post # 168 — August 22, 2006 — a Client Relations post
This happened thirty yeas ago.
I had been hired to assist the executive committee of a major consulting firm to discuss their strategy. There were 8 or ten senior officers of the firm around the table, including the CEO, who was due to retire in 12 months.
As I was generating various options for them to consider, the CEO suddenly said to me (in front of everyone else): “You just want to see us change so you can get consulting fees.”
I had no idea what to say, and said nothing. I was hugely offended. It’s one thing to dislike my ideas, but to question my ethics? Impugn my integrity?
On the other hand, don’t all clients and customers distrust the motives of all professional provides (and all other businesspeople?)
The air hung heavy and silent until one of the other executives picked up the conversation and moved on.
I carried on working with that firm, through the term of my contract, and no-one ever referred to the CEO’s remarks again.
I have often thought about what I SHOULD have done or said.
What would you have done?
What are you going to say or do when someone accuses you of only being in it for yourself?
Carl A. Singer said:
What a way to start a relationship.
Before determining how to respond let’s look to possible reasons for this statement. Off hand three come to mind: (1) This CEO had bad experiences with previous “change agents” (2) He somehow sensed that you had YOUR own best interests at heart, not his company’s or (3) he’s a game player and thought he’d give you a punch to the solar plexus to see how you’d respond.
Is he really impugning YOUR integrity or is he broad brushing his view of consultants — they all savor change because it generates revenue.If the latter, then here’s your opportunity to distinguish yourself from the herd.
Now the choices of response mode. (Always professional in tone, etc. – Question, should you be confrontational at all?)Points to get across include:
I don’t fully know about your past experiences with consultants, but I have YOUR best interests at heart.
I will do right by you, because it’s much more important to me that you be successful and that I can build a long term relationship with your firm as well as use you as a reference to help me grow my business.
A few more billable hours don’t mean much to me. I’ve got a full plate as it is. My success is driven only by your success.
Like you, I don’t believe in change for changes sake — but, like you, I’m not adverse to change when it makes sense.
I imagine there are situations where we’d pack up our briefcase, get on our horse and ride out of Dodge — but from your description this doesn’t sound that extreme. You have someone who is, indeed, challenging you and you may wish to meet that challenge.
One last point — and this may seem artificial — we’ve all been in situations that upon thoughtful reflection we say to ourselves “gee, I wish I had said such-and-such or done such-and-such.” We can’t relive the past but we sure as heck better learn from it.
Some people take this to an extreme, and I don’t know whether it’s good or bad. The politician or the candidate who’s going to appear in a debate or press conference is well briefed. He or she has rehearsed a carefully worded set of responses to every conceivable question. Same goes with a job interview or introductory states of a consulting engagement / relationship.
Is it artificial or just good planning and preparation to have a pocket full of semi-canned responses rather than thinking on our feet. Examples:
1 – what if client objects to your rate. I.e. Client says — “You’re too expensive” or “Your estimate is too high.”
You say ….. (canned / prepped — or extemporaneous)
2 – what if client thinks the project will take too long, or results are too far in the future. I.e., Client says — “I can’t wait 6 months for the results, I need them tomorrow”
You say ….
3 – what if the client say “XYZ”
BTW — I don’t like your tie. (You say ….)
posted on August 22, 2006