female doctor looking at patient wideWhen at a potential new client meeting, what’s the best approach to take?

You go through your questions and dig around to understand their situation and problems. You build up an idea of what’s going on and what needs to be done to improve the situation.  You understand the problem, you mentally diagnose the cause and you can see the symptoms manifest themselves.You know you can help them and you know you can add value.

You also know that it’s what the client thinks, not what you think, that counts in getting a positive decision.

However, the client brought you in to sort out the symptoms. Or usually just one of them: the symptom that causes the most pain to the business or more likely the most pain to them personally.

You know that focusing just on this symptom will help a little, but what they really need is far more than that, if you look at the business in total.

So you face a choice: Do what the customer is asking you to do, or tell them what really needs to be done. If the customer says that they have a pain in their head and they want you to take it away – do you sell them a hard hat – or work on the reasons why other departments keep hitting them over the head with a mallet?

My experience is that in difficult economic times you sell them the hard hat. It may not be the best solution for the long term, but in difficult times people focus mainly on “now”. When the economy improves you will have some trust and a relationship in place to go back to them and look at the bigger picture.

So, for the moment focus on the symptoms and focus on their cause later in the relationship.

2 Responses to “Treat the customer’s symptoms, or their cause?”

  • Challenging stuff Trevor,
    If you had asked me cold what I would do I would have said, “I always surface the underlying problems and offer to work on those”.

    However on reflection I suppose I do take a more pragmatic view. As long as sorting out the symptoms is taking us in the right general direction and is moving them to a position where they can start to solve the underlying problem that is OK and may even be a good place to start. It is easier to think about how to stop being hit on the head if you are wearing a hat.

  • Trevor:

    Tony – I know it may feel counter-intuitive to what a good advisor / consultant feels is appropriate. But – as you say – as long as fixing a symptom is a step in the right direction to cure the overall cause, then I think it is pragmatic for both parties. Of course, there is nothing to stop you from explaining about a long term solution and then focus on a specific short-term action.

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