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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty

David A. Zimmer
David A. Zimmer, PMP
Chief Business Strategist
American Eagle Group

Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty
Patrick Lencioni

When you pick up a book entitled "Getting Naked" you are not quite sure what to expect. Most of us feel more comfortable hiding our bodily flaws and those around us definitely feel more comfortable when we are dressed. In fact, the older I get, the more I seem to desire to remain clothed. It seems as consultants, I have seen many have the same desire to remain “clothed” when it comes to their ideas, work habits and interactions with clients. They put up a front or exterior that belies the true nature of their work.

In this book, author Patrick Lencioni talks directly to consultants and anyone who provides services, especially advisory services. He promotes the idea clients want consultants to be "naked" - transparent, servant-oriented, and more interested in adding value to the client's business than they are in the money being paid. Make it about the client and their concerns, not about the consultant.

Lencioni uses his signature style of a fable to illustrate his points. A larger, less client-oriented consulting firm buys a much smaller, customer-centric company. The larger firm method of selling and providing their services differ greatly from the smaller firm: pre-sales (gather data and information about the client, create a presentation and slideshow of their strengths and methodologies), impress the client with their ability to get the job done and propose a solution all before learning why the client called in the first place. They baffle the client with the senior consultants' abilities and prestige, and then staff the project with junior consultants possessing very little experience while charging the senior consultant rates. I'm not suggesting any particular large consulting companies stoop to such tactics, but ...

In the book, the smaller firms method of listening to the customer, working with the customer, and creating ideas aligned with the customer’s needs seemed to win the day, especially when they competed head-to-head with the larger firm and certainly proved their business was all about the customer and not the consultant.

Lencioni promotes three fears we consultants must overcome (and these same fears apply to internal consultants and non-consultants alike) in order to operate like the smaller firm and create a bevy of loyal, long-term clients:

Fear #1: Fear of Losing the Business

When you fear losing business, you compromise your work and objectivity - the very things clients hire you for - in order to maintain the business. If we don't worry about losing the business, then we can make bold suggestions benefitting the client. If the client doesn't like those moves or ideas and we lose the business, then they probably were not the type of client we could serve anyway. I've always made it a philosophy of mine to never be concerned about losing the business in deference to the client's benefit. In most cases, the client appreciated the openness. In other cases, we parted ways and I realized I served the client better by not working with them.

Fear #2: Fear of Being Embarrassed

No one likes to make mistakes in public. Very few people like being naked in front of others. Consultants especially don't like to be embarrassed by not knowing an answer, making glaring errors, or just downright appearing incompetent. As a result, we make up answers, dance around the question or simply evade the issue altogether by long-winded answers. Unfortunately, the client sees through such buffoonery.

Lencioni suggests simply admitting when we don’t know or make a mistake. Make corrective actions and move on. Be willing to ask “stupid” questions and make dumb suggestions because many times, in doing so, it generates creativity. If nothing else, the client appreciates the willingness to do what it takes to move them forward.

Fear #3: Fear of Feeling Inferior

Fear of feeling inferior has to do with preserving a sense of importance or social standing with the client. While we shouldn’t let the client walk on us or abuse us, a sense of servitude creates a bond between the consultant and client, one where both sides end up respecting each other.

I won’t elaborate anymore because Lencioni does a much better job with his fable and follow-on discussion. In a day where pride, ego and swagger seem to rule a consultant’s demeanor, this book is a welcomed addition to my library of how to truly develop loyalty between client and consultant.

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