In our last article, we presented the importance of creating a powerful partnership with your clients. What do we mean by the word “powerful” when we talk about powerful partnerships? We use the concept of “powerful” to balance the idea of “partnership”. Partnership is generally thought of as a soft, collaborative approach. In contrast, “powerful” is generally thought of as a strong, assertive approach. Together they provide a perfectly balanced perspective for successful customer and client relationships.
The opposite of powerful is when consultants are overly client-focused, giving all of their power to the client and jumping whenever called. Sadly, this reactive mind-set is the current state of most frontline relationships throughout customer success and professional services organizations. When we interview the leaders of these organizations at the beginning of a training engagement, they almost always identify this problem as one of their top cultural challenges. The good news is that by examining the damage done by the “customer is king” worldview and mastering the skills that we’ll share with you in our upcoming articles, this problem can be completely solved as you learn to become a powerful partner with your clients.
One specific pathway to building power is to request commitments from clients at the same level you are giving them.
The purpose of this practice is to create an equal balance of power between you and the client. When this happens, both parties win in the long run. While the client may not appreciate that they have to give something up to get something they want in the short run, it teaches them that you are an equal partner. If you act as an equal partner, you will be proactively assertive rather than reactive. This means you will speak up to promote your own interests as well as the client’s. You won’t be pushed around, nor will you want to control your partner; you’ll simply act to provide your best work to them. The customer in this view is not “king”. You are both kings (or queens). When you practice powerful partnership, you teach your clients that you are an equal partner, one who has valuable experience, knowledge and skills to offer. You may be a consultant, but you won’t take orders or be treated with less than full respect by your clients
Everyone knows clients like to hold consultants accountable. The extent to which you skillfully hold clients accountable is a great test of whether you are acting as a powerful partner. What follows are some of the specific tactics we’ve learned in the trenches to help you gain more clarity, commitment and accountability from your clients:
· Negotiate clear and specific agreements regarding specific deliverables, schedule milestones, meetings and communication protocols.
· Create clarity around decision processes, roles and reporting relationships.
· Negotiate for the client resources needed to make the project successful.
· Influence clients to be accountable to the commitments they’ve made by helping them to understand the negative consequences to them of not keeping their agreements and/or the benefits to them of keeping their agreements..
You build powerful partnerships over time through the conversations you have, the problems you solve together and through your unwavering commitment to act with integrity. What you say and how you say it has great impact. What you do matters even more!
Look for our upcoming weekly articles, as we’ll share the specific, field-tested principles and skills that will propel you into powerful partnerships with your clients. The next article will explore the three basic worldviews that people hold and how those perspectives can build or destroy partnerships.
Steve Vislisel and Marty Friedman are the co-authors of this series and the co-creators of the “Power of Partnership”, a dynamic, interactive training / coaching program for consultants and professional services pros.
They teach the specific principles and practices required to systematically create both great results and phenomenal customer experience in each client engagement.
They created this methodology for Accenture and have delivered it to over 10,000 services and consulting professionals in great organizations like E&Y, HP Software, Cisco, Visa, Bell Canada, Jive, Apptio and Lithium.