Why Settle? Great Beats Good in All Client Relationships

Bob Wiesner | September 23, 2016

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Agencies and professional services teams are differentiated in clients’ minds by more than the quality of their solutions.  Maybe even more important is the quality of the relationship.  Yet this area seems to be on a steady downward trend.  And it doesn’t have to be.

This article in HBR by James Bailey addresses great vs good leadership.   It’s spot on.  But I read it while thinking about great vs. good client relationships.   And I think it’s even more compelling.

Here an extremely interesting and relevant passage:

“Great leadership is powerful, dominating, often overwhelming. It can sweep people along through sheer animation. Great leadership excites, energizes, and stimulates. It’s a rousing call, shocking complacency and inertia into action…To speak of good leadership is to speak of protecting and advancing widely accepted principles through means to ends. It denotes doing the ‘right’ thing.”

The author notes, correctly, that there are upsides and downsides to both great and good leadership.   He makes the case that organizations need both. “Great can be vital but destructive; good can be compassionate but impotent,” Bailey writes.

So how does this relate to client relationships?

I think too many agencies and professional services firms aspire to “good leadership” types of relationships.  (I’m not suggesting they are led by good leaders and not great leaders, though this may be the case.  I’m referring only to the quality of the relationship as perceived by the client.)

At their most positive, such “good-without-great” relationships  are highly amiable.  People get along.  They like being with each other, they like working together.  Providers often strive for this.  But if you’re goal is client growth, then it’s not enough.

The “great” relationship seems to be less common.  Yet it’s more powerful.  Where there are “great” client relationships, there will be positive tension that drives progress.  Some disagreement, sure.  But that’s because the provider challenges the client to achieve more by engaging in more creative, substantive discussions and, eventually, solutions.  The great relationship requires courage.

Consider Bailey’s description above.  Does your goal for client relationships put emphasis on “excites, energizes and stimulates”?  I think it should.

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