Sixth article in a series . . .
If you work as a business advisor, you know that engagements can be unpredictable. Whether helping the owner take advantage of a changing marketplace, or optimizing the business to prepare it for sale, these initiatives typically involve significant planning, coordination, and effort from both advisors and their clients. Despite the best of intentions, these large-scale projects don’t always proceed smoothly.
There are many things that can affect the advisor-client relationship and make it harder for clients to accomplish the tasks associated with the project. This article is the sixth in a series highlighting matters that should be considered by advisors and clients before they agree to work together.
“Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” – George Bernard Shaw
Business advisors frequently ask me about a behavior they find counterintuitive and puzzling. They’re approached by prospective clients who have identified them as exactly the expert they need, they ask for recommendations, they seem on board with a proposed plan of action, but then they ultimately reject the advisor’s good counsel.
Consider the case of Scott, the 47-year-old founder of a firm that provided security personnel for commercial clients such as hotels, office buildings, and retail merchants. His clients were increasingly interested in advanced technology rather than simply relying on security guards. Scott believed technology was unreliable, and he felt the best solution was to deploy additional personnel. Most of his clients resisted that approach, and Scott was concerned about the long-term viability of his business. He sought guidance from an advisor who had experience consulting with corporations around large-scale security upgrades. The advisor affirmed that many clients were implementing technological solutions, but he also opined that security technology is only as good as the people monitoring it. He advised Scott to focus on building a smaller but more technically proficient team of guards who could augment and interact seamlessly with the security systems being purchased by his clients. Scott quickly dismissed this suggestion and the advisor, noting that the last thing that made sense to him was to field fewer personnel.
Clients like Scott who have firmly held ideas about their business may not view problems the same way the advisor does. They may overlook factors that contribute to a business problem, making it harder to implement an effective solution. In some cases, they find it difficult to accept the advisor’s recommendations.
Both parties should have an initial discussion to explore the degree to which client feels comfortable with the advisor’s perspective. In some instances, the Advisor may find it helpful to give client additional time to consider and embrace certain proposed ideas and solutions. Here is one way to begin the discussion:
“I want to make sure we have a shared understanding about the challenges facing the business and how to address them. It’s important that throughout this project you’re comfortable with my observations, ideas, and proposals. I wouldn’t expect you to instantly agree with everything I suggest, but if you’re not fully on board with something we need to talk about it, o.k.? So, based on what we’ve discussed thus far, how does it sit with you? Is there anything you have some reservations about? Anything you would like time to consider further?
It may become apparent that a client is so wedded to their beliefs that they rebuff the advisor’s suggestions. If they still seem open to dialogue, an advisor might try the following approach:
“My sense is that you have some strong convictions about your business. No doubt they’re rooted in years of experience. The same is true for me. In my experience, clients aren’t always 100% on board with certain recommendations when they first hear them. I totally understand; my suggestions may seem like an outsider’s perspective, but I trust you can see the advantage in that. If you aren’t fully comfortable with an idea I propose, let’s discuss it and see if we can fit it within your framework. I would hate to see us overlook a potential solution.”
This is the sixth in a weekly article series titled “Assessing the Advisor-Client Relationship”. Each week, I will explore a new element affecting the advisor-client relationship in some detail. These articles will help you understand potential opportunities and obstacles when working on long-term strategic engagements. The next article will explore the client’s ability to resist pressure from various stakeholders.
Please feel free to reach out for more information or assistance proactively assessing the potential advisory relationship.