Are You Truly Independent From Your Clients?

How would you handle this situation?

A client asks you to undertake a project that isn’t in your sweet spot of capabilities. It’s something you don’t have quite the right skills for.

OK, that’s easy. You probably are able to say “no” to the request and recommend someone else. And in doing so you’ll deepen the client’s trust in you.

But what if you’re “on the beach” and have very little other client work. Would you be tempted to take it on?

And, what if your boss was pressuring you to accept the job? Suddenly this minor dilemma gets harder to deal with.

In my first book, Clients for Life, I wrote about the attribute of “selfless independence.” It’s a hallmark of great client advisors. You are totally devoted to your client, but at the same time, exercise complete objectivity and are willing to say “no” at critical junctures. Even if it costs you money.

Most people say, “I don’t have a problem with that. I am able to say no.” But here’s the point: When it’s easy and straightforward, it’s easy! But when it’s hard, it’s hard. For example—how would you deal with these situations:

A client wants to take a course of action that you believe is truly wrong for them.

Again, I’m guessing you would comfortably argue your position with them and try and talk them out of it.

But how about if the course of action the client wants to take—say they want to acquire another company, and you really think it’s a lousy idea—will result in a large amount of new work for you and lots of fees.

Hmmm…do you think there’s a chance that prospect might affect your behavior? Maybe you’d argue less strenuously for them to not do it?

How about this one—which frankly, is pretty common. You work for a large company and you manage one of its largest client accounts. You firmly believe that you are serving all of the client’s needs, and that there really aren’t any other products or services you should be trying to sell to them. But your CEO and leadership team are pressuring you to grow the account even further. They disagree with you and feel you could double the revenue!

Sound far fetched? One of the books about the collapse of Arthur Andersen—which by the way was a very complicated and tragic event—said that the Enron account accounted for $50 million a year  in revenue to Arthur Anderson, their auditors. And that during their client account planning process the corporate office suggested it could be a $100 million account. And that should be their goal—to grow it from $50 million to $100 million! There was huge pressure on the Enron team to expand that relationship even further, even though, under the best scenarios, it was a huge exposure for them!

And finally, here’s another classic situation. Your senior client asks you to make changes in your final report so that their board of directors will not get alarmed and think that the company’s problems are serious. How would you respond?

Well, you might say…it depends. Are they asking you to truly muzzle your conclusions? Or just frame them a little differently? And where do you draw the line?

My point is that some cases are easy to deal with and they are black and white, open and shut cases. But others are more complicated and, frankly, present a more slippery slope because of the way they tug at your competing interests.

Build your reputation for this powerful quality of selfless independence. It may drive a few clients away, but it will attract many, many others.

What dilemmas have you found yourself in with clients? Leave a comment, here.

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