Maybe the client's problems are not "The Problem"
Sales & Marketing for Professional Services & Sales Tips

Maybe the client's problems are not "The Problem"

August 7, 2015

by Tony Vidler

Picture the scene: a partner in a practice is telling me about the problems with a particular staff member…a fair bit of chat about how they are not doing what the partner feels should be done, and taking far too long to do the things they do actually get done, and more often than not doing “god knows what” with their day.  “What should I do about (him/her)?”, he asked.

They are not the problem, you are.  The correct question is what should we doing about you“, I said.

whoa…there’s a good way to begin losing a client….

Reality check time though: the boss sometimes is the problem.  It is the same with clients. Sometimes they are the problem.

Every so often when coaching or advising you have to thump someone right between the eyes and let them know that they are actually the problem.  When it is time to deliver that piece of insight, hit ’em hard. There’s no point dancing around the subject, or using politically correct euphemisms.  Sometimes being blunt is best.  Get the pain over with quickly.

In this particular case the 2 partners of the firm had both contributed to the discussion, and it was apparent that the staff member was an enthusiastic worker who was focussed on doing what they though was the important. It turns out that the partner in charge had different ideas, but hadn’t actually told the staff member.  There was no management of the basic activities…no setting of either priorities or boundaries…no guidance of development of the staff member…no nurturing of a valuable asset.  Frankly the manager wasn’t managing; the boss was terrible at being a boss, and the staff member was persevering anyway.  Full kudos where it belongs…

A positive and constructive conversation followed about some things the boss needed to learn about being a boss, and the interesting thing for me was that he immediately began comparing it to the work he does with clients.  He absolutely got it because as he said: “sometimes the client is the problem.  The clients problems aren’t the problem, the client is the problem.  The best thing to do is hit ’em hard and tell them that, because nothing will change until they get that…so I get what you’re saying“.

Sometimes the clients problems are not the problem.  You have to fix the client before you can fix the clients problems.  Like managing staff, you have to manage clients too.

It’s the tough side of being a professional adviser: doing what has to be done, whether it is pleasant or not.

So when the professional relationship is just not going as it should, and the frustration begins to mount the thing to do is step back and firstly have a good think about your side of the deal.  Are you managing yourself well?

Think before you thump.

Are you doing the things that are needed for other person – staff member or client – to be absolutely clear about what the plan is and who is responsible for doing what?  Only after you’ve checked everything on your side of the relationship should we begin to have a deeper look at what it is going on with the other side.

Maybe it just needs some discussion and clarification, or perhaps some education and guidance, or maybe just a bit of patience and quiet leading to bring things moving along as you hoped for.  Maybe someone does need a metaphorical thump (note: I am not actually urging violence against staff or clients, as tempting as it is occasionally to take that as a literal instruction). It is just a smart move to make sure that it isn’t you that needs the thump first.

If it does transpire that the client is in fact the problem, then be prepared to face up to it and deal with it.  Do it professionally, directly, succinctly, clearly and quickly.   Get it done and then the clients’ problems can actually be addressed.

One of two things will happen;

  1.  They won’t want to work with you again, and that is not so bad if they actually are the problem and won’t face up to that; or;
  2. You achieve a break through and begin to deal with the real issues that need fixing first.

Either is a great outcome.

You may also find this post useful: Being clear about what matters most, actually matters most

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