Imagine that you’re preparing a really important presentation that you have the next day for a key client your company deals with. You’re doing the best you can to gather and construct your ideas. You are possibly thinking of some of the best techniques that you can use in the presentation to get your message across. You might work on a story that will hook your clients to your key messages or appeal.
The next day you’re waiting in the meeting room at your client’s office. You’re having all kinds of thoughts. When finally, the decision-makers arrive, you have a brief conversation with them before beginning the presentation. You are nervous and yet all pumped up at the same time. You start with the presentation and everything’s going perfectly well. You are almost about to wrap up when your client stops you and asks, “Great presentation but, I have a question – how will we benefit from what you’re proposing?” The next thing you are thinking is how you never gave it a proper thought to begin with. From here on, you know that what you will say to answer that question will only be tweaked ideas of what you want your client to do for you. Will this guarantee that you will seal the deal? Well, nobody knows.
What do you think is happening here? What went wrong? I’m thinking you’ve started guessing what I am trying to arrive at. Yes, the individual was operating with an inward mindset and the example that I shared above discusses just one aspect of it. One might ask ‘how,’ so let’s explore that question. In this case, there were no conspicuous signs of the professional thinking of their client as an object. However, they missed out on one major aspect that would have helped them serve their clients better – considering the client’s needs, objectives, and challenges. Sometimes we might not see the people we work with as obstacles to overcome or irrelevancies to ignore but, when we focus only on our goals and what we need from a particular deal, we have already started operating from the self-focused inward mindset. We start seeing them as vehicles to further our own goals and needs rather than strategic partners to work with and achieve shared goals.
What does it mean to be inward toward clients?
As employees, managers, and consultants what we need to realize is that our relationship with our clients can be strong when we help them identify what they need and how we can help them fulfill those needs. If we begin to think that we need to take care of ourselves first, only then we will pay attention to the needs and objectives of our clients, they will most definitely sense this sooner or later. Such an approach will not help us in inviting long-term partners for our brand. If we’re only looking to make our business case, get the deal and close it, we’re serving neither ourselves nor our clients.
With an inward mindset, what we see is only what we need from a particular client. While in a business sense, this isn’t completely wrong, one might say. But, who do you think will be disadvantaged the most because of such an approach? You’re thinking right. We will be affected the most and our company will suffer. If we’re blind to what our clients need and look for, they will eventually feel worn out in such a relationship and look for other organizations to work and co-create value with. We might still not choose to see this reality. We might not say it out loud but inwardly blame our clients for the failure of the deal and eventually, the strained relationship. The next thing we know – because of our client’s word of mouth, we may not even get other clients to work with us readily. Therefore, when we think only about our own goals, needs, and objectives, we compromise our organization’s results while thinking about ourselves as competent and about our clients as inconsiderate.
Making our business case with an outward mindset
When we say that it’s important to understand what our clients need, it doesn’t imply that our needs do not matter – of course, they do. But what we should try to do is – find the means and medium to align our needs with our client’s needs and build strategies as well as actionable principles to achieve them together. How we can do this is by operating with an outward mindset. When we’re outward toward our clients, we don’t focus on outsmarting them and persuading them to pursue our services. What we focus on is – channelizing efforts to attain collective results.
Most of the individuals and organizations might not even be aware that they, their organizational culture, and their systemic approach toward their clients might be naturally inward. They could be focusing only on their tasks, their goals, and their growth without giving much thought to how their actions could impact the outcomes of their colleagues, subordinates, supervisors, and clients. However, when individuals and organizations develop an outward mindset, it makes the organizational climate more positive – to eventually help in building positive interpersonal relationships with clients. With an outward mindset, individuals and organizations start focusing on collective results. They start understanding that what they do as an organization impacts what their clients do.
When we have an outward mindset, our clients become important to us and we want to direct our actions toward helping them with all our ability. We then make good efforts into helping them achieve better outcomes– so that they have to make less effort into correcting things themselves. Rather than blaming our clients for being inconsiderate and incompetent, with an outward mindset, we work around solutions to the problems that exist in our clients’ organizations. We work toward making them our allies rather than enemies.
How can we make the shift toward an outward mindset?
We know that an outward mindset can help us see our clients as people. So how can we make the shift toward an outward mindset? By now you must have realized that a good place to start is becoming aware of our clients’ needs, objectives, and challenges. To become aware of the same, we need to ask ourselves a few crucial questions. What is it that our clients need? What do they want to achieve for themselves? What strategies do they work with? What is their organizational philosophy? What challenges are they encountering in achieving what they want? What problems exist in their systems? What’s preventing them from becoming the best at what they do? When we’re genuinely interested to know about our clients in these very aspects through open and honest conversations (that isn’t too invading), there are good chances that we can identify areas where we can add value. Now, when we make our business case, we can tap into the areas where the clients might need a strategic partnership, and we can propose how they can benefit from having us on board.
An aspect we should keep in mind that can help us humanize our interpersonal relationships with our clients is that ‘we need them, just as much as they need us.’ As individuals and organizations, we can’t work in isolation, we need to have strategic partners, we need to have allies, and we need to collaborate if we are to achieve collective results. So, as much as we would want our clients to understand and consider our proposal, we must see to it to not give them a perception that working with us will be bad for their organizational integrity.
Finally, it’s important to understand that even if we might change our ways so as to become outward, we shouldn’t expect our clients to change along with us. A major principle of outward mindset is changing our ways for the good rather than trying to ‘fix’ or ‘correct’ other people. If we give our clients a sense that we’re right and we know what’s best for them, they will most likely resist the idea of having a professional relationship with us. At this point, it helps to recall what the founder of Arbinger Institute, Terry Warner said, “We most effectively influence one another to change by letting ourselves be changed.” If we keep this perception in mind while considering the needs, objectives, and challenges of our clients, there are chances they might see us as an understanding organization to work with. Even if they don’t, we won’t blame them for not accepting what we had to offer. We know we will have tried.