Have you ever entered a client meeting and found that he or she has already come up with a solution to their problem? Sometimes their solution is correct, and it saves you a sales pitch.
Yet more often than not, this can be a dangerous situation. After all, you are the solutions expert, and just because the client has a solution doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right solution, for you or them. When you simply execute what your client wants, you are merely playing the role of order-taker. You can do better.
The question, of course, is how?
Be polite–First and foremost, be respectful of the client’s opinion. As they explain the proposed solution and what role you will play, remain gracious and express your appreciation for the opportunity. Be fully aware of your tone as well, as you could easily come across as judgmental or punitive. After all, they are still offering you the chance to do business with them, albeit their way, not yours.
Ease into questioning–You can only find out if the client is correct by asking questions. However, if you start inquiring right away, you may end up sounding bitter or interrogative. A simple pre-question statement can prepare the client and help them understand why you need more information (“That sounds like a viable approach. I would like to ask a few questions to understand why you decided to go in that direction, if that’s okay.”).
Ask the right questions–There are two types of questions that are best-suited for this situation. Asking open-ended, needs-clarifying questions will help you understand precisely what issues led to this solution and if in fact this is the best direction to go in. Some good examples of these include:
- “What was your ultimate objective?”
- “What other options did you consider?”
- “What were the driving factors in the decision?”
- “How do you personally feel about this approach?”
As you ask these and other questions, you will uncover needs that the client believes their solution will address. This moves you up the value pyramid. In some cases, you may learn needs that even the client wasn’t aware of. That is what consultants do. That is what advisors do. That is what you can do.
Focus on needs–If you’ve played all your cards right, you will learn the needs that led to the client’s actions. Review the client’s needs, just as you always do. If the direction they want to go in remains reasonable, validate it and leave it be (“I can see why you decided to go in this direction. It makes good sense.”).
On the flip side, you may find that the client’s solution is unpractical and requires an alternative approach. Remember that you are positioning yourself as a strategic adviser, and strategic advisers are not “Yes People.” While deferential and respectful, they must offer alternative approaches to their clients’ problems when necessary. To do otherwise would be a disservice. If this is the case, be sure to discuss said alternatives in a polite and client-focused way (“Your solution will certainly accomplish your objectives. But there are other ways to do so and I would like to explain them to you. Of course, the decision is yours.”).
When clients think they know the solution, it can be uncomfortable and risky. Do what you can to ensure that the client makes the best possible decision and that you play a key role in the process. They’ll remember you for your invaluable advice well into the future.
Even with proper planning, there are times when the client is so wrapped up in their own solution that further conversation is fruitless. How do you deal with a client who point-blank refuses to consider your opinion? Leave a comment to share your thoughts!