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Very often, what stops a client from commissioning a project is not a lack of belief in you, but doubts about their ability to change. Malcolm Sleath of 12boxes offers some suggestions on how to get the client to park their doubts and imagine a positive future.
Our people can’t change
   Question: Our
client is a non-UK
manufacturing group with
the majority of its
business in commodity
products where margins
are continually under
pressure and prospects
for growth are limited.
But, almost by accident,
it has also developed a
number of niche products
that command higher
   At present these
represent a tiny
proportion of the
group’s current
turnover, but its
management is looking to
find markets for similar
products and double the
size of the business in
five years. The present
growth rate is nowhere
near enough to achieve
this, mainly because the
sales and marketing
staff are already
stretched and fully
occupied reacting to the
needs of the existing
 customer base and can’t
step outside the box.
   We are talking to
them about a change and
development project that
will transfer our
research, technology
transfer and opportunity
nurturing expertise into
their business. They are
impressed by our
expertise, but have
great difficulty in
believing that they
could ever change the
way they conduct their
   We are sure it’s
possible; they accept we
have the expertise. How
do we overcome their
lack of belief in their
own capabilities?
   Answer: From your
experience, you will
know that it is better
to invest your energy in
reducing the forces
restraining change, than
upping the forces
 pushing for it.
   It sounds as if your
firm belief in the
solution makes the
client feel you are
pushing it at them. You
have to get them into a
frame of mind where they
are pulling your
solution towards them.
   You need to motivate
the client by helping
them to suspend their
disbelief, facilitate
the development of a
‘vision of success’ and
thereby arouse their
curiosity about the
potential of your
solution. This is my
suggested order of play
during your next
   1) Review current
progress in turnover
growth, and discuss the
outcome from not
achieving a step change
in the growth of niche
products. You have to
inject a sense of
 urgency into the
situation, but don’t do
it by sounding urgent.
Stay calm, draw the
client out and get them
to talk about it. This
way they are much more
likely to take it on
   2) Acknowledge that
they have severe doubts
about the ability of
their sales and
marketing department to
respond to the
challenge. That’s not
the same as agreeing
with them. You just need
to show that you accept
that’s how they see it.
   3) Invite them to
exercise their
imagination. For
example, say, “If we had
a magic wand that would
transform your sales and
marketing department so
that they could take up
this challenge, what
difference would it make
to the growth of your
business”. Fully explore
 this vision with them so
that it becomes fixed in
their minds as a
desirable scenario. Then
ask about the measurable
benefits that might
arise from this changed
   You should now
observe a changed state
of mind in the client.
The switch should be
from continual
repetition of the doubts
about the capability of
their sales and
marketing department, to
curiosity about how it
might be transformed.
   I think you will now
find that the client is
prepared to pay to find
out, and this will be
your opportunity to
demonstrate your
capability, and the
associated change
possibilities, by
offering to run a pilot
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