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Passion, People and Principles

What Would the Client Say?

post # 207 — October 5, 2006 — a Client Relations post

Here’s a simple test for any marketing idea you might be discussing with your colleagues: how would the client react if he or she were sitting in the room, right now, listening to us debate this idea?

If the client’s reaction were to be “Wow, that’s going to be really helpful to me” then you’re going to get a lot of positive reactions and you know you’re on to a money-making idea.

But if the thought of having the clients listen in to your planning has you worried, then , indeed you should be worried. Your nervousness at having them hear you means that you’re trying to mislead, misdirect, con them or fool them in some way. Otherwise, why don’t you want them to hear you?

And the odds are you’re not going to pull it off. Customers and clients aren’t that dumb (although we often make our plans as if they were.) And when we make that mistake, we’re the ones being dumb.

If we want to succeed, we’ve got to start marketing and selling as if we were dealing with smart, adult intelligent people. We’ve got to stop acting as if we have something to hide.


Ric said:

We can only stop acting like we have something to hide if we DON’T have something to hide … isn’t that the issue a lot of the time?

posted on October 5, 2006

Leo Bottary said:

Not sure I buy this one. The trap I see too many agencies fall into is overly self-editing – particularly with long-term clients. They start to believe to a fault that they can anticipate what a client may buy and good ideas often either get left back at the shop or the discussion is squelched in the early stages as if the client were sitting in the room. It’s not about having something to hide, it’s about the freedom to think and create openly about your clients’ business and being fearless about bringing new thinking to your client.

I’ve seen this dynamic at play, and what starts to happen is the agency gets more conservative than the client. Next thing you know, another firm wanting to steal your client, presents them with an idea they like – something you’ve grown to believe would be unacceptable. Then the client says: “Why aren’t you bringing us fresh ideas like this?”

And don’t even try to blame the client here. The agency is at fault. If you actually want to keep your clients’ business be sure you’re not leaving good thinking at home or not allowing it altogether. It’s why injecting new people into a long-time client’s account team can be so fruitful.

posted on October 6, 2006

Michelle Golden said:

I’m worried about this post, David. I “get” your basic thought here and you’re right that if something you want to see is cheesy or only benefitting the seller—not the customer—then it shouldn’t be considered (a big problem with most cross-selling).

But it sounds to me like you’ve just endorsed the view that the conversation about adding services to a customer is icky and that having it is wrong!

I just came back from 2 days with a client trying to get two practice groups off the ground. They suck at cross-selling—in fact they don’t hardly know what each other is capable of doing. Worse, they don’t EVER take the time to come together and have a dialogue about the customer and the customer’s business. Each professional, even the ones serving the same client, operates in a silo.

The old saying goes “two heads are better than one” and several are better than two. If the wise people in a firm would spend just 20 minutes discussing (not bitching about) the client, their operations, and put together a bunch of the tidbits each person has individually collected, they can see a bigger, clearer picture of the customer and are highly likely to identify some suggestions for them—for the customer’s benefit (they may or may not involve the firm as the solution). Only this way can we really add value.

I hear almost every day someone saying “I’m too busy to think.” Consider this conversation to be scheduling the thinking. It’s a far different approach than “okay, I have a widget…which customers should we hit up to buy it.”

If the firm I was visiting this week reads your post, I think they would decide—from the pen of the master—that they don’t have to—or worse, that they SHOULDN’T have—that conversation. And that they shouldn’t discuss ways to more effectively or innovatively help customers.

I think you helped give meat to their excuses…we don’t have time and we shouldn’t do it anyway…your post suggests it’s unethical.

I guess what I’m worried about most is that practioners don’t often understand the purpose of the right conversation—that it s/b client centric—and how to ask the right questions in the discussion to foster great results. Since they probably don’t know how to do it right on their own, their even less likely to do it at all now.

posted on October 6, 2006

Michelle Golden said:

Just read Leo’s comment and am in 100% agreement. Well said, Leo!

When I describe “the conversation” I mentioned in my comment above, one vision I always have is the creative brainstorm you would see in an ad agency setting (a la tv’s former “Thirty Something”). You know…

  1. get your arms around the customer’s goals
  2. think up better ways for the customer to achieve those goals
  3. define them
  4. develop them
  5. present them
  6. refine them
  7. help implement them

How often do professionals even think about the customer’s big goals any more?? Much less to have dialogue about them….

posted on October 6, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Leo and Michelle – I’m probably communicating very badly here, because nothing in what I wrote suggests you shouldn’t discuss additional ways to help the client. I merely suggest that it will work if you thinkj of it that way – how do we help more, how do we bring good ideas.

Leo why does the client have to be absent for us to have fearless creative thoughts about the clients’ business?

Why do we want to exclude the client from “OUR” process?

posted on October 6, 2006

Leo Bottary said:

You shouldn’t exclude your client from all steps in the process. I don’t believe an agency should go into hiding for a month and return to the client with a dramatic presentation of its big idea. The question is how you involve them. You implied that by not having the client present throughout, that the agency must be hiding something. That’s not it at all. Most clients can hurt, not help the creative process, if they don’t understand their role in it. Many agency people will self-edit infront of the client to the point where it stifles creativity. A bit of independence is one of the reasons one hires outside counsel to begin with, otherwise the company should bring the agency team in-house. But they don’t for a reason, and it’s more than just financial.

What you suggest can work in rare instances in practice, and I agree should always work in theory. Why diesn’t it? Because we’re human. Too many human dynamics start to take over and ultimately, the client is the big loser for it.

To your point, trust is key. When we think of it in terms of personal relationships it would be like suggesting, “why wouldn’t you want your spouse with you 24-7?” While we enjoy our spouses, the dynamic of the relationship would suffer when independent, outside influence that shapes us as people were altogether removed. It’s not about having something to hide. Time alone to reflect, think, experience… it’s a good thing! When you do spend time together, it gives you more to share and talk about.

posted on October 7, 2006

Tim Burrows said:

I don’t see anything worrisome here… All David is saying is that if you wouldn’t like the client to hear it, don’t even bother thinking about it.

It relates more to ethical behaviour than to conservative behaviour.

Good clients would like to hear you talking about innovative, maybe even outrageous approaches, if they are designed with the client’s interests at hear, but for example they wouldn’t like to hear you talking about ways to squeeze more money out them.

Makes sense to me!

posted on October 8, 2006

Michelle Golden said:

I hear what you guys are saying and, specifically, Tim, you’re right of course. Very well said.

The thing I saw in my tunnelvision (on first reading David’s post) is that it could be very easy to interpret the post as permission to avoid having the conversation about adding more value to the client.

I’ve run into a large number of professionals STRUGGLING MIGHTILY with some weird strain of thought that it is actually unwanted or frowned upon by the client (some even think it is UNETHICAL) to brainstorm ways to help the client (aka add value) outside of the current scope of services. Whereas I see much evidence in the real world that most clients eat this up.

None of us would want firms to feel like they have David Maister backing up these folks’ existing reluctance to converse about their customers’ businesses. God help us (and their clients) if they have any fewer conversations about value than they already do have. Egads.

Maybe the sticking point for me is the phrase “marketing idea” — to me that probably means different things than for others. In my business and training, I define marketing this way:

“Marketing is the on-going process of appealing to potential clients & ensuring further business from existing clients.”

So, to me, marketing ideas are any thoughts which pertain to customer service, cross-selling, product development, etc. There aren’t many conversations in PSFs surrounding these topics.

posted on October 9, 2006