Are you a partner or just a vendor?

Get out! This is my garden!
Creative Commons License photo credit: foxypar4

Last week, we discussed a big reason why clients won’t take your advice.

Reader David was kind enough to share an experience about a fairly common situation:

Interesting concept but whenever I have tried to apply it (which has been many times before reading this post) I find the client still wont listen and will ignore my advice.

This leaves me with two options ignore them back and refuse to implement their bad ideas which means I lose what has become a frustrated client or do it their way and feel even more frustrated myself at the poor work I have had no choice but to do.

Business owners don’t wake up thinking “I’m going to buy some crap today” or “Let’s pay someone to do poor work and implement their bad ideas.”

So why won’t they listen?

Why they won’t

If you’re left with no alternative but to “ignore them back” or “implement their bad ideas”, it’s possible there are relationship problems.

Clients typically ask for help because they lack the time, resources and/or experience to do important work. They want your answers to be exactly what they need, so if they aren’t taking your advice, you need to find out why.

Ask.

Four possibilities:

  • You lack some information that somehow causes your advice to be off target in their eyes. Why doesn’t matter. Dig deeper.
  • There’s an authority / credibility problem. Either you’ve damaged it or you’ve never established it.
  • They don’t trust you. They might think you’re just trying to sell them something. Trust and credibility are different. Credibility can convey enough trust to start a relationship, but trust must be earned and then repeatedly reinforced with each customer.
  • They need to be able to depend on you to help them analyze the situation and advise them. If they feel unable to depend on your advice, it will chip away at their trust in your abilities, even if your work is simply evaluating their plans. That’s dangerous territory.
Each of these are client relationship issues that can impact a project. However, I don’t think they’re causing what David described. That the client is “frustrated” is what concerns me.

Why they might

Be sure to discuss all possible options (and their outcome) with your customer. If you don’t, it may tell the client that you haven’t fully considered their situation.

If clients agree with your predicted outcome for each approach, they can select the desired outcome rather than “taking your advice” (or discarding it). They get to own the choice made with your help, setting you up to deliver great work to those predetermined expectations.

But what if their choice of outcome is “poor work”?  Does your ability to explain the undesirability of poor work’s outcome need some polish?

Do you regularly hear comments like “We hadn’t thought of that, good thing we asked for your help”? Are you working that hard? They need to see that you are a valued partner in their work, not simply their vendor.

Wordsmithing

“Take my advice” isn’t a one-way deliverable that says “Do this or else”. If you position your recommendations that way, you should expect pushback.

“Advice” is just a word. It isn’t “words from on high” or one-way, take it or leave it communication, so please don’t get tangled up in that because of the word I chose.

Whether you are putting out a fire or designing a long-term strategic plan by reverse engineering a desired state that will occur years in the future, it’s still “advice” for lack of a better term. The goal is to work together with your client as a valued partner to fulfill, if not exceed, their needs.

The obvious choice

You can only work with clients from a position of authority if you have earned that position. Again, I don’t mean “authority” as if you have a throne, but from a “that’s THE business to ask about this stuff in our market” perspective. In other words, the obvious choice.

Start earning that position right away. Do one thing every day to improve your credibility in your market. Write, speak and most of all – repeatedly deliver exactly what they need. It isn’t always what they think they want – but it’s your job to explain the difference.

Free is good. So is not so free. Know the difference.

Today I’m down in Hamilton Montana at the Bitterroot Rendezvous with 300 other folks, including a bunch of Scouts. 

Because I’d hate to have you go all weekend empty handed, and more importantly because I get questions at least once a week about the logic of giving away so much information and advice (like this blog) for free, I thought I’d slide the mike over to social media wizard Chris Brogan and let him share his thoughts on the topic. 

Hop on over to Chris’ blog and get a handle on how the picnic gets paid for.