Imagine yourself spending countless hours listening and understanding your client's pain. You have come up with a great solution, but it's going to be a "tough" conversation because you know you're up against one or more of the following objections:
- It nullifies their already invested time and energy ("We've already started down this path, now you're telling us we have to start from scratch?")
- If violates the predestined outcome set by management ("What you're telling me isn't what our VP wants to do.")
- It causes a delay or bumps to a schedule ("Our backs are against the wall here, we can't change the deadline.")
- It forces conflict between stakeholders ("We don't really have a good relationship with the other group, and you're telling us to involve them?")
- It opens the possibility that they have been making the wrong decisions ("So you're telling us that we've been taking the wrong steps the entire time?")
We can take the easy way out and modify our solution so it's more palatable to the client, but that neither solves the problem or is the right thing to do for the client. The real answer here is to use the third tool in the trusted advisor toolkit: Respond Fearlessly.
Fear often holds us back from doing the right thing, but I've often found the term fear to be very vague and enigmatic. When we conduct retrospectives to wrap up a less-than-successful client project, I have found that team we rarely get strategic enough to focus on the fear that got us into problems in the first place. We get mired in the tactical, and resolve to bolster our processes so the same string of events never happen again.
But we rarely acknowledge the root of the problem isn't process: it's the way we initially designed the solution. Because fear took hold, we failed to design and deliver something that is truly of value to our client.
I recently read a book on client loyalty titled Getting Naked, where author Patrick Lencioni effectively broke down the general feeling of fear into three categories:
- Fear of losing the business
- Fear of being embarrassed
- Fear of feeling inferior
Lencioni's principles on how to work with clients resonates with me on what it really means to respond fearlessly. When we stop being fearful of losing the client, looking stupid, or feeling insufficient, we start thinking and doing what's best for our clients. We just simply don't care about doing anything less. Let's take a look at the objections one more time and how we can respond to them fearlessly:
|Objection||The Fear||How to Tackle That Fear||The Fearless Response|
|We've already started down this path, now you're telling us we have to start from scratch?||Sunk costs and investment||Accept reality and avoid future issues||Staying on the existing path isn't going to help in recovering that initial investment. Addressing it later is the same as addressing it now, except that the sunk costs will be much larger and more difficult to unravel.|
|What you're telling me isn't what our VP wants to do.||Lack of decision making power||Give the client cover. Own responsibility and messaging||If we all agree that this is the right thing to do, then I will take the responsibility in taking this to your management team.|
|Our backs are against the wall here, we can't change the deadline.||Rigid timeline with no slack for scope changes||Create options for a path to change||We all agree that this is a big problem. Let's break this problem up into smaller ones, prioritize the problems, and make sure we hit all the critical ones before the original deadline.|
|We don't really have a good relationship with the other group, and you're telling us to involve them?||Stakeholders are not collaborating||Help the client spark collaboration||They're your colleagues, so you know them best. I'll facilitiate a sit-down with everyone in the room, and help you lead a session so everyone can air out their root issues and concerns so we don't have any barriers in collaboration going forward.|
|So you're telling us that we've been taking the wrong steps the entire time?||Afraid of being exposed for making the wrong decisions||Focus on the virtue of making the right decision, and not on the mistake||Making the wrong decisions isn't a bad thing, but not rectifying one is. We're all better off committing the right decision, and the responsibility starts with you.|
Being fearless doesn't mean saying "no" to a client, and leaving it at that. It means telling the unvarnished truth regardless of how stupid you may look, how embarrassed you may feel, or how perilous it may seem to the client relationship. More often than not, the unvarnished truth is appreciated because it leads to real results. Being fearless is what elevates a consultant to a great trusted advisor.