## The Prisoner’s Dilemma: Trust & Selling

It can sometimes leave a bitter aftertaste the mouth – whether you’re the seller or the buyer. Why is that? I think it comes down to a few things – but mainly how we approach the sale and what we bring to the relationship between buyer and seller.

You may know “The Prisoner’s Dilemma.” In game theory, it’s a classic conundrum. As Wikipedia states, it “demonstrates why two people might not cooperate even if it is in both their best interests to do so.”

It turns out that the solution to The Prisoner’s Dilemma is also the solution to a great many sales problems—those in which your customer doesn’t trust you. Are you living in the Dilemma? Or are you living in the solution?

## The Dilemma of the Prisoner

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction and, having separated the prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal:

• If one testifies for the prosecution against the other (defects) and the other remains silent (cooperates), the defector goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence.
• If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge.
• If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence.

Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

What’s a poor prisoner to do?

If you analyze the situation rationally (the way a game theorist or economist defines that term), your odds are a lot worse if you remain silent—either you get 10 years or six months. But if you rat on your partner, you either get out free or—at worst—five years.

So, reasons the economist, Option A’s average “value” is five years and three months in prison. Option B’s average is two and a half years. “Ah ha,” says the economist’s rational player, “I’ll go for Option B.”

Of course, the other player does the same math and comes to the same conclusion. As a result, each gets five years in prison—a total of 10 prison-years between them.

If only the prisoners had cooperated with each other; they could have each gotten out with just six months in prison—a total of one prison-year between them.

The question is: why don’t they cooperate?

At least, that’s the economists’ question. In the real world, cooperation is quite common.

So the real question is: why do so many people listen to economists?

## The Dilemma of the Salesperson

Before answering the Prisoner’s Dilemma, let’s note the similarity with The Salesperson’s Dilemma.

The salesperson has a similar series of trade-offs. For example:

“I could take some extra time to study up on tomorrow’s sales call, getting to know more about the prospect. That would improve the odds of my getting a sale tomorrow.”

“On the other hand, I could make another cold call with the time saved if I don’t spend it studying up for tomorrow’s call.”

Or, another example:

“I could tell them we have very little experience in this area, which would increase their sense of my honesty, which would help me in the long run.”

“On the other hand, experience might be the key in getting this job, and I’d better make the best case I can and fudge the rest.”

Still another:

“I could share a lot of my knowledge with them, which would really impress them and make them grateful to me.”

“On the other hand, if I give it all away in the sales call, they’ll just steal my knowledge and not pay me for it—I’d better wait until after we have a signed contract.”

And one more:

“I could go out on a limb and make some really far-sighted observations that would help them—it would go way beyond what they asked for.”

“On the other hand, we don’t have much trust built up yet. They might see that as presumptuous or unprofessional; I’ll just answer the questions they asked.”

Just like with The Prisoner’s Dilemma, if the salespersons continually choose Option B, they will sub-optimize. They will do cold calls, leading with no relationship, taking no risks, treating the customer like a competitive enemy, and offering no great help.

In other words, they’ll lose. Just like the prisoners.

In theory, the prisoners are identical, whereas the salesperson and the customer are distinct. But that’s theory. In the real world, sellers somehow tend to find buyers who are similar to them. Sellers who are fear-driven and guarded somehow often find buyers who justify their worst fears.

Both seller and buyer often operate from the Prisoner’s script. And the result is just as sub-optimal.

## The Prisoner’s Solution

As postulated by economists and game theorists, The Prisoner’s Dilemma is usually presented with two key assumptions:

1. The game is played only once
2. The players do not know each other

The solution lies in changing each of those assumptions. If you tell the players the game will be played 10 times, cooperative patterns begin to emerge. If it’s played 100 times, cooperative strategies take over.

If the players are given information about each other, they become less abstract to each other. If the information is personal, then the relationship changes tone as well.

These two dimensions—time and relationship—are critical. Without a sense of continuity over time, and without a sense of personal relationship, those playing the game will opt to “rat out” each other—even knowing that the result, system-wide, is negative for them on average. But given time and relationships—the optimal solution emerges. Everyone is better off.

In other words, the solution to behaving stupidly is to develop personal relationships over time. Now let’s see how that insight applies to selling.

## The Sales Solution

The sales solution should look pretty obvious now. Suboptimal behavior is the result of short timeframes and shallow relationships. In a Prisoner’s Dilemma world, both buyer and seller fear each other, suspect the worst, don’t have relationships beyond the transaction, and are interested primarily in their own self-aggrandizement, without regard to cost to the other party.

If that sounds familiar, just look at this quick list of sales topics that are hot these days: sales automation, lead screening, CRM, social media lead generation, multi-channel messaging. Think about the last step in nearly every sales process model you’ve seen—closing. Think about some of the trends in procurement: online, blind auctions, and RFPs.

What all these subjects have in common is a view of selling that is a) transactional and b) impersonal. In other words, they have short timeframes and weak relationships—two things sure to hurt sales.

Selling benefits from longer timeframes and better personal relationships. If you can stop thinking like an economist and work to eliminate the fear you and your buyers have, you’ll benefit from the long-lasting trustworthy relationships that develop as a result.

## The Limits of Value Propositions

In B2B sales, having a clearly developed and clearly stated value proposition is unquestionably important. This is especially true for large, complex, or intangible offerings.

In fact, some experts go so far as to suggest a value proposition is the key component of successful sales. And most would say that a value proposition is at least a necessary condition for success, if not a sufficient one.

But this is certainly to overstate the value of value propositions. Not only are they not sufficient – sometimes they’re not even necessary. They are frequently less important than classic issues of needs and wants. And discussing value propositions without overtly addressing client confidence in the capability of the seller is not useful.

Value propositions are unquestionably powerful. But if you think nailing down a clear value proposition is going to solve your sales issues, you need to think again.

First, some definitions. I’m using “value” in a simple, narrow way to mean economic value. For example, I might offer a client a value proposition that says, “By using a distinctive approach to account development, I can improve top-line revenue by 10% within six months at virtually no cost to margins.” The “value” in that example is “10% of full-margin top-line revenue,” and the total statement includes reference to how I’m going to achieve it and in what realm of the client’s business.

But usually that’s not how clients start out thinking. In my experience, clients go rather quickly from “we’ve got a revenue problem” to “the biggest reason for our revenue problem is sales force turnover,” from whence it’s a quick hop to “we need a salesforce recruiting solution.” In which case, my highly articulated value proposition about the account development process, even if it’s correct and relevant, doesn’t even get invited to the party.

Their problem (“10% top-line revenue gap”) may rhyme with your value offering (10% top-line revenue growth”), but if the buyer is fixated on sales force turnover, game over. You could argue you need to present your value proposition earlier in the buying cycle, but that’s a problem outside the value proposition per se. Call that the “misaligned diagnosis” problem.

Another problem is relative lack of urgency. A 10% increase in top-line growth, while it sounds great, may produce yawns in organizations that are transfixed by products going off patent, or by R&D rejuvenation, or by M&A activity, or by the urgency of a cost-cutting drive.

A value proposition can work its magic only if the client a) agrees on the issue at hand, b) feels a need to address the issue, and c) wants to use the particular value proposition to address the need.

That is not a radical statement. (The value of a glass of water in the desert is greater than when lakeside.) And yet it is violated all the time. Salespeople keen on articulating value propositions to clients risk making the world look like a nail to match their value proposition hammer. We know better than to sell product vs. solution, but it’s so tempting when the “product” is disguised as a total value proposition.

Note: this can work in sellers’ favor. Over half my clients already see what they want in my offerings by the time they contact me. They articulate my value proposition for themselves. And unless they’ve gotten it quite wrong (not very common), there’s little point in forcing them to tweak it. At that point, the imperative to add value as the opportunity presents itself becomes the key task.

## Selling Value and Buying Value

Suppose you haven’t productized the value proposition. You’re engaged in a constructive dialogue with an interested client. You’ve articulated your value proposition, they comprehend it, and it meets their needs. However, the same can be said for two competitors, each of whom is also talking to your potential client about increasing top-line revenue by changing the account development process.

Several issues then arise, such as the level of detail. (Just how does your approach to changing the account development process differ from theirs?) You could call this a deeper level of value proposition, but below some level it starts to look like just product variations.

But the biggest issue for buyers at this point is often not the value proposition at all, but the confidence or trust the buyer has in the seller. Confidence and trust can not only overcompensate for lower stated value, but they can overturn the value proposition entirely.

Expected Value

Consider two firms competing for a bid, with general agreement on the value proposition that the client is looking for. Let’s say the economic value calculated by each firm is about net \$5 million. Sophisticated decision analytics might reveal the client has 90% confidence that firm A will deliver fully on the expected value, but only a 75% level of confidence that Firm B will do so.

That’s 15 percentage points variation in expected value—the same as if one firm had quoted a value of \$750,000 more than the other! It’s also a discrepancy often sufficient to entirely wipe out the fees difference between the two sellers. Even greater discrepancies emerge when the issues turn to, “what if things go wrong? What will they be like to work with then?”

Yet this discrepancy virtually never gets talked about—at least not in a direct and quantitative way. The discussions are more along the lines of, “I don’t know. I just don’t feel like when push comes to shove they’re going to be able to get with our program.”

If you lose a bid and are lucky enough to get some post-bid debriefing, you’re not likely to hear, “Well, we just didn’t feel like when the chips were down you’d be able to get with our program.” That would be the corporate version of politically incorrect speech.

Instead, you will hear, “The other guys had a more compelling set of resumes on their team, ” or “We just felt like we had to go with their longer track record in this area.” In other words, the language of value proposition gets cited as post hoc justification even though it was not the basis for the actual decision. More prosaically, people buy with their heart and rationalize it with their brains.

Trust Can Even Overturn a Value Proposition

I’ve been on both ends of this one. I won a job by telling the client they flatly didn’t need to do a significant part of the job they were requesting. I didn’t win because I came up with a better value proposition; I won because I showed I could figure out the right thing to do. And the proof of it was they didn’t bother to solicit other bids around the new value proposition.

Sadly for me, I’ve lost this way, too. It’s not about picking the right game, it’s about picking the person who knows how to pick the right game.

## The Role of the Value Proposition

Too often it’s assumed that the purpose of the value proposition is so obvious it doesn’t need stating. Doh! We assume clients buy value, clearly expressed, and tightly calculated. After all, that’s what they say they do.

There are seriously valuable roles for a value proposition, of course. They are:

• To force the seller to have a Point of View: my client may or may not buy what I’m selling, but my statement of it marks a beginning point of discussion, a coherent account—one that suggests other ideas, proves I’ve thought things through, and shows I am worthy of valuable time.
• To give the buyer “air cover” in justifying a decision internally: a B2B buyer wants to be able to tell anyone who asks, but especially his superiors, that they bought a proven product with a 35% ROI that will provide a 15% CAGR by an experienced-based approach to account management. They do not want to tell everyone they chose vendor A because, gee, they really felt good about them—even if that’s the truth.
• To undergo a required, universal protocol: like meeting ISO standards, following tax rules, or complying with traffic laws, the tight definitions that come from rigorous thinking about value propositions are an assurance of quality. They may be a little pro forma, they may be subject to some tweaking, and they may not be a guarantee. But if everyone must do them, they form a common denominator by which to compare something of importance—value.

Value propositions are powerful, useful, and often necessary. Typically, however, they are not sufficient. Don’t go to into the sale armed with a value proposition alone.

## When to Offer a Low Price

Last week, we talked a bit about pricing low to get the sale – and how that is not always the best option. But when is it okay to offer a low or  lower price? There’s always an exception (or two) to every rule out there. So, if you want to know a bit more on when you should offer a discount – read on.

————

Few things in business have such dramatic impact on customer perception as how you handle your pricing, particularly when and how you offer discounts.

People may evaluate your products or your service by averaging out multiple experiences. But drop your price just once, and you’ll see how hard it is to recover. For a current example of how powerful your pricing image is, consider Bill Ackman’s painful failure to revamp the image of JC Penney—away from frequent discounts to everyday low prices as a strategy.

Yet in professional services and complex businesses, we play with offering discounts all the time. Shouldn’t we have a strategy behind it?

## Don’t Just Stand There: Stand for Something

There is no one “right” approach to offering discounts. Your approach will vary with your business, your objectives, and your markets. But there are some things every approach should do:

• You should have a rule for when to discount.
• That rule should be easily explainable to clients.
• You have to be willing to live by the rule.

That may sound obvious. But how often have you heard things like, “Don’t tell Bill that Joe got that price. It’ll only encourage him to want it,” or “Those guys’ll do anything to get the business.” Those statements indicate a lack of policy, and that’s death on your reputation.

## What to Stand For

Again, your business will vary. Here’s what I decided for mine. I run a high-end professional services business, offering speaking, training, coaching, and related services. I want to be known for high quality, professionalism, and subject matter expertise. And in my case, because the subject matter is trust, I need to be seen as completely above suspicion.

It’s clear, then, that I need to articulate and live by some rules about when to discount. Here’s what I came up with over the years.

1. Frequency. I want to be at the opposite end of the spectrum from a JC Penney strategy of frequent discounting. I don’t want clients looking for bargains. If they’re looking to price shop, I want to send a subtle message that they’re in the wrong place.

2. Exceptions. To help that message, I need to be very clear about where discounts are appropriate. In my business, I can clearly state three such situations:

Volume. In my business, perhaps the biggest cost is cost of sales (the time, expense, and investment it takes to generate professional fees). It stands to reason that if someone can reduce my cost of sales, I have room to pass some of those savings along in lower prices.

The biggest example of that is a simply volume discount. The economics of selling one training session to 10 clients vs. selling 10 training sessions to one client are pretty clear. I am happy to receive multiple orders, and I’m happy to offer volume discounts to reflect it.

For me, volume discounts are easy to explain and easy to justify.

Special Situations—For Me. Sometimes I want to work in a new industry or with a novel offering. Those situations are as important for me as they are for the client. In those cases, I will offer a significant discount. I don’t want to shave nickels; I want to send a message about what is important and what isn’t. And in those cases, it’s about the learning. Those kinds of discounts rarely happen.

Special Situations—For the Client. Non-profits never have the kind of money that corporations do; most associations are limited as well. I don’t say yes to all those requests, but when I do, it’s only reasonable to price “off-label.” (Government is a special case, and one I won’t go into here.)

3. Non-Exceptions. That’s about it. That leaves a lot of other situations where I choose not to discount. It’s worth pointing them out:

Pleas for budget. Sorry, I have a list of charities, and corporations with a squeezed budget this year are not on the list. And make that never if you’re in the pharmaceutical or financial services industries, or if you have office space in midtown Manhattan. I have convinced myself that I need your money more than you do.

Bargaining. I have a simple way of declaring that this is not a bazaar: transparency. I explain my business model, explain when and how I give discounts, and—that’s it. I recall one client who, after our initial phone call, said, “I assume that if we go ahead, you’ll grant us our customary 20% discount.” He assumed wrongly.

The Positive Alternative. “Just say no” may (or may not) be a good strategy for drug usage, but it’s not a satisfactory answer to a client on the receiving end. None of us like to be told no, even with a great explanation.

Over the years, I developed another business practice that turned out to have a great side benefit: making people appreciate my saying “no” to discount requests. That practice is to simply take a few minutes extra to talk with them about their situation and refer them to someone else who can help them.

I am a very small player in all the markets I play in. I am far from the only one providing great service. If someone doesn’t happen to fit my business model, they may be caviar and champagne for someone else’s model.

It costs nothing to spend a little time thinking about alternatives for clients who don’t quite fit with my needs, and it generates huge amounts of goodwill. It’s a small investment with a big marketing return: they may come back when they have a need that is a fit with me, and they may speak well of me to others. And—they’re no longer complaining about how I don’t discount.

Again, my model is not the only one. You have to decide what’s right for you. But whatever it is, it should be clear, it has to be explainable, and you have to be willing to live by it.

## And the Winner Is Low Price. Wait – No…

It’s a time-honored business strategy – low prices. Michael Porter codified Low Price as one of three generic competitive strategies, but it’s not like it wasn’t already commonsense in  every business culture. Still, it’s remarkable to see the over-reliance on this particular strategy in our “modern” times.

Which leads me to ask: Just what is it with low prices?

You see products and services being sold on the basis of low price every day, all around you. Yet you’re also well aware that you shouldn’t compete on just price—that price competition is ruinous and that low prices suggest the absence of larger value.

But just what does that mean for your business? Don’t take my word for it; find out for yourself. Are you in a vicious, cut-throat, price-gouging business? Or are you in one of those cushy, big-margin, fat, dumb and happy businesses that doesn’t have to worry about price competition?

You may be surprised at where you fall on the continuum.

## The 3-Question Price Competition Quiz

First, make a subjective estimation of where your business stands on a price sensitivity scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being “price ranks very low on the scale of our customers’ concerns” and 10 being “low price is just about the only item our customers care about in this business.” On which side of 5 does your business lie? And how far over toward the end?

Second, make a list of the last 25 competitive bid jobs your company bid on—and lost.

Third, make a list of the last 25 competitive bid jobs your company bid on—and won.

Now, for the “lost” list: in how many of the 25 cases where you lost the competitive bid did the client say something like, “Nice job. Thanks for bidding, but, well, you were just a little too far out of line on price.” In other words, how many jobs did you lose on price? What percent is that of the 25?

And finally, for the “won” list: in how many of the 25 cases where you won the competitive bid did the client say to you, in effect, “Congratulations, you won the job; looking forward to working with you. By the way, the reason you won was you were the low bidder.” In other words, how many jobs did you win on price? What percent is that of the 25?

## And the Winner Is …

Let me guess: your percentage lost on price is larger than your percentage won on price.

Let me guess again: your percentage won on price is closer to zero than it is to 25%.

Another guess: your percentage lost on price is less than half.

Another: the ratio of your percentage lost on price to your percentage won on price is 2.5:1 or more.

And finally: looking at your subjectively estimated ranking of your business’s level of price competition, does it fall on the same side of 5 as your estimated wins and losses based on price?

Now, if those guesses are wrong, please write me. I want to know what business you are in! Because for most B2B businesses, particularly those with larger, more complex sales and services offerings, those guesses are well-based on historical data (my data, that is, from giving the quiz in classes).

## The Pricing Conundrum

Assuming your results look like my guesses, that raises several conundrums.

One conundrum is this: “If we’re such a price-competitive business, why do both wins and losses appear to be less often based on price than on something else?”

The other is this: “Why do we seem to lose on price more often than we win?”

The answer to both conundrums is that price is overrated as a factor in buying decisions. The real question is why? The answer has mostly to do with buyer psychology.

One level of buyer psychology is available to us simply by asking, or by envisioning, what goes on in client organizations. Many consultants and accountants I talk to (and nearly all lawyers) have a tale about how the client’s procurement process is destroying quality—”all they care about is price.”

That is not what the procurement people will tell you, however. Procurement specialists have little interest in incurring the wrath of internal clients with legitimate quality concerns just to be able to say they got the lowest bidder. Value and quality are hardly irrelevant to their concerns.

And assuming your data is like I suggested above, the low bidder doesn’t always win. In fact, the low bidder, it would appear, wins considerably less than half the time, even judging from the higher of the two numbers you estimated (percentage of time you lost on price). And considering the number of times you won on price, one has to wonder how the myth of price competition arose in the first place.

The answer goes deeper into buyer psychology. Suppose you worked for a client and were charged with telling the losing bidders the bad news. How would you deliver the message?

Perhaps you’d prefer to do nothing and just skip the unpleasant task. But you know someone has to do it, and you owe it to the bidders to give a decent explanation.

You don’t want to share too much about the decision process, however, for a variety of reasons—chief among which is you chose the winning firm because, frankly, “we just feel more right about working with them.” You can’t saythat, for heavens’ sake!

So, you end up with several generalizations. Your team wasn’t quite as qualified, the winner had a really strong track record, and that game-ending no-appeals-allowed reason—your price was just a little too high.

Price is an enormously appealing excuse. It’s quantitative (and we all know numbers are good, right?). It’s completely opaque—the proposer has no way of knowing anyone else’s price and would never ask (and only partly because of legal issues).

But most important of all, the bidder wants to believe price was the reason they lost. Because the alternatives are unpalatable: they don’t have good people, they don’t have a good reputation, they don’t appear trustworthy, and so on. No selling team, particularly a team that would be involved in delivering the work, is interested in a message like that!

So, price becomes their refuge. “Darn! If we just could have priced it a little lower. I knew it. The market is tough out there; next time we can’t afford to be so choosy. We need to get in there and fight. And if we have to lower prices to get the work, well maybe we need to do just that.”

And that’s how the myth of low prices gets perpetuated. The moral of the story: if you think you lost on price, think again. Price is just the most convenient excuse for something more fundamental.

## How to Increase Trust in Organizations

I was grocery shopping one Saturday. It was 2PM, 96 degrees out – pretty hot for New Jersey – and I was in the checkout line. The cashier had started sliding my purchases through the register, when suddenly I noticed a bag left over from the customer before me. She had left and gone to her car.

The woman doing the bagging noticed it at the same time. She grabbed the lady’s bag and dashed out into the heat. She was making pretty good time for a woman in her 60s, and we all could see her out the window as she finally caught up, handed over the bag, and started back.

Then the cashier suddenly exclaimed, “Omigosh, she left two other bags as well!” Looking quickly at me and the woman behind me in line, she said, “Will you two please excuse me for just a minute? I’ll be right back.” And she too took off after the forgetful lady, with two bags in tow. She was in her 20s, and made very good time.

It occurred to me I could slide a few groceries over the line and into my bag and escape without paying. (I don’t do such things, but the idea did show up in my mind). Then the elderly woman behind me in line said, “You know, I don’t mind one little bit waiting for someone who’s doing a good deed like that.”  Neither did I, I said, neither did I.

When the cashier and the bagging lady came back, we both complimented them, and they blushed a bit and said thank you. (I sent a complimentary email to ShopRite’s HQ later that night with the store number, employee name and cash register number, all of which were on the receipt).

So my question is: how do you get employees to behave like that? I mean generously, based on principle, willing to take certain risks, confident to act in the moment. How do you keep from getting sullen employees who talk about “career-limiting moves,” who won’t lift a hand or take a risk to help another?

## How Do You Induce Values-based Behavior in an Organization?

Earlier that same day, I had the opportunity to briefly visit a Sears store, a Macy’s store, and a Bed Bath and Beyond unit. Sears was awful – employees keeping their distance from customers, 100 feet away, pretending not to notice. Macy’s was a little better, but still sullen, under-staffed, and radiating not-helpfulness.

BB&B was a huge contrast. Several employees, busy doing other things, asked me if they could help. I asked two for help, and they both went out of their way to do so.

How does this happen?

The standard answer in most businesses, I’m afraid, is to focus on the wrong things: typically  incentives, communications, and procedures.

The more I see of business, the more convinced I become that the single most powerful way to create values-based behavior is none of the above – it is to do it yourself, and to talk about it with others.

## The Usual Suspects

Incentives appeal to the individual’s rational economic or ego-satisfying needs. Fine and dandy, but if you’re trying to incent selfless behavior, the concept of rewards is just a tad self-contradictory.

There is probably (I’m guessing) more money spent on communications than on any other “solution” to issues of trust, ethical behavior, and customer-focus. Companies love to pronounce their values to their customers, and reinforce them internally in posters, newsletters, and blogs. The problem is, impersonal companies communicating about personal relationships is some kind of category mistake.

And procedures? The whole point of values-based behavior is that the employee extrapolates from principles in the moment. Rehearsing and drilling doesn’t help extrapolate values, it replaces that process with rote memory.

## Role Modeling

Think of how we learn from our parents. Think of the sports or public figures we admire (there are still a few). In all cases, we are influenced by what they do – not by what they say they will do, or did do, or wish they’d done.

When it comes to values, I suspect BB&B has leaders in their operations organization who both walk the talk, and talk it too. People who lead by example, and who are convinced that values like customer assistance are valid only if kept sharpened by use.

I suspect Angie the cashier at ShopRite was hired partly because she exhibited values. I suspect that the folks managing her store make a point of being helpful and customer-focused, and engage customers about values like that. I suspect it didn’t occur to her that she shouldn’t take the risk of leaving her cash drawer and my groceries unattended – because her leadership would have trusted their customers and done the same thing – and she knew it.

We have overdone the behavioral, incentives-based, needs-maximizing best practices model of human resources. We have under-estimated the human power of changing humans. After all, the business of relating to other people is personal.

## The Business Case for Trust

Be honest. When you think of growth and profitability, is trust the first thing you think of? I doubt it.

The things that often come to mind when we talk about a successful practice are much more likely to sound likesustainable competitive advantage, hardball, you get what you negotiate, be number one or two in your market, first mover advantage, lowest cost producer, or share of wallet. But trust?

Usually we think of trust as an element that is nice to have, something associated with genteel behaviors which we can afford when things are going well but which have to take a back seat when push comes to shove. However, for those in the consultative professions or other complex intangible businesses—nothing could be farther from the truth.

## What A True Trust Relationship Looks Like

A lot of what passes for trust isn’t. Trust isn’t high client satisfaction ratings—it isn’t even “client delight.” It’s not loyalty, as measured by retention rates. And it certainly isn’t being “client-focused,” because a great deal of client focus is done solely for the sake of such things as increasing the seller’s profitability and share of wallet.

Trust is personal, not institutional; it’s emotional, not just rational. Above all, it has to do with the firm’s intent. Is your intent to help the client, or is it to make money by helping the client? Your client knows the difference.

In one study of 2514 buyers by Bill Brooks and Tom Travesano (You’re Working Too Hard To Make The Sale, Irwin Professional Publishing, 1995), 94% of buyers who bought on the basis of needs said they would “certainly” consider buying from another provider.

And 91% of benefits-based buyers said they would “probably” do so. But in stark contrast, 99% of those who bought on the basis of wants said they would “absolutely not” consider buying elsewhere. That’s a dramatic difference – and it’s the kind of difference trust makes.

Howard Schwartz was the head of the financial services practice at a consulting firm, when he got a call from his counterpart at McKinsey. “One of our clients has urgent need of a project. We have tried twice and failed to deliver satisfactorily. This work has to get done – would you folks do it?”

Howard couldn’t believe it—a front door invitation to a McKinsey client. He took the job and his team did great work. But when he asked the client to consider doing more work with them, the client said “Thanks very much, great job, but we would never leave the firm that was big enough to bring you in. We know they’ll always do what’s right for us.” “And,” Howard said, “I couldn’t blame them a bit.”

## The Economics Of Trust-Based Relationships

What happens when you get 99% declarations of absolute loyalty–when clients say they’ll “never” leave you on principle? The economics are massive.

A Harvard Business Review article (Collaboration Rules by Philip Evans and Bob Wolf , 2005) by BCG suggests that the US GDP is comprised of roughly 50% transaction costs and that the primary strategy for reducing those costs is trust. 50% of an entire economy is pretty big.

Now, on a micro-level, consider what happens when a client really trusts you. Your advice is taken; your insights are sought. Decision processes are fast-tracked. The costs of auditing, legal, and tracking disappear.

Your recommendations are taken at face value. The likelihood of RFPs is greatly reduced. You get asked in at earlier stages of issues. Disagreements are sorted out in furtherance of a long term good. Information is shared between professional and client, and points of view are welcomed rather than suspected.

The payables clerk gets your checks out on time, and you’re upgraded to preferred provider status so “on time” means what it says. Pricing is accepted as “fair.”

Finally, client loyalty based on trust is far higher and stronger than loyalty based merely on things like business processes or pricing. Mechanically, this raises the firm’s profitability through reduced sales costs and higher margins. But, more importantly, it makes the firm far more effective in helping its client.

## The Client Benefits Of Trust

What about the benefits to the client? Economic benefits are even greater and come at three levels. First, the direct costs per transaction with a trusted provider are lower.

Second, when a provider understands client needs, that supplier is likely to make more appropriate suggestions, to better anticipate emerging needs and to make better recommendations. Those benefits are indirect, but probably outweigh first level benefits.

The highest client payoff of all comes from the ability to trust immediately and completely the advice of a talented outside expert without spending any time or resources on tweaking, critiquing, hedging checking, auditing or second-guessing. At this level, professionals are as dependable as our most-valuable employees, yet with the added benefits of expertise and objectivity that come from being an outsider.

With that confidence in the pocket, a firm can afford to fast-track processes, make far faster decisions, and take bold actions without fear. The benefits go past mere cost reduction, and instead towards achieving significant revenue and strategic enhancements.

The business case for trust ultimately rests far more on effectiveness than on efficiency. A trust-based client relationship enables far more effectiveness in the marketplace for both parties than do conventional relationships built on negotiations, contracts, and other indicators of arms-length treatment built on self-interest alone.

It’s tempting to ask, “If all that’s true, why isn’t everyone doing it?” The answer is, because most of us have a really difficult time being trustworthy.

If a client trusts their provider in the way described above, the provider will be highly profitable and high-growth. But, if the firm sets out to be highly profitable and high-growth by means of being trusted, it will not work. Intentions matter and intentions are critical to being trusted.

The only way to be trusted in the way I’m speaking of is to be worthy of trust—to be trustworthy. The critical element to being trustworthy is to have the client’s best interests at heart all the time. And that goes to intent.

To intend to place the client’s interests first raises some radical implications. For example:

• The purpose of a sales call is not to get the sale, but instead to help the client;
• Your focus should be on work that needs doing, not on work that you can do;
• Your ultimate strategic goals should be client service, not competitive advantage;
• You should share, not hide, your economics with your client, because transparency fosters trust;

The paradox is: If you are willing to let go of your own short-term, self-oriented goals, you will achieve those goals. Your influence is greatest when you’re not trying to influence. Your profit is highest when your goal is not profitability by client service.

## Barriers To Trust

Can it be done? Absolutely. Many successful individual professionals know the lessons of trust very well. But at the firm level, we have been seduced by the “reigning belief systems” of business: in particular, the ideas that business is about competition, and that ever-further refinement of measurements, particularly around client relationships, helps the economics.

Just because you can run division-level client profitability studies every week doesn’t mean you should do it. Just because you can calculate client share of wallet and hit rate on sales opportunities doesn’t mean you should focus on it. Those efforts turn clients into objects, means to our own ends.

Too many firms are focused too much on short-term measures and competitive definitions of success. We need to remember that the best short-term performance comes from executing on a long-term plan or set of principles.

Trust is the goal. The powerful economics of trust are merely a byproduct.

## My Client Is a Jerk

Ever had a difficult client? I don’t mean the client from hell, I just mean garden-variety difficult. Difficult clients come in lots of different flavors.

• There’s the client who will not take the time up front to share critical information, explore ideas, or otherwise involve you in the early stages of a project.
• There’s the client who just cannot make a decision, regardless of how much data or analyses you provide at their request.
• There’s the client who is frozen by politics or fear or ignorance, who will not face facts about critical issues.
• Finally, there’s the client with personality issues, who argues, or rejects, or is otherwise disrespectful to you and your team, yet often shows favoritism to someone else or another team.

Fortunately, there is a common thread to all of these cases, which – if we understand it – can help us succeed.

The common thread has nothing to do with the clients. The common thread is us.

### The Client Situation

First, let’s get some perspective – about our clients, and about ourselves.

We’ve all said, if only in our heads, “My client is a jerk.” But “My client is a jerk” is a terrible problem statement. The client is unlikely to accept it as a problem statement. It’s highly subjective, and it’s quite unverifiable.

People in a position to hire outside professionals typically have achieved some degree of success in life. While it’s popular lately to describe the prevalence of “a**holes” in business (see Robert I. Sutton’s book, The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t), my guess is their frequency is overestimated. Most clients are intellectually and emotionally intelligent.

Most clients have spouses, or parents, or siblings, who seem to be quite capable of loving them. Most have a boss who has promoted them.

It is wise to assume that, even if their behavior is bad, they have some ability to get by in life. True psychotics are pretty rare in business.

Furthermore, truly bad behavior, more often than not, comes from decent people who are stressed out. If someone is behaving badly, it’s a good bet that they are afraid–of losing something they have, or of not getting what they want.

If you can identify that fear, then you can replace demonization with a real problem statement, which is a far more productive approach. If, further, you can talk about that fear with your client, you will create a lasting bond that can serve you both well.

### Our Own Situation

What’s true of clients about fear and bad behavior is equally true for us. Particularly in selling, we are loaded with fears. We are afraid, first of all, of not getting the sale.

And it goes deeper. We’re afraid of our boss, peers and loved ones knowing that we might not get the sale and judging us. We’re afraid of clients judging us, too–feeling that if we don’t get the sale, it means they think less of us.

But we ourselves carry the ultimate judges around in our own heads. We allow ourselves to be hijacked and held hostage by our own ideas of what constitutes success, or being “good enough,” or whatever value judgments we distill from our past, and apply to ourselves. There’s a thin line between having high standards and beating up on oneself.

If we allow ourselves to act from those fears, we are likely to run from judgment. One of the most emotionally attractive ways out of the tyranny of self-judgment is to blame others. “It was not my fault,” we want to say, or “The dog ate my homework,” or “It was a bad hair day.” More to the point, we might say, “This sale was doomed because I got stuck with a difficult client. If you’d had my client, you couldn’t have done much either. It wasn’t my fault – it was the client’s.”

But blame is more useless to us than our appendix. At least when an appendix gets inflamed, we recognize it and operate to remove it. When blame flares up, people at first commiserate with you, encouraging it. Then as it metastasizes into resentment, people begin to move away from you. Resentment, it is said, is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Misery may love company, but company doesn’t return the favor.

Blaming a client never got you the sale, and it never will; but it may keep you from getting the next one. People don’t like blame-throwers. Clients especially don’t.

If there is such a thing as a truly “difficult” client, the only valid lesson to draw from the experience is to avoid similar clients in the future. And that is a lesson best kept to yourself.

### Self-Diagnosing

Again, what’s true of clients is equally true for us. Particularly in selling, we are prone to fear, hence to blame. And that leads to nothing good.

The first thing to do is to notice our thoughts. Practice taking a “snapshot” of your thoughts when you are stressed.

Ask yourself, “What is the problem here?” If your mental snapshot answer starts with, “My client won’t…” or “My client doesn’t…” or “I can’t get my client to…” or “My client never…” then you need to step back and reframe your thinking. You are stuck in the blame game, spinning your wheels, and going nowhere.

You need a problem statement that has you in it, first of all. And almost always it should be a problem statement that is joint. If you and your client can’t even agree about why you’re not getting along, you’re certainly not going to make much progress on the substantive issues you want to work on.

Good problem statements are joint. Jointness is reflected in language, e.g.:

• Our problem is we have differing views about the priority of X and Y.
• We seem to have a problem in communicating when it comes to Q and R.
• It looks like we differ about the timeframe to be considered here.

If you have a “difficult” client, find a “we” statement you can each agree to that gets to the heart of the disagreement.

### Fixes

Sometimes, all we need to do is jointly reframe an issue and–voila–our client no longer seems so difficult.

It never hurts to go back to basics. One reason people act badly is that they have not had someone listen to them. Really listen. Deeply. Without reacting with suggestions or action steps. Just for the sake of understanding. “Just” understanding our clients often ends up being the catalyst that changes everything.

But sometimes, we need to do some advanced work on ourselves–in particular, to find out what we have become attached to that holds us hostage. Here are a few:

1. Don’t hold yourself hostage to the outcome. We should have points of view–that is part of what clients pay for. And we should argue clearly and forcefully for what we believe is right. But we are not responsible for our clients’ actions–only for informing their actions as best we can. No one ultimately controls another human being without their consent–even at gunpoint. Holding ourselves accountable for changing others is a recipe for misery. Do the next right thing and then detach yourself from the results. You don’t own the outcome.
2. Check your ego at the door. The best way to lose the sale is to try very hard to get the sale; the best way to lose the argument is to try very hard to win the argument. It is not about you. The only one who thinks it is about you is you. Focus on the client, not yourself.
3. Be curious. Is your client “difficult?” Be curious as to why. What is he afraid of? What is at stake for her? What is your role in the situation? What are you afraid of? On what basic issues do you see differently? What do you think the client sees as the problem statemen? What problem are you both trying to solve?

There aren’t any difficult clients. Not really. There are only relationships that aren’t working well. And nearly all of those can be fixed. But it must start with us.

As Phil McGee says, “Blame is captivity; responsibility is freedom.” To get free of “difficult clients,” take responsibility for fixing the relationships.

This blogpost was originally posted in RainToday.com

## Do Clients Buy the Consulting Firm or the Consultant?

This post is a distinctive take on an article originally published on RainToday.

—————————————————–

When it comes to decoding the thought process behind certain complex business questions, it’s often prudent to accept that “it depends” is the most concrete answer you will get – and move on to deciphering what “it depends” on. So it is with the classic “Do they buy the consultant or the consulting firm?”

When asked, the majority of clients (as opposed to leaders of consulting firms) are inclined to say they buy the consultant. After further reflection, most also then say they buy both—but in different ways, for different reasons, under different circumstances.

When people purchase a service that is so heavily rooted in the talent or performance of one individual, they often having trouble separating their rational analysis from their emotional response. They arrive at a decision, but they can’t compartmentalize the reasoning into nice, neat elements. For consultants trying to decide how to best market themselves and their firm, the uncertainty can be frustrating. So let’s make a studied effort at explaining the “depends” clause.

Most models of buyer decision-making portray a linear, rational sequence of cognitive thought. They begin with problem clarification and definition, then proceed to outlining alternative solutions and move on to defining criteria for selection, then to matching facts against those criteria. But this doesn’t fully capture how clients really buy.

## CLIENTS BUY CONSULTING SERVICES IN TWO PHASES

Of course, the decision-making process is not completely rational or linear. But it does include two distinct phases – screening and selection. In general, screening comes first and focuses heavily on the firm. Selection comes second and emphasizes the consultant.

From this we can conclude that it is smart to market the firm in the screening process, and to sell the consultant in the selection process.

Let’s use the example of a client seeking a new consultant. Figure 1. below outlines this principle.

Figure 1. The New Consultant Buying Process

As a client embarks on a new-consultant search, the first step is screening. The client begins by putting together a “short list,” either of individuals or of firms, which is usually based on prior experience, reputation, recommendations, rankings and ratings, and some initial research. It is during this stage that marketing efforts promoting the firm are most effective.

As the screening process comes to a close – even if only one firm emerges as a viable candidate, though usually there are several top contenders – most clients insist on having some level of personal interaction with the firm’s leadership and/or consultants before they make a decision. This is the selection process.

The formality with which this stage is conducted depends entirely on the client, and as such, consultancies should be prepared with various levels of responses. The typical selection process involves phone calls, presentations or meetings, but in almost all cases includes personal interaction.

Following (Figure 2) are some distinctions between the screening process and the selection process.

 Figure 2. New Consultant Selection Process Screening Selection Nature of process Rational, analytical Emotional, personal Outcome Narrowing down Decision Typical criteria Competence, scale, geography, industry Trust, fit, inter- personals, values Typical venue Written, or structured Personal, interactive Key firm function Marketing Personal selling Key client question “Can they do it?” “Can I work with them?”

## HOW FIRMS CAN MAXIMIZE THE TWO PROCESSES

A crucial part of working the two phases of decision-making is for consulting firms to recognize which stage a client is in when they make contact. Perhaps the most common error for consulting firms is to mistakenly continue behaving as if they are in the screening process when it comes time to work the selection process.

The screening process is generally done at a far remove. Clients rely on promotional materials available in print or on websites, through industry sources, through third-party references, and through initial, rather scripted inquiry phone calls. The best screening materials consist of concise statements of focus, and objective referent points of competence.

But once screening is over, the game changes entirely. Interaction becomes personal. Suddenly, clients are no longer interested in hearing about a firm’s philosophy or dry statistical information—even if they say otherwise.

When meeting in person for the first time, clients behave like every other human being, forming strong perceptions and projecting the experience into future scenarios. It is up to the consultant to set the proper tone and guide communication in a productive direction. This is an opportunity for the consultant to sell himself/herself. But here a paradox arises: You sell yourself best not by talking about yourself, but by talking about the client.

To stand out in the selection process, consultants should stop reciting their own expertise – whether the firm’s or the consultant’s – and apply it to the client’s specific issues.

This illustrates to the prospective client how focused on their business, and their unique needs, the firm and the consultant are. It also makes the consultant’s abilities (or lack of ability) tangible through real-world application. It actually removes the more fantastical elements of “selling” from the equation, allowing the consultant to showcase his knowledge, communication style, and problem-solving skills in a natural way – which makes both parties more comfortable in the long run.

## EXCEPTIONS TO THE TWO-PROCESS RULE

When a client has a strong existing relationship with a consultant and sees the need for a new project, the natural first thought is, Can my existing firm handle this matter? In this situation, the two-step process is usually abbreviated. Choosing a new consultant is tough work, so the inclination is usually “don’t fix what ain’t broke.”

Other exceptions to the system include:

• clients with a corporate policy that requires multiple vendor relationships
• clients who are extremely wary of relying on personal “feel” to make selection decisions, therefore try their utmost to treat the selection stage just like screening (though even here their instincts may overwhelm their desire to appear ‘objective’)
• clients who have pre-existing external relationships, and conduct searches only at the surface level to maintain the appearance of objectivity.

In general, these exceptions are fairly uncommon. Consulting firms are well advised to:

• Market the firm in ways that help clients screen, and
• Sell the individual in ways that help clients make selections.

## Question Obsession: The Consultant’s Nemesis

Consultants and salespeople (especially consultative sellers and sellers of consulting) have learned one mantra, and we love repeating it. It is the mantra that says, “Listen first; talk later.” In other words, it’s all about the question. Ask a great question, the logic goes, and all else will fall into place.

That is the great lesson of Sales and Consulting 101. The trouble is, if you never graduate from 101, you will end up in quicksand because an obsession with questions ultimately leads nowhere.

### The Obsession with Questions

There’s good reason for the Sales 101 and Consulting 101 lesson of focusing on questions. Go no further than Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling, in the case of sales, or Peter Block’s classic Flawless Consulting for consultants. Each one shows with wisdom and data that artfully posed questions generate dialogue and interaction, and that is always superior to pre-emptively beating up the client with the answer.

Is questioning an obsession? Try doing a web search on “Top Ten Sales Questions;” you’ll get millions of results.

Now ask yourself whether you recognize these themes:

• Should I ask open-ended or closed-ended questions?
• Should I ask about the client’s opinions or offer “challenger” questions?

As one sales website puts it, “Get the answers to these questions, and take action based on those answers, and you’ll get the sale. It’s that simple.”

No, it isn’t.

The sales version of question obsession manifests in lists. The consultant version of question obsession manifests in the Great Keystone Arch Question—what is the central supporting element?

You can recognize this form of obsession because it leads consultants speaking among themselves to say things like, “If we can set the data up right, we can frame the discussion such that when we finally pop the Keystone Arch Question, the whole logjam will be released. They’ll feel the pain, envision the solution, and fall all over themselves in a rush to buy our solution.”

No, they won’t.

That’s because good questions are necessary—but not sufficient. You have to have them, but they won’t get you to the end zone.

If all you do is focus on questions, you’ll end up obsessed with yourself, with your solutions and products, and with how clever you are. That’s called high self-orientation, and it will kill trust and sales both. Question obsession is quicksand for salespeople and consultants alike.

### Beyond Question Obsession

The narrow purpose of a question is sometimes to get an answer. But there are broader purposes to most questions, and certainly a broader purpose to the art of questioning itself. One is to create a greater sense of insight for the client. Two others are to improve the client relationship and to give the client a sense of empowerment.

These goals are best accomplished not so much by focusing on the “what” of the question but on the “how.” Some examples:

• Questions to create insight: Consultants often come up with “insights” that only an MBA could understand or that leave the client feeling helpless. These are not useful insights. We don’t want to leave our clients saying, “Gosh, that’s really smart. How will I remember that?” Rather, we want them to say, “Oh, my gosh, of course! it’s so clear when you put it that way, isn’t it?” Our objective is to create insight, not to demonstrate that we have it.
• Improve the relationship: The better the relationship—buyer/seller or consultant/client—the better everything else gets. Innovation, profitability, time to market, and insights all improve with relationships. Great questions allow the parties to get closer together, more comfortable sharing the uncomfortable, and more willing to take risks by collaborating. Questions such as, “Let me ask you, if I may, do you personally find that scary?” have nothing to do with “content” insight, but they are critical to advancing the relationship.
• Create client empowerment: The point of all this questioning is not, ultimately, to understand things. It is to change them. And change will not happen if the client feels the insights are threatening, depressing, or out of his control. The key to action is to help the client see ways in which they can change, take control, own, and improve their situation.

It’s not what you ask; it’s how you ask it. All three of these broader objectives have little to do with the content of, or the answer to, a business question. Instead, all of them focus on the outcome of the question-answer interaction. From this perspective, it is not what you ask that is important, but how you ask it. We need to get past the Q&A outcome, which is just about knowledge, and focus on the outcome of the interaction, which is how we help our clients drive change.

Avoid the quicksand: get past questions for questions’ sake, and focus on real business outcomes.

It’s a special kind of person who finds his or her way into an expertise-based advisory career. They are, of course, what we call “smart”—meaning cognitively talented, analytical, with high IQs. They are also often driven, motivated, and high achievers.

What doesn’t get mentioned as often is that they also tend to have high standards—for their work, and for themselves. These high standards are reflected in ideas like devotion to customer service, ethical behavior, and commitment to quality.

And if there’s any one thing that feels contradictory to all those fundamental beliefs, it is probably business development.

I don’t know a single professional who started out wanting to be in ”business development.” For starters, the phrase itself feels like a contrivance. Isn’t “business development” just a softer word for ”sales?” (Note it’s even phrased in the passive voice, to distance itself from “develop business”).

Customers, we believe instinctively, resist being ”sold.” The dictionary is loaded with secondary and tertiary meanings of “sales” that suggest selling is manipulative, conniving, even morally offensive. Our customers work from that dictionary. They tell us—and we want to believe—that they buy from us because of our quality and our ethical devotion to service.

That’s what it means to work in a meritocracy, and a big reason we signed up. If customers don’t buy from us, it was because someone else beat us on quality and expertise. (Or, of course, on price). And again, that is what our customers tell us.

This is why the ”business development” professionals’ message is so distasteful. They seem to suggest that customers don’t buy on quality and price; that having the best expertise doesn’t guarantee the sale. And that, worst of all, customers are making buy decisions based soft criteria and emotions, and not being honest with us, or even with themselves, about it.

The whole matter is profoundly distasteful. We don’t like to think that we’re selling our time for money to begin with. We particularly don’t like to think that people are buying us for reasons other than expertise. And we recoil from being lumped together with car salesmen in such obfuscatory phrases as “business development.”

What’s a poor professional to do?

The answer—amazingly—is at once simple, profound, and easily accessed. It lies in fundamentally redefining the purpose of business development, beginning in our own minds.

## The Purpose of Business Development

For most people, the purpose or goal of business development is obvious: to get the customer to buy something. Indeed, that’s what most people believe, which is precisely the source of the problem. It all starts there, and heads downhill fast.  Here’s why.

Those who believe the purpose of business development is to get the customer to buy have made three key assumptions:

• That the purpose is one-sided, meaning all about the business developer.
• That value to the customer is per se irrelevant, as long as it’s enough to result in a sale.
• That the process is essentially competitive, and you fail if you don’t get the result, whether the loss is to a competitor or to the ubiquitous DND (Did Not Decide).

Those assumptions just fuel customers’ paranoia. They enforce the notion that business developers do not have their customers’ best interests at heart, that ‘the deal’ is all that matters, and that you can’t trust anything business developers say. It’s the kind of attitude that fuels traditional sales wisdom like “buyers are liars,” and “there are no be-backs.”

And those are just the key assumptions. There is a host of secondary implications which also follow from believing the purpose of business development is to get the customer to buy. For example, it suggests that efficiency is key—that business developers should work to qualify and prioritize their leads so they don’t waste unproductive time. For example, it suggests that you should be very careful about giving anything away. And especially it suggests that you should never, ever refer a competitor.

All of these are equally pernicious beliefs. It’s easy to characterize them as just traits of used car salesmen, but they’re taught in many ways by well-respected business development programs. Of course, that doesn’t make them better. They are still the source of all the negativity held by so many about business development. Softening the word doesn’t change the truth; “sell” is usually a four-letter word no matter how you spell it.

Fortunately, there is great news: It doesn’t have to be this way.

## The Striking Alternative: A New Mindset

Try this simple statement on for size:

The purpose of business development is to improve the customer’s outcomes

There, does that sound more comfortable?

But wait! There are radical implications. It means, for example, that if the services don’t improve things for the customer, then you shouldn’t sell it to them. That’s a little bit radical.

Much more radically, it means that if a competitor truly has a superior solution for a given customer, you as the business developer should actually recommend the competitor. (Rest assured that the willingness to do so endears you so strongly to the customer that you’ll virtually guarantee future sales).

But even those aren’t the really radical implications. The Big Implication is that— properly conceived—there is virtually no difference between professional, high quality, ethical delivery and professional, high-quality, ethical business development. Why? Because both aim at improving the customer’s outcomes.

## The Freedom to Be of Service

It is liberating to think of business development this way. It means the best way to generate new work is the same as the best way to execute on existing work: by giving samples, by helping them define the real problem, by being open and candid about … everything.

Let’s draw out the implications of this view. See if you agree to the following two statements:

1. “I have a professional obligation to point out issues and opportunities to my customer that I can see and that I think would be of benefit to address.”
2. “If those issues or opportunities aren’t obvious to the customer, I have a professional obligation to explain them so they become clear.”

If your answer is “yes,” then not only have you agreed that you have an obligation to develop business, but you have succeeded in re-defining business development in an ethical and customer-focused manner. You’re doing it for them, and for the same reasons you deliver high quality, ethical, customer-focused project work. You’re just not getting paid yet.