Have you ever found yourself in a situation, where you feel that you have so much great value to bring to your potential client, that you are so much better than anyone else they may have considered for the role so far …. yet, a client is hesitant to bring you in. Why?
First, You Must Self-Assess:
- Are you a professional trainer, coach and organizational design consultant who had spent many years honing his/her craft and investing in self-development? Do you consider yourself a life-long learner who openly speaks about it?
- Over years, have you earned some highest industry-recognized accreditation that represent your professional journey? Do you make it explicit and visible publicly (e.g. LinkedIn, your web site)?
- Have you, not only read dozens of books and case studies, but also authored or co-authored some on your own? Do you blog, write articles about your experiences and beliefs?
- Do you speak publicly (webinars, conferences), have your own web site, where you offer free educational information to communities? Do you have tens of thousands followers in the industry, attending to your events, reading your newsletters and benefiting from your expertise?
- Are you a one-person entity that you have relentlessly built over years? Are your responsible for your own networking and business development, along with providing community service (this usually, always keeps you busy at nights and on weekends), ON TOP of your paid work?
If you answered ‘yes’ to most of the above, you are actually might be facing against some potential challenges.
What Are Some of Your Potential Challenges?
- When trying to engage with a client, if you sound very knowledgeable (even if it comes so natural to you), you might be creating an inflated impression about what your aspirations and intentions are. Without any intention, you could be perceived as someone who wants to come in, take over, set your own tone, and run a show.
- If you attempt to impress others with your knowledge too soon, the effect could be the opposite to what you expect: you might be putting in an uncomfortable position people that you interact with, some of which could be much less experienced than you, unable to speak at your level, and perhaps even aiming at your future role, because their old roles had been being downsized (Larman’s Law #4). This is not so much a problem with senior management but quite common with first-second level manages and single-function roles (e.g. BAs, manual testers) that are sometimes asked to validate/interview you initially.
- You might be competing against a very large population of external candidates-consultants that are usually procured through staffing agencies/traditional preferred vendors, and presented as “coaches” (today, coaching is a highly commoditized and heavily overloaded term). In reality, such candidates are coaches in name-only (a.k.a. coaches-centaurs). They are willing to engage at a deeply discounted rate and are easily augment-able into an existing reporting structure (seamlessly fit an existing staffing model) just like any other, traditional “human resource”. Once in, they typically become individual performers (e.g. tool administrators, backlog stewards, or metrics collectors) – a classic coaching anti-pattern.
- You might be trying to enter into a client company’s domain that is tightly controlled by a large consultancy that already brought in their own, very expensive resources, installed their own, home-baked ‘best practices’ that are presented in the form of heavy power point decks and cook books. Even if you have a lot of experience with such best practices, unless you explicitly express your strong support for them, at the time of initial contact with a client, you might be perceived as a challenger and corporate unfit.
- Although the most generous rate of a highly experienced independent professional (we assume, you are reading this now) is just a fraction of what a large consultancy would be charging a client for each placed consultant, if you cost more than a coach-centaur (described above), you may put yourself out of range.
What Can You Do to Mitigate These Challenges?
First and foremost, remember: there is only one chance when you can make your first impression!!! You are lucky if you will have a second chance.
- Try to understand, really well, what a client’s real goals and aspirations are. When you meet a client, even for the first time (first interview or just an informal lunch meeting), listen to THEIR concerns and feel for THEIR pains. Keep your strong views to yourself and tone down what you may know: do not overwhelm a client. At times, a client will not be explicit with you about their real problems, so you may need to read between the lines, ask probing questions. But be careful, how deep you probe. Don’t become too obvious.
- Do not up-sell yourself. Do not speak about your own qualifications, credentials or past successes (unless it is absolutely necessary or you are being asked). Of course, it would be amazing is someone paved a road for you and spoke about you highly, so that you have a fair representation?. If you have to refer to your past experiences, present them as circumstantial and based on past conditions (try not sound absolute and categorical).
- Always remember that when you meet a client, you are on THEIR territory, and eventually, you will leave and they will own everything you have done for them. You may not even have a chance to claim a credit for your work, because its results will be seen only after you are gone. Therefore, be very explicit about your intentions upfront, of NOT wanting to ‘take over, become a hero, challenge everyone and change everything’. This could be a tough one, because at times, against your own will, you could be viewed as a leader-challenger, due of your perceived seasoning and expertise. You must make a client comfortable that you will respect their territory and their decisions and you are there to serve THEM.
- During your initial interaction with a potential client, even if you discover something that makes you feel that an immediate course correction is required, refrain from stating this too soon (unless you are explicitly asked to provide your own view). It would be wiser to offer assurance to a client that you are seeing a lot of potential of working together and ready to support them in any of their efforts. Then, only after you fully engage and dig in, you should start gently steering a client in a right direction by, reflecting on what you see, and offering alternatives, as needed.
In summary, being a highly qualified and experienced professional does not automatically quality you as, as the best candidate to be selected. There are many situational conditions that must be considered while interacting with a potential client. Often times, not all your assets and resources should be revealed at once and to everyone. You may have to be strategically smart in your pursuit and goals, even if your intentions are most genuine and it feels that you just have to be yourself and hold nothing back.