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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 business.
   We are sure it’s
possible; they accept we
have the expertise. How
do we overcome their lack
of belief in their own
   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
   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 state.
   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
   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