A former colleague and friend of mine gave me a phrase a few years ago that I find I use all of the time.
I was speaking to her about a situation with a client in which I’d recommended one course of action and they took a different path. Now they were in trouble and I was saying what a shame it was that they hadn’t taken my advice. She said, “You know, after a while being right loses its impact.”
I realized then – and continue to realize every day – that you can’t tell people anything. You can only ever create the conditions under which they discover things for themselves. This is how we all really learn.
So ask questions, listen, challenge, seek to understand – all while keeping your objective in mind – and create the situation in which the client can make the right choice. Just don’t bother telling them. They won’t really get it unless they get to it themselves.
Some years ago I worked for a friend of mine at his hotel in Austria. At that time they were only open during the summer holiday season as this was when they had most of their visitors. After the first week or so I asked him when I would be taking a day off.
“Day off?” he said, “But what would you do?”
I said well, relax, go for a swim, rest, that sort of thing.
He looked at me like I’d suddenly lost my mind and said,
“If I’m a farmer and I have to milk my cows, do I run around the field trying to milk them? That’s so much more work than milking them when they’re in the barn. This is what we’re doing here – we’re milking the cows when they’re in the barn.”
I didn’t have a day off for about 4 months.
While I don’t by any stretch of the imagination think of my clients today as cows, the metaphor still works. Working with those clients you have is much less effort than frantically chasing the clients you might be able to catch in the field.
Anyone who thinks that enterprise sales/account management means agreeing with the client all the time is wrong. People develop wacky ideas about their own business all the time, often because they are either stuck in silos or they are too close to the issues. This does not mean it’s a good idea to implement them.
For me, the really interesting part of working with a client is understanding how their whole business works and serving that best interest, not just the interest of whoever is in charge of the RFP this week. This is the only way you become a proper advisor and someone the client will trust no matter what they’re looking for. It doesn’t mean you’ll always conclude a sale, but it does make it much more likely they will always make sure you’re at the table.
In no particular order then, here are my top reasons to say “no” to a prospective or existing client:
i. You/your company does not provide the product/service they need
ii. The client is seeking to support a business process that is sub-optimal
iii. The requirements are not clear – and neither is the expected outcome
iv. You don’t believe what the client wants – or says they want – is good for their business
Are there others you can think of, or does this list cover most reasons?