As a consultant, I’ve often made recommendations to my clients that were not acted upon. Sometimes the client simply pretended she didn’t hear my advice, and other times she disagreed with me overtly and did the exact opposite.
It’s frustrating to be hired as an expert in a particular area, only to learn that your clients feel they know better. It’s even worse when the client’s change in direction results in diminished business results that affect whether you get re-hired on another project.
We all have clients, whether we’re consultants or not. But whether our clients are official or unofficial, internal or external, it’s critical to our reputations and future success that we take the right actions when the people who depend on us seem to be losing faith.
Listen Without Getting Defensive
When a client ignores your guidance and a project starts to run amuck, it’s easy to feel angry and powerless. Instead, calmly ask your client why she is proceeding in this manner. Has she properly understood what you’re recommending? If so, why isn’t she implementing it? Is it a question of resources, finances, or time? Perhaps someone higher up the chain wants an alternative plan? This conversation is best had in person, but a phone chat is better than none at all.
Think Through Your Response
The worst thing you can do is say something to the effect of: “You hired me as an expert so you should do what I say.” This approach will get you nowhere. Once you’ve had a chance to fully process your client’s input and think about how her people style or gender differences might be influencing the situation, be honest with yourself. Do you still feel strongly about the recommendation, or have these new insights caused you to change your tune? If you are stalwart, prepare to go back to the client armed with evidence that your direction is the correct one. Such evidence could include results-oriented case studies from other clients, research, and testimonials.
While some people are too bullish when clients are at odds with their recommendations, others go too far in the other direction. I am indeed guilty of this. When a client doesn’t listen to me, I am likely to back down too quickly and do whatever it takes to keep her happy. However, sometimes being a good advisor means assertively standing your ground to ensure that the project fulfills its potential and benefits the business. The objective evidence mentioned above definitely helps clients see your point of view as a matter of fact rather than opinion.
Find the Middle Ground
Sometimes, compromises have to be made, so consider ways you can push your recommendations through with modifications. Perhaps this means decreasing your budget or focusing your efforts on a specific project aspect as opposed to the whole thing. In posing any revised plans to the client, reiterate that your reasoning is not self-serving but rather has the best interests of the business at heart.
Leave it Alone
If you’ve done all you can to prove your case to the client and she still wants to go north instead of south, you’ll have to decide what the business is worth to you. You could certainly walk away to nurse your bruised ego, but it’s probably more productive to let it go and move on. When the situation has concluded, work with your client to analyze the results but don’t say “I told you so” if they are mediocre. If your approach was the right one all along, that will be apparent and hopefully the client will value your counsel more next time.