Clients Depend on You…and You on Them
I’ve been blessed to have many mentors over the years. One who stands out is Hines Brannan, my former boss during my years working at Accenture, a large management consulting company. Though I haven’t worked for Accenture in sixteen years, and Hines retired about the time I left, he still gives me good business advice. A central lesson that Hines taught me is: always deliver value beyond the fees you charge.
I believe in the value of long-term relationships, including with my clients. Back in graduate school, one of the foundational lessons that my organizational development professors harped on was to never create a dependency relationship with your clients. Provide them with strategy, tools, and approaches that they can use after you’re gone. Don’t do the fishing for them, teach them how to fish.
I hate that advice, because it’s arrogant. It assumes that your clients don’t know how to fish. Your clients have probably been fishing longer than you have. While they might benefit from exploring new fishing holes, or upgrading their fishing equipment, it’s arrogant to for a consultant to think that they alone have the special fishing knowledge to impart. Your clients aren’t hapless yellowtail snappers.
I am constantly learning from my clients, through the situations and challenges they confront, their perspectives and expertise, and ideas and insights they share that enhance my own. I depend on them as a major source of my business learning.
They’ve got great ideas and deep wisdom about the inner workings of their organizations. And we are mutually dependent upon each other. Yes, dependent! They depend on me always keeping their interests at heart. They depend on me to deliver exceptional work. They depend on me to learn about their business, build respectful relationships with their personnel, and partner with them to co-create solutions and initiatives that get results.
My clients often teach me how to fish…in their waters. I am constantly learning from my clients, through the situations and challenges they confront, their perspectives and expertise, and ideas and insights they share that enhance my own. I depend on them as a major source of my business learning. I depend on them to provide me with opportunities to test new ideas and approaches. I even depend on them to provide me with the stories that enrich my books. And, yes, I depend on them for my livelihood…which I will have as long as they can depend on me to deliver value beyond my fees. The dependency is mutual.
Years ago I made a conscious decision to minimize the number of one-and-done “gigs” my company and I take on. A gig is where my company comes in or I arrive on the scene, we catch a few fish to give to a customer, and move on. It has almost no lasting value. While we still do a few of them, the bulk of my business is with long-term client relationships, often with an established retainer.
In Chicago alone, Giant Leap has three retainer relationships. We’ve been working with one of those companies for fifteen years.
Here’s my advice: go fishing with your clients! Meaning, put on your waders, step into the mudholes, and be in it with them for the long-haul. When you’re committed to fishing with your clients for the long-haul, you become invested in the growth and development of many of the company’s personnel.
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For example, each year Giant Leap facilitates a 3-day strategic planning offsite for one of our clients. The people who are now setting the company’s strategy (many of them EVPs and VPs), weren’t even in the room when we started. We’ve seen them progress from awkward plebes in their first management jobs to confident executives presenting the company’s strategy. Few things are as gratifying than contributing to the growth of a person’s career. And when your client relationships are long-term in nature, there’s a real possibility of making that contribution.
When you’re in a long-term, mutually dependent, and deeply respectful relationship, everyone gets enhanced. As my company and I learn more about our client and its industry, we are able to add more value to the work we deliver. They know that we “get it,” and that we want their success as much as they do. Because their success, employing strategies and approaches that we’ve contributed to, is the key to our longevity as a business.
Let me be clear, I am proud to be fully dependent on my clients!
I’m even prouder to know that they can depend on me! My aim will always be to employ my mentor’s advice and deliver value beyond my fees…as me and my clients continue to fish together.
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