When a client has a new business requirement, quite often the may only have a vague idea of what they want. Your job is to guide them and help them achieve the clarity with their business requirements.
Let us consider this scenario. Whenever a new or existing client makes a request, for a new product or service or for an extension of an existing one. One of the worst mistakes to make is to assume that the client knows exactly what they want. The will believe that they do, of course, and there is always the possibility that they might be correct. I have found that it is always wise to assume that the client only has a vague idea of the actual requirements.
This perhaps sounds confusing so let me elaborate further. The client really has a new business requirement, perhaps some form of business pain needs to be addressed. They have obviously thought about the issue and developed, in house, what they see as the perfect solution. As a consultant tasked with analysing the clients requirements it will be your job to separate the actual requirements from the requirements perceived by the clients themselves.
The client is asking a specialist, you, to implement a solution for their perceived requirements. However, if they had really managed to properly analyse and define both the requirements and the solution then why would they be coming to you in the first place? To be fair, again, the client might well be correct with both the analysis and the proposed solution. More often than not however, the proposed solution will be incomplete and may even only address the symptoms and not the deeper underlying causes.
You may ask why this should be the concern of your business? You can just do the work requested, take the money and say thank you very much. Done? Not quite, the first thing that will happen is that the client will spot flaws in the solution. The actual problems may only be partially resolved and of course they will demand rework but not at their expense. There may be several rounds of negotiations for the rework, which will result in several negative effects on the business-client relation.
Firstly, the client is going to feel let down and disappointed that the work that was agreed upon did not resolve their problem entirely. It doesn’t matter even if it was mostly resolved, human nature again, that feeling will persist even if relatively minor points are not functioning as expected. Their trust in you will have been irreversibly eroded and there will be next to nothing you can do to fix that. Ever!
They, the client, may then put the blame on you for not properly analysing their proposed solution before agreeing to the contract. In this they would be perfectly correct. Clients are often far too close to the problem to have a proper overview; they are blinkered by their familiarity with the subject or subjects involved. This is why a good consultant will be aware and plan for a detailed and independent analysis no matter how good the proposal is from the client.
However the problem is resolved, the damage has already been done. We are simply built in this way; we never forget when we feel that we have been wronged, even slightly. The feeling will always remain in the back of our minds. Again, a lack of understanding of how important and how delicate client relations, thus human relations, can be can and will have a detrimental effect. A problem that could so easily have been avoided altogether.
Sometimes a client will approach your business with a request that may seem perfectly reasonable to them but to the experienced eye is impossible to realise. If your business-client relation is not at its best then getting this across to the client may well prove impossible also. Unfortunately not all clients are realistic with their expectations, this is especially noticeable within the IT industry but I’m sure may be equally applicable in just about every industry.
Let us diverge for a moment. Maintaining a good relationship with your clients is always the first priority, by this I mean that the relationship has been built around mutual trust, respect and confidence. The state of the relationship between your business and your clients will have a direct impact on the way any negotiations may be affected.
Seems obvious right? Then ask yourself, how many times have you or colleagues been guilty of disrespecting a client when in the safety of your own offices. When you are sure, naturally, that the client can’t hear you? I’ll put my hand up and admit that I’m guilty of this one. But it’s just harmless venting of steam isn’t it? Well, I’m not so sure, notice how the only clients involved in this private one-sided comedy act (mostly it involves making fun of the clients, that is putting it mildly) are the very clients you hold in a lesser regard than others.
This is a sure way to see with which clients you are having problems. The client relation has either broken down or is in the process of doing so. These situations should be a wake up call to you and your colleagues as all future business with these clients will be fraught with difficulties. You need to address these issues as quickly as possible, remember that you don’t have to like each other to respect and trust each other. Business is business and you will never be friends. Just keep it friendly.
Let’s return to the problem with a client requesting the impossible again.
Firstly, consider such a request from a client where your business-client relation is excellent. They know that they can trust you even when it comes to difficult and sometimes hard to swallow advice. This relationship has become the central part of all contact between you. So, they have a problem and ask you to help them implement a solution for it that seems perfectly logical, to them.
As usual, nothing much is agreed during the first meeting pending the results of the analysis. Very quickly, it becomes obvious that, due to some misunderstanding or for some other reason, the proposal is fatally flawed. Perhaps the client has invested a significant amount of time and money to develop the proposal and now you have to go back to them and break the bad news.
As the relationship between you and your client is good, it will be much easier to present the findings of the analysis. Bad news is never welcome, but when it comes from somebody you trust and respect you can deal with it. This is a very simple scenario with no details of course. Perhaps, the proposal is shelved and instead your business is invited to come up with alternatives. The point is, for you and your business there are very few negatives and the relationship you have built up with the client remains either the same or perhaps even improved.
Contrast this scenario with a similar situation for a client where the relationship has broken down, or is in the process of doing so. They will not be at all receptive to the results of the analysis. Things can get ugly, very quickly, as they simply do not trust or respect that you know what you are talking about. Their attitude may well be that they are the paying customers and as one of their service providers you should be able to do whatever they want as long as they pay. Sound familiar?
How many businesses would you think have been bullied by clients in this way? Perhaps your own businesses have had to deal with this rather unpleasant and stress inducing, plain awful situation?
This scenario is just a little bit artificial but the point is to illustrate the extreme importance of maintaining good client relations. They will make your life easier and stress free. Your productivity and efficiently can only improve and your business will feel the benefits.
In summary, these simple but important lessons on the impact, both positive and negative, of human interaction between businesses and their clients will have a measurable impact on the long-term success or failure of any business. But remember, these relationships are a two way street also, these lessons are equally important to the clients themselves.