How permissive are your clients?

Gaining permission is the first step to getting clients talking openly about project value and decision making.

Permission is the client’s explicit agreement to work with you in a particular way, at a particular level. And, in my experience, consultants often mistake this with having rapport, which is an altogether different aspect of a relationship.

You might think of it this way. You have good levels of rapport with some relatives and friends. Now consider the level of permission you have in their home. With some it would be fine for you to put the kettle on and make tea. For others it certainly wouldn’t. It’s the same way with clients.

So, making permission explicit is an important part of the client relationship process. Here are three components you might like to consider:

  1. Credibility. There are some simple social factors that help with this – for example timekeeping, making commitments and delivering on them, asking “would it be alright if we …”. And of course there is also your demonstrating that you know your stuff.The client must see you as someone they enjoy working with and a useful ally in a specific arena.
  2. Importance. Always focus on the client’s agenda, not yours. Ask yourself, what’s important to this client at this moment? Unless you’re discussing one of the client’s top three priorities you do not pass the relevance test.We’ve all had “interesting conversations that go nowhere”. Lack of importance is generally the reason why.
  3. Security. One of the best ways to build a safe relationship with clients is to set expectations about ways of working. You can easily do this by 1) making outcomes for your discussions explicit 2) clarifying the role you’ll play 3) explaining your personal rules for client confidentiality and 4) suggesting an agenda for the time you are about to spend together.

Then be sure to find out how the client likes to work and what they want from a relationship with you.

Here’s an example:

“By the end of the meeting I’d like to understand the value of this project to your organisation. I’d like to just ask some questions and then act as a sounding board for your thoughts. Is that ok? Anything we discuss will form part of our proposal, unless you flag up that its confidential. We’ve got 90 minutes so I suggest we spend the first hour talking about the project, then summarise and agree appropriate next steps? How does that sound?”

The bottom line.

Permission and these three components – credibility, importance, and security – are vital for selling consultancy. Drop me a line and tell me what you’re doing to gain and maintain permission with your prospects.