Can Letting Clients “Have it Their Way” Be Your Worst Mistake?

It’s one of the oldest maxims in the book: “The customer is always right”. It may be true in the world of retail business, but in consulting it can be the kiss of death.

Every client wants what they want–and that’s their right. But a “Powerful Partner” knows how to set boundaries to stop “scope creep” in its tracks.
Scope creep is the phenomenon of projects growing beyond what an original agreement states, and in the process a once tightly bounded engagement can begin to suck up time, money and resources.

Worst of all, consultants are all too likely to just let scope creep happen without a word. Why? Are they so wrapped up in technical issues that they’re not paying attention? Are they perhaps simply too busy? Or, were the clients so aggressive or manipulative that consultants fear and avoid the tough conversations they need to have? Whatever the cause, the cure will always be the same: skillful, frequent communication with the client

In our Power of Partnership trainings, we’ve noticed that many consultants don’t like to be the “bad guy”. They may not even think it’s their role to say “No”. (“Let the managers do it; that’s what they’re paid for!”)

Consultants don’t need to fear these conversations when they learn the skills to have them. We teach our training participants a three step process called “Hold the Line”, which gives them the tools they need to say “No” to clients while at the same time committing to collaborate with them to find trade-off’s. The idea is to learn to use “No, and…”, rather than “No, never!” Trade-offs might include money, time, or functionality—but nothing is given without something else being taken away. These conversations aren’t easy. They take courage, and employ a set of specific skills that our training participants learn and practice until they’re comfortable using them.

“Powerful Partners” aren’t afraid of their clients and they don’t fold easily. On the other hand, they know how to communicate clearly, openly, firmly and with respect. When consultants learn how to stop scope creep, engagements work better and you reach your revenue targets. Your clients are asked to make choices about the direction of their project, rather than dictating to you how to use your resources. Best of all, your clients aren’t made to feel they’re out of line for “wanting what they want”, just like anyone else.

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Authored For S3 Solutions by Marty Friedman

Marty FriedmanMarty Friedman is one of the architects of the “Power of Partnership”, a training course for consultants and solution sales professionals who want to sell bigger deals and have smoother projects. He has co-presented this training for clients such as HP, Accenture, and Bell Canada as well as many mid-sized companies and start-ups. Find out more at

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