The Need to Define the Need

A friend recently posted on social media about a serious issue he encountered with his tire almost falling off his car during a family Spring Break getaway because the lug nuts had not been tightened.  After being flabbergasted and thankful at the same time that everyone was okay and the worst of the issue was a delay in the vacation, we noted that the tire work had been done at a well known oil change franchise.  While these operations are generally more than well suited to handle a range of automotive services beyond their brand identification with oil changes, it got us thinking and talking about specialization and expectations. 

We know our strengths and weaknesses individually as well as collectively, so we also know where we can make an impact for a client and where we cannot.  It does us no good to sign on for projects in the latter camp even when courted to do so because we know the end result will leave both us and the client less than fully satisfied.  Unfortunately, as much as we might like it to be the case, we do not always have perfect information in order to make this judgment.  We have to rely on our (prospective) clients to provide an accurate assessment and portrayal of their needs in order for us to adequately gauge our capacity and value add potential.  Regrettably, the client is not always willing and/or capable of making this kind of assessment. 

For example, we worked with a client (for a short time) who thought they needed a plug-and-play business development solution to expand their footprint beyond a mostly concentrated geographic penetration as they rolled out the version 2.0 of their core offering.  The engagement seemed straightforward enough and certainly within our wheelhouse and demonstrated expertise (which is why the client sought us out in the first place).  As we began working with them, it became clear there were many aspects of this 2.0 release that were still TBD, including some fundamental points such as the target audience and pricing strategy.  While we could (and did) offer our perspective on these points while concurrently building a pipeline for the ever-evolving product, we concurrently encountered a number of systemic roadblocks dealing with non-employee access to the various internal systems of the client.  With the benefit of hindsight, what this client really needed was product and market development assistance with their new offering alongside either new on-staff business development resources or a more flexible approach to systems and procedures.  Instead, they contracted for business development support and soon realized this was insufficient and untenable from both sides.

As we continue to learn from our experiences, we hope we will avoid similar hiccups in the future.  To do so, we are encouraging our clients to engage with us on a limited basis initially.  While we may lose some longer-term opportunities as a result, we would prefer to spend 10-20 hours of our collective time at the outset diving deeply into the client’s anticipated need(s) before we commit to anything more substantive.  This way, we can uncover any unforeseen questions or challenges together and determine whether they are also best addressed together.