This relationship. Where’s it going?

Posted by: Mark Nead

Why Alignment with Your Client Matters

A risk management firm proposes to reduce the total cost of risk to your business.

A medical technology innovator claims to improve patient outcomes.

A brand development firm says they can increase brand awareness and equity.

Each of these value propositions may be actionable and made with the best intention. However, none can be achieved with any measure of success without full engagement from the client company being propositioned.

A risk management firm may employ the most highly skilled risk specialists with proven expertise in uncovering hidden liabilities. But if the client company isn’t resolved to take disciplined action to change their high-risk culture, failure is inevitable.

Creators of a groundbreaking medical device can never anticipate improving patient outcomes if their users — the physicians and nursing staff — don’t believe in the potential impact, or worse, view the technology as a hindrance to providing personalized, one-on-one care.

In the same way, if a client invests in a brand development initiative but dismisses the effort as “marketing” or view it as a necessary evil, they’ve missed the entire point. A new value proposition posted in the lobby entrance does not make a brand, nor will it make a beans bit of difference in delivering a better customer experience if those values aren’t embraced internally.

It simply doesn’t matter what business you’re in or the value promise you make. If all those responsible for delivering on that promise aren’t fully engaged with a genuine, all-in commitment, the efforts are futile.

Years ago, after painstaking efforts to lead a client through a much-needed brand repositioning, it became quite clear that they weren’t willing to invest themselves fully in the process. They saw the problems, yet gave every indication that the cultural changes required to fix them were more than they cared to take on. We’d joke internally about adopting the new tagline “We care more than you do” — a jaded perspective on a relationship that had gone from rewarding to resentful. Our objective with this particular client was to unify their several divisions, who operated as silos, under one brand vision. And we weren’t willing to compromise our integrity or commitment to strengthening their brand, all the while knowing that they didn’t share that same level of commitment. You can lead a horse to water…

It’s important to recognize the signals from your client that indicate your efforts may be in vain. This can be tough, as not all clients show the telltale signs until you’re already engaged in the relationship. But it’s better to put a screening process in place and be selective in choosing prospective clients than exerting extraordinary efforts in trying to change them. Your qualifying efforts is time well spent, and will more than likely help you attract the clients who really value what can deliver.

Here are several questions to consider when prequalifying a client:

Can the prospective client clearly define the objectives?

New business development is a delicate dance of both selling and a buying. While it’s important to sell your recommendations to the client, it’s also critical that you buy into the client’s interpretation of the project, their culture and perceived ability to execute on your plan. A poorly-defined project often indicates that the client has not fully defined the scope of work or the objectives they seek to accomplish. Avoid continuing too far down the sales path until these are clearly defined.

Who decides?

It’s obvious, but worth repeating. Don’t waste your valuable time negotiating with non-decision makers. If what you’re proposing will impact a client’s business, you should have the ear of the actual buyer, or at least a strong influencer of the final decision maker. In cases where the selection responsibility is delegated to a committee, make an effort to connect with the decision maker through the individuals involved on that committee. If access is denied, this may be an indication that it’s time to move on.

Is the client forthcoming with their budget?

While it’s not always comfortable asking a prospective client if a project is funded, this is critical information that’s needed to qualify the opportunity. A qualified client is generally willing to disclose budget and discuss specific project expectations. On the other hand, an underqualified client won’t reveal budget (or will claim to have no dedicated budget) and will focus more on cost than the deliverables and objectives.

Are they transparent?

Legitimate companies will be transparent in communicating their challenges to you as a prospective partner. If not, you risk time and resources selling them something they may not value. Further, if they aren’t open and candid, you won’t be able to accurately assess how or if you can help them. Sure, they may be less willing to disclose sensitive information in the pre-qualifying stage. But you need to have a mutual understanding that, once engaged, you’ll have access to the insight that’s needed to gain a full perspective of their organization and their obstacles to success.

Is this a good fit?

During this “dating” phase, ask questions about the prospect’s goals and how they are measured. Their answers can reveal a lot about their internal culture and what will be expected of you. Are their expectations realistic? Does your culture align with theirs? Is there potential for a relationship built on trust and respect?

The short of it: Not all revenue is good revenue, and not all prospective clients are worth pursuing. If your goal is help your client accomplish a critical business objective, alignment and shared vision with that client is the only path there. Be willing to go to the ends of the Earth for them, but only if they’re coming along too.