Building Relationships vs. Seeking Results

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.

37 comments

  1. Matt,

    The customer, (client), is not ALWAYS right. But the customer, (client), ALWAYS GETS THEIR WAY! There is never anything to be gained by arguing with them. The hardest thing in the world to change is a mind. So, you listen to those customers and do the best you can to satisfy them. If you feel they are making a wrong choice, quietly state what you think is right. But don’t try to persuade.

    They either trust your expertise or they don’t. If they don’t, you tell them that your sorry you can’t help and part ways. But do so on friendly terms. As you say, they may end up coming back to you to bail them out. If you argue with them you’ll never have a shot at the bailout.

    I know from experience that those “bailouts” come more often than you think.

    Have a nice day

    1. Thanks for that insight. As I’m sure you can tell from my post, I focused too much on being “right” as opposed to helping the client figure out a solution that would put their mind at ease.

  2. The biggest thing I’ve learned is that in working with a client, you are the “trusted advisor”. Your job is to help lead the client toward making the right decision. Unfortunately, the client may not always arrive there. As a result, you can only do your best to establish a trustful relationship with the client. If, in the end, they still don’t trust you to offer them your expert advice, then they shouldn’t have come to you in the first place and the wise thing for you to do is part ways.

  3. I think the best quote regarding customers is the following: The customer is always right, but the owner has the right to say who is and isn’t a customer.

    I don’t think you’re looking for consolation, but I will say this: I don’t know what business you are in, what sort of consulting you do, but I personally think that if it is highly technical and measurable, as it seems it is, then you would have every right to stand by your experience. I think respectably declining a client is perfectly acceptable in that case. If it isn’t technical and measurable, and more a matter of preference, then the client should be catered to.

    On another note, perhaps, you could have, if you don’t already have, a pre-consultation period? If you do, perhaps it could be longer? That way both of you have time to determine if the match is conducive.

    1. Thanks for the feedback! I like the idea of a pre-consulting phase. I am definitely going to work on building that into my client seeking process.

  4. Customer support is a range of customer services to assist customers in making cost effective and correct use of a product. It includes assistance in planning, installation, training, trouble shooting, maintenance, upgrading, and disposal of a product.

    Regarding technology products such as mobile phones, televisions, computers, software products or other electronic or mechanical goods, it is termed technical support.

  5. Great post. The relationship is a partnership, essentially it is a marriage of sorts and there is absolutely compromise. There is give and take but it is important to understand what you as a consultant can and cannot compromise to achieve results. Sometimes the client needs to dip their toe in the water before they jump in.

    1. Thanks for reading the post! Yes, I agree with your feedback. Slowly easing into change is probably the most prudent action in the future.

  6. I really love this post. A relationship with your client is crucial to the two of you working together efficiently. I work in in the hospitality industry, and I have learned that although the customer is not always right, if they are paying for a service, they will go to any lengths to get what they want. Keep in mind though that sometimes, the problem is not caused by either party, but rather by the chemistry between the two. Who knows, perhaps in the future the two of you could work better together after you both get more experience. But if it’s just not there, its not there!

    1. Awesome insight! Chemistry is not something I normally think about when it comes to client interaction, but you’re right, it definitely makes a difference. In a way it’s almost a bit of a dance between being strategic and also making sure that the paying client gets what they want.

  7. Great post Matt and almost written as a well worded apology and personal discovery. Thank you for sharing. I have a similar challenge in that I try to take organizations to far to fast. Showing them the end before they understand the beginning. I’ve learned to keep the end to myself and focus on stages of the project. Strangely this pleases clients and increases billable hours at the same time. It’s astonishing.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Kemp! I like the approach you suggest, working with clients in stages. This would definitely allow the client to slowly ease into change.

  8. Great post. I had to think about this one for a couple of days. The customer is certainly not always right. We can simply walk away from them if what they want doesn’t agree with our principles, or we can simply refer them to other people that can serve them better. We should learn to say “no” to one another as much as we to say “yes”. I think the world would be a happier place if that were the case.

      1. Thanks for your comment! I’ve definitely had friends who have argued both sides of the coin when it comes to firing a client.

  9. The best marketing tool that I have found for my business is going to networking events. Most of these events have a business coach or a well respected business leader speaking at them. Even though there is a vast variety of speakers, one massage always resonates. That is that people do business with people they know, like and trust. Building relationships with your prospects before they become your clients will be the glue that will hold you together when you have a difference of opinions.. Good luck.

    Keven

  10. Hi there, too often the role of us consultants is to add value in a situation where the one who hired us don’t want to change. Here is a technique I use: “Mr./Ms. Client, let me ask you a question, when your salespeople are in the trenches working with prospects and clients, what role does building a relationship play with them? Do you wish they would pay more or less attention to the relationship building process? How would you like me to proceed if we come to a juncture where we have a different approach to the same issue?”

    One of my books is called Attract and Keep Your Big Game Hunters and Closers…sell more no matter what the market conditions. Sounds like you are one of them and good for you! You will be able to replace any client who isn’t a match.
    Alice
    http://www.alicewheatonblog.wordpress.com

  11. Hi there, too often the role of us consultants is to add value in a situation where the one who hired us don’t want to change. Here is a technique I use: “Mr./Ms. Client, let me ask you a question, when your salespeople are in the trenches working with prospects and clients, what role does building a relationship play with them? Do you wish they would pay more or less attention to the relationship building process? How would you like me to proceed if we come to a juncture where we have a different approach to the same issue?”

    One of my books is called Attract and Keep Your Big Game Hunters and Closers…sell more no matter what the market conditions. Sounds like you are one of them and good for you! You will be able to replace any client who isn’t a match.
    Alice
    http://www.alicewheatonblog.wordpress.com

  12. My experience with business consulting and developing/implementing software solutions for my clients is that relationship management is as important as the project results. True, the customer isn’t always ‘right’, which is why they hire us for our expertise, but they are paying for our services and usually want to be involved to some extent.

    I’ve learned to accept that as part of my job. While I’m intimately familiar with the nuances of my business and services, that doesn’t mean that my customer is and their suggestions or questions might not make a lot of sense, but they’re valid and important to the customer.

    I think the simplest answer is both are critical–not one or the other.

    1. Great insight! I recently took a project management workshop which basically re-iterated what you were saying. Both the client and consultant are involved in seeing a project through. The client is responsible for communicating what they want and the consultant is in charge of ensuring that that client follows the framework and delivers the intended result.

  13. My experience with business consulting and developing/implementing software solutions for my clients is that relationship management is as important as the project results. True, the customer isn’t always ‘right’, which is why they hire us for our expertise, but they are paying for our services and usually want to be involved to some extent.

    I’ve learned to accept that as part of my job. While I’m intimately familiar with the nuances of my business and services, that doesn’t mean that my customer is and their suggestions or questions might not make a lot of sense, but they’re valid and important to the customer.

    I think the simplest answer is both are critical–not one or the other.

    1. Great insight! I recently took a project management workshop which basically re-iterated what you were saying. Both the client and consultant are involved in seeing a project through. The client is responsible for communicating what they want and the consultant is in charge of ensuring that that client follows the framework and delivers the intended result.

  14. hope you learnt the lessons from the expirience… I live you with a quote from Jesus christ “The greatest amongst you is the servant” the servant doesnot argue with the master… he does the masters will… he that pays the piper dictates the tune. better luck next time

  15. hope you learnt the lessons from the expirience… I live you with a quote from Jesus christ “The greatest amongst you is the servant” the servant doesnot argue with the master… he does the masters will… he that pays the piper dictates the tune. better luck next time

  16. Buy in, we need their’s. I have professional standards. Others (not saying all) in my industry do not. (Maybe they are new, maybe they never tried to educate themselves about options). I have seen a prospect “sold” by a sales person but not go with what is best for their situation. And I had a call where they needed the better/more comprehensive insurance and I had to say “call the person who sold it to you, I cannot help you”. I felt bad but they where not willing to invest a little time up front to better understand what they needed and actually get it. The survivoring spouse and children suffered. I too am a results person, not a current buzz word person. I bring experience (personal and my clients’). I have to work to do the warm and fuzzy and get the prospect emotionally bought in. Sandler (a sales system) helped me a lot in that area. I wish them all well but they have to live with the decision they make. Dave

  17. Buy in, we need their’s. I have professional standards. Others (not saying all) in my industry do not. (Maybe they are new, maybe they never tried to educate themselves about options). I have seen a prospect “sold” by a sales person but not go with what is best for their situation. And I had a call where they needed the better/more comprehensive insurance and I had to say “call the person who sold it to you, I cannot help you”. I felt bad but they where not willing to invest a little time up front to better understand what they needed and actually get it. The survivoring spouse and children suffered. I too am a results person, not a current buzz word person. I bring experience (personal and my clients’). I have to work to do the warm and fuzzy and get the prospect emotionally bought in. Sandler (a sales system) helped me a lot in that area. I wish them all well but they have to live with the decision they make. Dave

  18. You might be interested to read “Crucial Conversations” or to check out VitalSmarts.com. Their teaching come from a desire to achieve BOTH relationship and results, and not having to choose between the two.

    Nice post! It’s a nearly universal situation.

  19. You might be interested to read “Crucial Conversations” or to check out VitalSmarts.com. Their teaching come from a desire to achieve BOTH relationship and results, and not having to choose between the two.

    Nice post! It’s a nearly universal situation.

  20. Thanks for your comment! I’ve definitely had friends who have argued both sides of the coin when it comes to firing a client.

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