideal and minimum acceptable outcomes are. This will help you determine how to move forward without putting too much strain on either party.

In this example, let’s say the partner leaving to retire says that their ideal is to cut down from 50 hours a week to 15 or 20 hours a week, within two years. Their minimum acceptable outcome might be that they do it in three years—but don’t take a pay cut until they’re below 30 hours.

The partner who’s staying on might say that their ideal is to become the majority owner of the agency by the time the other partner goes below 20 hours a week, and that they want to use part of the salary savings to hire another executive team member to fill in for the downscaling partner’s workload.

With these boundaries, the business partners can negotiate a combination that works for both of them.

Selling Your Agency

There’s a joke in mergers and acquisitions: you can either get the price you want or the terms you want—never both. Here’s how using the “minimum vs. ideal outcome” question can get you the best deal possible.

In selling your agency, knowing the prospective buyer’s boundaries will help you create the framework for your negotiation tactics.

Perhaps they’ll give you the price you want—but they want you to stick around longer while transitioning to new ownership. Or they’re willing to let you leave earlier, but want to pay a lower price for your agency.

For example, the acquirer might offer a 4X multiple of your earnings and is willing to let you leave within a year—on the flip side, they might be willing to go up to 5X if you stay on for two years.

Knowing this can help you decide if it’s worth accepting their terms for a higher multiple, or if there’s room to negotiate.

Your Turn: Get Unstuck by Figuring Out Your Minimum Acceptable Outcome

If there’s a current dilemma you’re facing, stop and ask yourself: What’s your ideal resolution? What’s the minimum you’d be willing to settle for? What’s the worst-case scenario? You’ll find you have a much easier time moving forward once you’ve established those boundaries. It can also help to “decouple” (or uncouple) things.

If you’d like my 1:1 advice, you can instantly book a Bite-Size Consulting call with me. I’ll ask some background questions, and we can dive into finding the right solution for you.

Question: Where do you need to get unstuck right now?

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