I recently ran into a situation where I was dealing with a client who disagreed with my approach to a project. We discussed the challenges over a few days and it eventually culminated in a very heated argument on a friday afternoon. After the conversation, the client backed off stating that my demeanor was too direct and confrontational and had decided to work with another strategist.
So this brought forth a question in my mind:
“Which is truly more important, the relationship or the tangible results?”
I’ve spent a long time working for clients who seek metrics, KPI’s, ROI and tangible solutions to business problems. Working on a diverse amount of projects has allowed me the opportunity to develop strong recommendations with a strong emphasis on tangible results. Although I’ve always been heavily focused on customer service, I’ve had this mentality that the results should speak for themselves regardless of the business relationship.
In the situation I described above, the lesson to learn was that although I truly believed that my view and approach would yield better results in the long run, the client wasn’t ready to hear what I had to say. At the end of the day, you can give the best recommendations in the world, but if you haven’t sold the client on the idea that your approach will solve their business problems, then it doesn’t matter. What I failed to take into consideration in the very beginning was that the client clearly didn’t feel that I had understood what their needs were. In other words, the trust just wasn’t there yet. Building a strong relationship with a client is a crucial step not only in the sales process but also in negotiations and project management.
While I was busy focusing on the end goal and the shiny results, the client was in the dark feeling as though they hadn’t been heard. And to add insult to injury, my bullheaded arguments had driven the client to throw away the relationship all together.
In future, a better approach would be to remember that the consultant and the client are partners. One has the technical expertise and the other the background knowledge of the business.
Some people say that the customer is always right. I disagree with this statement as I believe that you are doing a disservice to your client by allowing them to make uninformed decisions. If the client has all the information but still decides to go in a direction you wouldn’t recommend, then let them. They will either come back to you with a stronger resolve to work more closely with you or will end up blaming you for their mistakes. Either way, you stand your ground. (In the latter example, I recommend you drop the client)
So to summarize, it’s important to aim at the tangible results of a business problem, but also focus equal energy and time on developing that relationship. Once the relationship is strong and the trust is there, it will be much easier for your client buy in to both your idea and your approach.