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How Your Consulting Firm Should Deal with Clients that Cross the Line
From:
David A. Fields -- Sales Growth Expert David A. Fields -- Sales Growth Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Ridgefield , CT
Wednesday, October 30, 2019

 

When you, your consulting team and your client all stay on task and positive, consulting is a fun, challenging and rewarding profession. When consulting work veers off the rails, though, how should you respond?

Lines are confusing.

Let’s say youwant to engage in outreach to your prospects. Rupert, SVP of Everything is nextin line. So, you drop him a line. He answers and asks you to hold the line.Didn’t you just drop it?)

Ugh, you’reon hold, but business is on the line. Two minutes of elevator music. That’swhere you draw the line. Is it the end of the line for Rupert? Hard to know—it’sa fine line.

When a client crosses over the line, though, that’s not fun and it shouldn’t be overly befuddling.

Generally,consulting clients are well-meaning and their intentions are good. However,humans being fallible, sometimes a client or a team member wanders intoterritory that is unhelpful, inappropriate or even harmful.

There are myriad ways to characterize your consulting firm’s boundaries, and the quadrant chart below shows just two distinctions: tasks vs. behaviors (i.e., project-related requests vs. personal actions) and building up vs. tearing down.

The chart labels areas that are over-the-line, and those that aren’t over-the-line.

Knowing what’snot over-the-line helps you recognize whether what you’re facing is acceptableand benign or unacceptable.

In addition,if your client’s defense is that their actions aren’t over-the-line and are meantto be beneficial (e.g., a compliment), your labels help you acknowledge thatyou’ve carefully considered their beneficial interpretation.

Those two axesaren’t the only way to define your consulting firm’s boundaries, of course. In fact,here’s a template for you to draw your own:

No matterhow you define your boundaries and what you consider over-the-line, thequestion is:

How doyou deal with an unacceptable, over-the-line situation?

  1. Ask yourself: “Has someone else’s behaviors crossed the line? Or, is what they’re asking me to do over-the-line?”
  1. Be as clear as possible: Has the situation moved from okay to inappropriate or harmful?

Important note: Crossing the line then “going back,” doesn’t make crossing the line okay.

  1. Gather input; e.g., has anyone else noticed this behavior or request? What are others’ observations and views?
  1. Address the situation with your client dispassionately, if possible. That’s part of why the consulting-ish quadrant chart is there. To wrap an emotional subject in an analytical frame.
    You can name a behavior and put it on the chart. People might argue with you, but they’re less likely to argue with the chart.
  1. If appropriate, invoke a higher authority at your client.
  1. If necessary, leave the relationship. If over-the-line behavior is repetitive or egregious, then drop the client. Immediately.

Have youexperienced over-the-line clients (or colleagues)? How did you draw the lineand how did you handle it?


 
Managing Director
Ascendant Consulting, LLC
Ridgefield, CT
203-438-7236