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Rules of engagement


Getting a new client feels like a win. Those early meetings are full of excitement, promise, and hope. But does the shine often disappear? Are you left feeling unsatisfied, or even resentful at the end of the process?

It could be down to your rules of engagement.

How you kick off the diagnostic process at the very start of a client relationship is vital. But it’s not always easy to strike the right balance.

The customer isn’t always right

It’s an old adage, but to get your clients the best results – the results they demand – you need to lead with your expertise, not their opinions.

We’ve probably all been there. In early meetings with business leaders who are influential, persuasive and assertive, and taken the decision against our better judgement to led them lead the direction of projects. It can seem innocuous at the start but can derail the entire project.

In ‘Win Without Pitching‘ Blare Enns talks about the ‘root of bad engagements’

“…the mistake of letting a dominant client direct the engagement, beginning with a self-diagnosis that we took at face value… we took the money and did as we were asked.”


The blame game

When you allow a client to self-diagnose their problem or self-propose the solution you’re not in control of the process.

And when you’re not in control of the process you’re essentially just carrying out the orders of the client. Which isn’t ideal, but if it doesn’t work at least you won’t carry the can…

But as Enns points out, that’s often not the case:

 “We see him as demanding and difficult. He sees us as irresponsible order-takers not worth the money he is paying. He responds with more angry demands and again we comply, giving him what he wants. The spiral continues until finally we part, each blaming each other.”


Take control

But it doesn’t have to play out that way. We can take control of our client engagements, be the leaders, and not the order-takers.

Here are some good places to start:

Be the expert

You’re being paid for your expertise, so show it by sharing your knowledge and experience.

Stick to your process

Be up front and define your process and your ways of working – and stick to it.

Take them on the journey

It can be hard for clients who are used to taking control to relinquish it. Involve them in the process, help them to understand it and contribute – but not dictate.

Walk away

If initial meetings don’t feel right, walk away. Great work is only possible when you have great client relationships.


Play by your rules

What rules of engagement could you put in place to make sure you start client relationships in the right way?

How will you gain their trust and ensure you have the freedom to deliver the results they are expecting?

When you start from the right place the work you do, the results you deliver and the relationships you develop will be stronger and more productive.