At times in my career I have found myself sitting across from a client trying to figure out how to resolve a sticky situation—one in which we seem to have completely opposite needs. Early on I followed advice from a veteran salesman who always stressed that relationships were based on give-and-take—that both sides needed to make sacrifices for them to succeed.
Most of the time that worked.
But there were times when I followed his advice only to find the client giving future work to a competitor.
Compromise—a lose-lose situation
My breakthrough came when I partnered on a job with Angela, a new associate in our firm. The client wanted a planning module to integrate into their sales training and were really pushing for a one-week delivery. Trouble was we saw it as a two-week job.
I favored a compromise and suggested a ten-day deliverable. But Angela had a whole other way of thinking about situations like this—one that came from her previous work as an arbitrator.
Angela had found that compromise could be a relationship killer—because both sides give up what they most want and pursue a third option that’s not best for either side. In this case a ten-day deadline would hurt us because we’d have to use more resources and that would eat profit. And the client still wouldn’t have the solution on time—which would create frustration.
And that’s what can cost you clients. When they give something up, they—consciously or not—will blame you. And on the next project, they’ll be more likely to look elsewhere for a vendor who can deliver what they want.
Negotiation is the solution
Instead of compromise, Angela favored negotiation—which is about finding a win-win solution. She explained that compassion is a key to good negotiation. We needed to try to get inside our client’s world and understand the levers that motivate them to make decisions. We needed to ask why the deadline was so important. Try to understand the value to the client of hitting or not hitting it.
When we spoke to the client we learned that they had a deadline with their own client—and missing it would mean huge penalties. Their potential revenue loss was far greater than the premium we would have to charge to deliver on time. From there we were quickly able to agree on a new price for hitting their date.
They made their deadline, we got well-compensated—and we ended up with a stronger relationship with a grateful client.
The last word
Although taking the middle road between two extreme choices sometimes feels like the safe route, in reality it’s an outcome nobody wants. And it can produce frustration and damage a client’s confidence in you. Since I started to find win-win solutions through a compassionate understanding of my client’s situation I’ve been building stronger relationships that have increased my revenue.
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