“Act like a true professional, aiming for true excellence, and the money will follow.”
David Maister,’True Professionalism’, FreePress 1997
By Stuart Maister, Joint MD, Mutual Value
Always be the buyer
I want to talk today about a concept developed by supercoach Dan Sullivan, and it’s a simple idea: always be the buyer. He wrote a whole book about the idea. What does this mean? And how is this relevant to service firms?
A buyer and a seller
Well, in most commercial relationships there is a buyer and a seller. The assumption in that situation most of the time is that the buyer has the power and the seller is in some way subservient. The reason is the buyer has money and the seller wants some of it. In addition to that we all have an inbuilt fear of rejection and so if we are seeking to sell our services then this fear kicks in. Add to that the pressure to bill and win new clients and you can see where this goes.
What happens as a result? Well, in some cases, firms slash their wrists to win the business, accepting lower margins or rates in order to ‘sell successfully’.
The other thing that happens is that the relationship is established of superiority and inferiority, parent-child, the person with the power and the powerless. This is a fundamentally unstable situation because seeking to please a client can be a compromise conflicting with core professional values. In our training we show why a situation in which there is no mutual value is inherently unstable and unsustainable.
25 years ago my cousin David Maister wrote a book called ‘True Professionalism’ in which the quote above appeared. He gave a fantastic workshop to clients of mine at the time and many were shocked by his harsh statement that many professionals would do anything for the right fees rather than basing their decisions about who to work with and how on principles and ethics. However, he was making a similar point to Dan Sullivan: your behaviour as a service provider will help determine the dynamics of the relationship.
Always be the buyer
Now, let’s consider the idea of always being the buyer. In this case you are deciding whether to ‘buy’ the relationship with a client through the currency of your services.
You have a choice as to who you work with, you have agency in the decision and you have the ability to reject the potential commercial partner even if they own the cash. This position leads to better selection of clients, higher quality work and a much greater chance of building relationship capital – a concept we explain elsewhere. Like a discerning buyer, you are choosing the very best customers to bring value to your firm in ways including money.
The point here is that as a professional you are investing your time in return for payment. This is an exchange of value not simply a transaction. If the client does not properly value the skills, knowledge, principles and relationship that you bring to the party then they should not buy from you and you should not sell to them. If they do, then an exchange of value is a discussion between peers based on a business case for both parties and intended outcomes.
This goes beyond the sale and into the provision of the service. Pretty much any professional service is a relationship of interdependency. The service provider is dependent on the client playing their part in the work as much as vice versa. I have written somewhere else that professional service firms should aim to be trusted partners not trusted advisers for this very reason, and so it is important that in seeking to engage in a commercial relationship with a buyer you behave like a buyer too.
Always be the buyer, choosing who to work with in an active way. That is more likely to result in a higher return on your investment of time and commitment. And it will ensure you are continually growing your relationship capital, which is the unmeasured but critical asset which underpins the success of every service firm.
Does this resonate? If so, let’s have an open discussion about what this might mean for your business and what difference it would make for you and your team to always act like buyers with potential and actual clients.
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