This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Cuddly Teddy Bear

Charlie and I got to share a lot of great stories in The Fieldbook. In fact, for me it was the best part of writing the book. One of my favorite stories is a reprise from The Trusted Advisor. It tells the tale that’s part cautionary, part inspirational, all business. And worth repeating.

The backdrop: A Midwestern U.S. office of a global accounting firm is informed by a major client that the audit work is going out to bid. The partners are shocked; they don’t see it coming. The client is clear they intend to change auditors. The firm is given the opportunity to bid as a nicety.

The bold move: The firm decides that, if there were ever a time when not to take a risk was too risky, this is it. They decide to do something dramatic. So instead of using their 90 minutes of presentation time to do a conventional pitch, the four partners decide to act out a play for the four client executives from the finance organization. The roles they assume: those very client executives having a meeting, deciding to fire their auditor. In other words, the four partners role-play the clients now sitting in front of them.

They say things like, “Well, those audit folks just haven’t shown us that they have what it takes,” and, “That’s right, they haven’t been proactive enough.” They articulate the critical thoughts that they imagine the client is thinking—humbly and genuinely.

The crescendo: The partners are prepared to get yanked out of there. After five minutes, they pause and ask their clients if they should stop. Fascinated, the clients say, “Keep going.” And so the partners do, for nearly an hour. They just keep talking—as if they are the clients—about the things that they had done wrong and should have done better.

The result: The decision to put the work out to bid is rescinded, and the firm gets the job back.

True story.

If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “Empathy schmempathy; that crap’s too ‘soft’ for me,” think again.


Make It Real

This week, take a close look at clients you’ve lost—completely or partially. What complaints did/do they have about you? Write them down, as though you’re quoting them. Better yet: Say them out loud, as though you’re the client (not as you complaining about the client). What insight do you gain?

Learn More

Read about selling from inside your client’s shoes, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on nine ways to transform your pitch in Chapter 13 of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook.

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).