I had a funny feeling
Even though I feel 20-something, as I get older I start to realise that more and more I wear my heart on my sleeve and stand fast to what I believe in.
There are things that I won't budge on simply because they are my truth and this truth drives me to be my authentic self in these emails to you, in the work I do and when dealing with clients.
I'm not sure where this comes from, but my bullshit radar is finely tuned, and when people push over 'the line', I am prepared to walk away at the drop of a hat.
Here’s an interesting and very real situation which happened to me only a few weeks ago.
I had a funny feeling
I was introduced to a potential client a few weeks ago.
My initial meeting with him lasted an hour. This is a common occurrence in pre-sales meetings where two strangers are working out if they’re going to work well together. One has a problem, and the other, hopefully, has the solution or a pathway towards one.
I walked away from that meeting with a strange feeling in my gut. I didn't know what it was at the time, but something didn't feel right.
I diagnosed and replayed the interaction in my mind. During the meeting, he was the only one speaking, he didn’t ask any questions and it just felt weird. He was sure of himself and at the same time showed no evidence to back up that self-confidence. I couldn’t pin point exactly what it was but something didn't feel right to me.
He seemed like a nice guy — someone who would be quite friendly over a few drinks at the bar. He had recently started in the organisation he was working with, and he didn’t know much more than he was communicating to us — which wasn't much at all.
We were meant to go away and prepare a proposal, but there were more unknowns than certainties.
He wanted to start the project within a few days of that initial meeting but couldn't confirm exactly when that would be.
It smelt, and it wasn't pleasant. He was disorganised and obviously behind the eight-ball. He was also powerless in making a decision — this being the most important fact.
If I’m not dealing with a decision maker, I begin to worry. In all my pre-sales efforts I try to have a conversation with the key decision maker — this is important for many reasons. The key decision maker is the person who is going to have the power to sign off the budget I need to have signed off without having to constantly seek approval. If they don't have the power to sign off the budget, then they know what the budget is.
Our new friend had neither of these.
If I’ve learned one thing in my forty-four years it’s that it’s damn easy to blame the agency — and when a weak client's weaknesses cause a project to unravel, they’ll blame you in the blink of an eye.
I began to hear alarm bells.
Detailed and fixed.
In the 24 hours that followed I supplied tour friend with a quote and scope of work. Detailed and fixed. No variables and using our highest rate due to operating outside of our standard terms. We were asked to block out our entire week in preparation to start the work, but still hadn’t received written approval to begin. We did so out of good faith but kept the pressure on for approval.
Blocking out a week’s time for two people isn’t taken lightly when you have actual paying clients vying for that time. He asked us to push the time block to the following week as he was now delayed. We did this again, followed up for approval and we were met with silence.
Finally, late on a Friday afternoon, he asked us to come in for a two hour immersion with his team to kick things off in three days time.
I explained that our diaries were full at such short notice, but we’d come back to him to confirm. We eventually confirmed that we would attend, we would update the scope of work and quote to reflect the extra two hour meeting and we would be ready.
He wrote me that he was confused.
Why would I charge him for this extra meeting?
He highlighted how crucial it was to the success of the project to have him explain the ins and outs of his product in this two-hour immersion - but wasn’t willing to pay for it. I called him.
I apologised for the confusion and explained that a two hour meeting with two of our people was in fact something we would be charging for on this and any future engagements.
(I couldn’t believe I had to justify myself in the following way. By this time, in my mind, it was over, but I continued...)
I explained how we would have to leave at 1:15 to arrive at his office by 2pm. At 4pm we’d leave and not return to our office by 4:45pm.
(Even as I write this, I can't believe I actually had this conversation.)
That was a half day out of our office. With two people for two hours, we were talking about four billable hours that I intended to be paid for. Especially if my alarm bells were already ringing.
(We don’t charge for time and never have these discussions with our clients, which again convinced me this relationship was over.)
I explained that this equated to four billable hours. A half day.
(Now I was firmly convinced that under no circumstances was I ever going to work with this man again.)
I was silent for a while then asked him to consider our proposal and to please let me know if he wished to proceed or not, before the close of business that day. I told him that it was OK if he chose not to proceed but we would charge for all of our time, and if he didn’t see the value in having two of us present there would be no hard feelings.
I smiled, thanked him and hung up the phone.
I was rattled and annoyed. Which is odd for me as I'm not easily rattled. But it was a Monday morning and I was about to meet with my team in our weekly rhythm meeting which is one the highlights of the week as we get to share our weekends and weekly tempo with one another.
I was rattled because I didn't expect my day to start off with having to justify two hours to someone, and annoyed because I had more meaningful things to do with my time.
He wrote back at the end of the day and declined our proposal, letting me know how beneficial that two hour meeting would’ve been.
I didn’t disagree and wished him well in a short and respectful email.
What might've been
I could’ve waived the charge for a two hour meeting in the hope he would eventually sign off our quote.
But I chose not to.
I could’ve waived it to ensure I began the relationship by ‘giving a little’ and hope that the gesture was respected and returned in future.
But I chose not to.
To me it boiled down to one thing and one thing alone.
The question of ‘Do I want to work with this person?’ And based on the signals I received, the neglect to adhere to our terms or approve anything in writing, and not to mention the feeling of apprehension I had from that first meeting, I chose to walk away.
I was grateful to be able to make the choice.
I might’ve missed out on a bunch of new work.
I might’ve missed out on winning even more work through his network and possibly making a new friend.
But I chose to focus my energy on people and things that matter.
My values are my values — and I'm grateful that I am able to exercise them. I realise that I will in fact be missing out on more work and hitting higher sales targets — but I'm OK with this.
I'm so very OK with this because compromising my values costs me so much more.
I am grateful for the clients I have who respect my time, my team and the construct of how we work — they respect our terms and even at times we work with them to allow these terms to flex; which we do professionally and amicably.
Nice people who are courteous and understand that written approval is required to begin, professional etiquette is the cost of entry and that we both, no matter our positions have diaries that are busy.
In hindsight if I took that project on, I would've made my quarterly sales target — but I had more important things to focus on.
I had a blog piece to write.