When a client or prospect asks you for something, you have their respect. They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t believe in your ability to fill their request. At that moment you have their attention and respect. Their request provides the opportunity to ask for something in return.
You may think that asking is risky. You may think that asking could lose you the opportunity. You may think that asking will disrupt the good feelings going on in the discussion. But you’re wrong.
Asking for what you need at that very instant demands their respect, if what you ask for is clearly in their best interests. Asked in a manner that is direct, clear, and completely neutral, you gain respect. And, with their respect, an opportunity to get what you need to serve them better.
It’s late Saturday night. You’ve just completed the last changes on the PowerPoint shows for a group of “C” suite executives who are preparing for their annual shareholders meeting. They are completely stressed. Their final rehearsal is set for Tuesday morning with the big event the next day.
You’ve been working on these decks with the execs and their assistants for a week. It’s been round after round of changes, night and day. It’s clear that they respect your work. But in spite of that, you’ve felt powerless in your interactions with them all week.
Now it’s midnight; you’re exhausted but you know that the decks must be reviewed carefully by the C team and ready for you to make any last adjustments first thing Monday.
What can you do to insure that the C team is ready with their final input early Monday?
Call the lead executive assistant on Sunday morning and remind her of the tight timing; ask her how to insure that the final changes get to you Monday morning. Trust in their respect for your contribution. Trust in the knowledge that this is in their best interests. Trust in their need to perform well before their shareholders.
When They Call You
It’s the call you’ve been waiting for. In a sense, you’ve been preparing for this call all your life. Six years in college, including a graduate degree. Five years working for one of the best in the business and eight years running your own firm with a great supporting team enthusiastically churning out some of the best work in the category.
Why did they call? Because you’ve been increasingly published, awarded, tweeted, and followed for how you help your clients achieve their goals. And you do it with grace and style.
On the call they said that they were sending you an RFP and asked for a proposal. You asked, and they said they were reviewing three firms. What a letdown.
What can you do to insure that the client gets what they need to succeed?
After reviewing the RFP, and a bit of investigative homework, call back and explain that their description is too restrictive. It’s simply not in their best interest, or yours, to respond to the RFP. That, in your experience, meeting their goals will require a more collaborative approach; an approach that will uncover a successful path to meeting their needs. To that end, propose a half or full day planning session for which you will charge a fee, but the result will provide a roadmap for moving forward, whether you’re involved or not.
There you are, in their conference room. On the walls and the table are materials for the project: research reports, strategy documents, competitive reviews, etc. You’d prepared a little presentation about yourself and your work, but seeing this display you think, “Maybe they are going to just give me the assignment.”
Thinking back to their original email, you remember that one of your best clients referred you to these guys. So, you decide on the spot to skip the presentation. On the one hand, darn, you’d put a lot of work into it and you wanted to show it off. On the other hand, if you just move into project questioning mode maybe you’ll land it.
What can you do to walk out of here with the project?
Engage them in a lively discussion with: questions, observations, possibilities, and all the follow-up you can think of. Watch their reactions. Do they see I’m getting it? Yes! The conversation lasts three quarters of an hour and when you feel you have a sense of what’s required you summarize the project and ask them how that approach sounds. After some back and forth, and agreement on the scope, you propose a budget and a delivery date and they accept. After only an hour you depart with a great project.
They Believe in You
When they ask you it means that a very good thing has already happened. It means that they believe that you can help them. When they believe in you, in the extent of your ability to help them, they expect you to ask for what you need to be successful.
Ted Leonhardt has provided management consulting and negotiation training exclusively to creative businesses since 2005. He cofounded the The Leonhardt Group, a brand design firm in 1985 and sold it in 1999. In 2001 and 2002 Ted served as Chief Creative Officer for Fitch Worldwide, out of London. In 2003 through early 2005 Ted was president of Anthem Worldwide, a brand packaging design group.