I was having a conversation with a client last week – the president and his senior staff. We were talking about their business objectives for the year and the kinds of marketing and sales efforts they would need to achieve them.
As I was laying out a number of strategies and tactics that could help them reach their goals, the president interrupted me, and said, “Steve, don’t tell us what we could be doing… tell us what we should be doing.”
He was absolutely right!
Just listing out a bunch of options, even good ones, doesn’t do much for your client. Your role – as a consultant and trusted advisor – is to bring your knowledge and experience to the table to help give your clients what you believe to be the best option for solving their problem or achieving their goal.
When you reach that level of trust with a client, they are bringing you into their ‘inner circle’ to help with key decisions. They’re saying to you, “For this challenge, we trust your knowledge and experience more than we do our own.” That sort of sentiment should fill you with pride and humble you at the same time.
When your client does that, they’re not abdicating responsibility for the decision, they’re utilizing you to help them make the best decision possible.
Too often, especially when we’re really busy, we tend to default to one of two ‘order taker’ modes:
- The first is what I described above, for example, “Here are four options that all work, Mary. Which one do you want?” The problem with that is that it puts the onus back on the client… not what you want to do.
- The other is to acquiesce to the client and accept – at face value – whatever they think they should do (usually out of a sense of expediency) even when you know it’s not the best option. Something like, “Good idea, John… let’s move forward with that.” The problem here is obvious… the client gets less than the best results.
Many inexperienced consultants and seller-doers show hesitancy in the ‘should do’ approach with newer clients, where the trust relationship still isn’t fully developed. But here’s the thing… it’s this strategy that can accelerate that relationship. By bringing ‘should do’ to the table, there’s no posturing, no acquiescing and no uncertainty. Your clients will appreciate your honesty and directness… and nothing builds trust more than that. Even if they don’t accept your recommendation.
Remember this… you may work for a small firm while your client is a multi-billion-dollar Fortune 500 company, but you’re both on equal footing. You both need each other. So, take the confident, trust-building position of telling buyers what they should do, not just what they could do. With this approach, you both win.