I spent some time this week watching email fly back and forth between people at work and thought about how much of it wasn’t necessary. So much of the time – in written and spoken communications – people seem driven to have the last word on a subject. Which prompts someone else to have another last word, and so on and so on.
I suppose it’s a way of asserting your identity, of making sure your voice is heard and distinguishing yourself from the crowd. These are valid goals, but is it always necessary to pursue them in this way, in a work environment? Sometimes maybe yes, but I’d argue far less often than we see it today. When you’re dealing with a client it can be particularly unattractive.
Recently I saw a consultant argue with a client in a public forum, talking over them in an attempt to have the final say. I could feel my skin crawl as I watched this display and tried to think of a way to end it. Eventually the client did end it – by letting the consultant have the last word – but was this really a good idea? What is the eventual cost to that relationship?
So the next time you’re tempted to follow up, correct, talk over, disagree or say “me too!”, just have a little think about why you’re chiming in. Is it necessary, or is it just because you’re trying to one-up the competition, whoever that is?
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.
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?
The question came up during a conversation recently – do I work for a product company or a services company?
Historically, technology “product” companies – those that produce one or more standard applications that can be used by many different customers – are seen as having more value in the marketplace than services companies. A product may be sold again and again (goes the thinking), continuing to leverage and profit from the initial work that went into its creation. A company that provides services must tailor their offering to each client, leading to fewer options for scalability over the long term.
But just because you make something does not mean people will come.
The last 40 years are littered with instances of great products (do I even need to say Betamax?) losing out to others that are not as good but cheaper, marketed more effectively – and today I would add – easier to tailor to your own needs.
Everyone’s getting used to being able to do whatever they want with their consumer products and software, so it’s inevitable that they should start to have the same expectations in their work environments.
But personalizing for business is a little more tricky. Everyone has to adopt a solution in order for the business to realize the proper return on investment, but how do you allow everyone to do what they want while maintaining some order?
To get to full adoption, the seller of a business product has to understand the whole business and provide the services necessary to create value for everyone. Otherwise the awesome product you sold your client ends up a bit like a paperweight – an executive decoration that doesn’t offer any real return.
So the question really isn’t “product company or services company?”
It’s how much service does your product company need to provide to make sure your clients realize the full value of what they’ve purchased.