What would you do if a client asks you to provide a service to satisfy a want – yet you know that isn’t what they actually need?

When I was asked to write a comment piece on a topic of my own choice it was relatively easy to pick an issue to let off steam about, given the number of recent meetings I’ve had with firms who WANT something which I believe won’t solve their issue(s).

two person handshakingWe’re often told the client is always right, but what would you do if a client asks you to provide a service to satisfy a want – yet you know that isn’t what they actually need?

This is easier with existing clients where there’s a strong and trusted relationship. They are happy for us to challenge their thinking and coach them towards the best actions to help solve their needs.

But what if it is a prospective client with whom you have not yet had the chance to build a relationship. If you know what they want is not really going to solve their challenge and/or create value for their business – and have a good idea of what they really need – then what would you do?

Here’s a recent example:

Prospect: “We really want to invest in development for our people. We have a blank page, but the partners have mentioned offering programmes for Leadership, Management and Business Development”.

Me: “Ok… great that you are looking to help your people grow. A few questions if I may?”

  • What are you looking to achieve as a business? What is your strategy?
  • How have you decided on the areas of development you have mentioned? Is this senior management’s opinion or have you asked individuals about their challenges in role and what they need to help them perform better?
  • What skills and behaviours are you looking for your people to demonstrate more of? Are these the right ones to drive the strategy?

Prospect: “Hmmm those questions are probably a step too far at the moment. We are just looking for a high quality supplier to come in and run some great training programmes. We have been talking to a couple of other providers who have given us their ‘off the shelf’ programmes which look perfect. So, could you send us something similar?”

The thing is, we know that providing these solutions (to solve their want) will offer minimal value in terms of return on investment, without clarity on their strategy, needs of their people, etc …

What would you do?

  • Provide what they want and deliver some great off the shelf training programmes?
  • Provide what they want but be relentless in pushing and coaching the client to take the steps and answer the questions to help them get more clarity over what they really need?
  • Thank them and walk away explaining that what they want will have very little impact?

I am passionate that as experts in our fields we shouldn’t be afraid to stand our ground and be honest in terms of value and return on investment. However this also needs to be balanced with listening to clients wants and flexing our approach to help them to define their needs and get the best value from any investment.

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