Reluctant Clients: Gaining Buy In

Written by lewsauder

May 12, 2014

client buyin

Gaining client buying

“We’re from corporate and we’re here to help.”

It’s the common joke for anyone who works for a living; for anyone who feels they know their job and doesn’t need high paid executives, who wouldn’t know a customer if it bit him in the behind.

In general, we don’t like outsiders coming in and telling us our business. The same applies when the ultimate outsider comes in and tells you how to run your business: The consultant.

Consulting services are purchased by the very executives at corporate that are despised by the worker bees. Consultants come in and disrupt everything.

Consultants want to spend time asking me how I do my job.  The problem is, I can’t do my job when consultants are taking up all of my time.

Consultants want to take all of the processes that I’ve been doing all of these years and change everything.  What was wrong with the way we did it before?

From the consultant’s perspective, management has recognized the need for assistance.  Lower profitability, the need to reduce costs with better productivity, or maybe the need for a new software system that will be better able to handle their planned growth.

The consultants come in wanting to help the company be more profitable, more cost-effective and better able to grow.  They might assume that the employees want the same things. And the employees probably do. The two groups probably just have different ideas for how it can be achieved.

See my related post: Earning Client Respect

The employee often wonders, why we would bring in outsiders who don’t know our business and have to spend their time and mine learning our business.

In most cases, consultants have experience at many other firms solving similar problems. Even if their experience is from different organizations or industries, the problems and their solutions may be transferable.

So how does the consultant deal with a client employee – or more likely a group of them – who doesn’t see the value of the consultants in their workplace? There are a number of things they can do.

Earn the client employee’s trust.

Consultants are outsiders. Strangers. That’s always a threat to the employee.  The employee doesn’t know if the consultant will make their job easier or cause it to go away. The consultant should be honest and open with the employee to develop an environment of trust.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants

Be transparent.

By being honest with the employee and telling them the purpose of everything you do, they will run out of ways to distrust you. Occasionally, client management will give you information that you cannot share with the employees.  Consultants should try to avoid being in this awkward situation. If management shares too much information, the consultant can push back and request information on a need to know basis.

Explain the benefits for the client.

If a client employee sees that new processes or software could result in replacing his job, the consultant should focus on the benefits the company will receive.  Jobs may be either eliminated or significantly modified, but new systems can create new opportunities.  Focus the employee on the new opportunities that may be available. If they are unable to or refuse to focus on new opportunities for the company and themselves, they may not be assets the company is interested in maintaining.

Make the client employee look good.

In most cases, the consultant is not there to show up the client employees.  Consultants should get their recognition from their own firm.  At the client, the consultant is best served making the employee look good. If you stay late putting a presentation together, if the client employee claims credit for it, let him. If the client employee makes a mistake, fix it for him without seeking credit. Your ultimate goal should be a successful engagement.

Mentor the client employee.

Help the client understand the new system that his company is adopting.  Make them an expert in the process.  Not only will you develop a better relationship with them, they will probably become an internal advocate for you and your firm. One caveat: Don’t call it mentoring.  Answer their questions and spend time teaching them the systems. Calling it mentoring will make the client feel subservient. The consultant serves the client.

Include the client.

In many consulting engagements, there exists an “us vs. them” mentality.  If consultants include the client employees when they go to lunch, for drinks after work, or for any social activity, the client is more likely to see the whole group as one, more cohesive team rather than two conflicting teams.


For The Adversarial Client

Every once in a while, the consultant will have to deal with an adversarial client or adversarial culture among virtually all of the client’s employees. The above tips still apply, but there are some defensive tactics the consultant should adopt as well.

  • Et tu, Brute. In other words, watch your back.  Adversarial clients can become passively aggressively nasty.  They may act like they are befriending you.  They may go to lunch with you and stop by your desk and chat. But they may be collecting dirt. Let your guard down and you may unexpectedly confide in them weaknesses in the new process, gossip that hurts your firm’s credibility, or your opinions of their management that could come back to hurt you.  Be friendly with them, but be professional and cautious.
  • Be discrete with information. Password protect your laptop whenever you leave your desk. Don’t leave papers on your desk with any information client employees should not see.  Whatever can’t be locked up at night should be taken home.

Adversarial clients are rare and the tips to deal with them may seem extreme. But it’s better to be safe than sorry if the client turns out to be the type to retaliate.

A lot is said about developing relationships with clients in order to sell services to them.  Those relationships are usually developed with the executive decision makers. Developing relationships with the lower level employees will help to develop and maintain relationships with the organization in general.

Additionally, if you develop a strong and trusting bond with a lower-level client employee, that person could someday become an executive decision maker, whether they stay at that company or move on to another one. It may be a good long-term relationship to develop and maintain.

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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