Telling Clients They Have – Gasp! – a Weakness or Two.

When you’re a position to have to tell a client that they have a weakness or two or seventeen, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do. Someone asked me that recently: “So, um, what do you do when you have to tell a client that, uh, a few things they’re doing aren’t…quite…good?”

“You’re asking me how do I tell someone their baby is ugly?”

“Well, I’ve never heard it said that way.”

“It’s exactly like that. Because when someone is close to their brand, it’s their baby. Some people know that deep down, their baby isn’t perfect even when they talk about it to other people. And they’re right. After all, a baby is a human being and humans are far from perfect.”

Brands are far from perfect too. Yet we see cases all the time of when CEOs and aspiring entrepreneurs have fallen in love with their own product far too quickly.

They haven’t asked the tough questions.
They haven’t talked to their potential prospects and gotten their take.
They think they don’t have competition when the reality is they haven’t looked hard enough.
They think areas like sales and marketing will just develop with time and besides, this will just ‘sell itself,’ right?”

“So…you don’t hold back?”

“Not really. And I don’t feel bad about it one bit because I’m coming into it objectively. They’re not. If they want to disagree with me, I’ll live with that and respect their point of view, but I can’t live with sugarcoating it for someone who wants to believe it’s all sunshine and rainbows just because their new product is on the market or that they’ve got 32 locations or $X million in revenue or they’ve been in business for 25 years. These are all admirable things. But just looking at the positives is not strategizing. That’s blowing smoke up their you-know-what. I’ve tried to prevent myself from doing that as I’ve gotten more experienced and wiser.”

“But do you say that in a diplomatic way or do you say it harshly?”

“I try not to be mean in any way, really. Everyone has flaws, myself very much included. But the funny thing is that when I start to say, ‘OK, now that we’re going to talk about your weaknesses, I’ll try to be as kind as I can…’ Do you know what they say in response?”

“Don’t pussyfoot around. Give it to me straight.” 

If you’re genuinely about client service, you don’t hide what they need to know for their own good from them. Unfortunately, there are some cheesy, service-with-a-smile-client-is-always-right people out there who don’t know how to do this because they’re too afraid. Plain and simple. No matter what they portray on the exterior, they’re just too afraid to offend, too afraid to lose their jobs, too afraid to lose the client, too afraid to do anything wrong. They don’t trust themselves and their experience to say what’s in the best interests of a brand. And not only will that fear hurt themselves, but ironically, it will actually hurt the very clients they claim to serve.

Need an extra incentive? If you don’t tell them their weaknesses, their competition will find those weaknesses and exploit them.

Better relationships are built on true honesty. That means delivering all of the news – the good, the bad and yes, the ugly. And then showing them how to turn that something ugly into something far prettier.

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