Book Summary — Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding the Three Fears that Sabotage Client Loyalty

Another fabulous book from the Patrick Lencioni’s fable series. I had already read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team and The Truth about Employee Engagement and this is the third one. This is highly recommended for anyone who sells any kind of service or calls themselves as “consultants”, be it individual or business.

This is a story about a management consulting firm, who tries to acquire a successful running boutique consulting firm. While studying the success of the boutique firm, the consultant at the other firm learns the below model the boutique firm uses, which he later explains to his senior management.

The value

The model, called the naked service, is based on one thing i.e. Vulnerability. To be vulnerable means embracing humility, selflessness and transparency for the good for the client. It is more difficult than it seems, because humility, selflessness and transparency often entail suffering, something human beings usually not welcome. Being naked allows the consultant to gain higher trust and confidence of the clients, which results in customer loyalty.

Three fears

There are three fears that prevent us from embracing vulnerable.

Fear of losing the business

No service provider wants to lose their clients or business, and ironically, this fear of losing the business hurts our ability to increase business. What clients want more than anything is to know that we’re more interested in helping them than we are in maintaining our revenue source. It’s worth reminding ourselves that clients can smell fear and are repelled by it.

Naked consultants know that clients are attracted to those who will be honest and direct with them, even if it might jeopardise the relationship.

Fear of being embarrassed

No-one likes making mistakes in public, especially in front of those who are paying us for our advice or counsel. This fear is about avoiding the appearance of ignorance and wanting to be seen as smart.

Naked consultants are so concerned about helping a client that they are willing to ask questions and make suggestions, even if those questions and suggestions could turn out to be laughably wrong. They readily admit what they don’t know and are quick to point out — even to celebrate — their errors because protecting their intellectual ego is not important to them.

Fear of feeling inferior

Fear of feeling inferior is not about our intellectual pride, but rather about preserving our sense of importance and social standing relative to a client. As consultants, we try to achieve and preserve a certain level of standing and importance in the eyes of our clients. But sometimes we forget that the word “service” shares the same root meaning as “servant” and even “subservience.”

Naked consultants not only overcome their need to feel important in the eyes of their clients, but also put themselves in a lower position purposefully. They do whatever a client needs them to do to help them improve, even if it results in temporarily looking down to. Ironically clients trust and respect them more as there is nothing more attractive than people willfully and cheerfully set their egos aside and make others needs more important than own needs.

Shredding these fears

The model also talks about practices that one should use to shred these fears.

Shredding Fear of losing the business

  1. Always Consult instead of Sell — Naked consultants avoid, as much as possible, tell clients what they would do when hired, instead they start serving them as if they were hired already. With this, sales become service giveaways, which gives the consultants higher confidence than if they would try to convince the potential client to make a decision.
  2. Give away the business — When it comes to fees, it entails erring on the customer, so naked consultants show that they are interested in helping them for the long term, than maximizing the short term revenue. One example situation given in the book is charging the client a lower fee than usual as the client was not expecting such a higher charge. Such situations usually result in long term relationship with the client, sacrificing the short term revenue.
  3. Tell the kind truth — Naked consultants will confront the client with a difficult message, the one the client might not like hearing, even at the cost of putting the relationship with the client at risk. Instead of being blunt with a difficult message, they present the same with kindness, empathy, and respect. One example situation given in the book is telling the CEO, to demote his son from the executive board because the son being incompetent.
  4. Enter the danger — Instead of avoiding “elephants in the room”, the naked consultants step into the middle of such situations. This requires courage to fearlessly deal with an issue that everyone else is afraid to address. This can be stating the obvious, such as that the senior management being the typical abusive tirade towards the team. These kind of situations usually arises in a group setting which is why it is different from “Telling the kind Truth”, which can be done in a one-on-one meeting too.

Shredding Fear of being embarrassed

  1. Ask Dumb Questions — To enter the danger, sometimes it's necessary to ask the dumb question. Naked consultants ask the obvious questions on situations when they are unsure of, even at the cost of being ignorant in front of others. Interestingly, at times, there will be many others in the room who may have the same question but are embarrassed to ask. Example situations can be when the consultant doesn’t understand the terminologies or acronyms being used during the discussions.
  2. Make Dumb Suggestions — The client expects you to give suggestions and you can’t expect to give great suggestions all the time. Instead of being embarrassed to give suggestions which you are doubtful of, give the suggestions anyways and usually the clients will be perfectly fine hearing not-so-useful suggestions at times because you are being honest and trying to be helpful.
  3. Celebrate Your Mistakes — Naked consultants know that making mistakes are inevitable, so they accept the mistakes and take complete responsibility for the same. This always increases the trust and loyalty of the customer. Clients expect honesty and transparency instead of being perfect.

Shredding Fear of feeling inferior

  1. Taking the bullet for the client — This can be easily mistaken as blindly allowing the client to do the wrong and taking the blame for the same. Instead, what this means is consultants accepting responsibility for things which may or may not have been their fault, to take the burden off from the client during difficult times. Human beings are not encouraged to take responsibility of problems, but naked consultants throw themselves at those, and doing so increases the trust and loyalty of the client. An example given in the book the consultant presenting in front of the senior management in the absence of the CEO, who put together the presentation, and taking the blame for being wrong even though it wasn’t his fault. It was humiliating for the consultant, but doing so helped him to take the pain of the CEO which later helped the consultant to put together a better plan along with the team.
  2. Make everything About the Client — Naked consultants do not try to shift attention to themselves and their level of experience or knowledge; rather, they make it clear that their focus is on understanding, honoring, and supporting the business of the client. They often downplay their accomplishments, allowing the clients to find out those by themselves. This is simple, but harder and important.
  3. Honor the Client’s Work — Naked consultants honor the client by taking an active interest in their business and by appreciating the importance of that business to the client and the client’s customers. If they are not naturally passionate about the client’s business, they will find a way to demonstrate and respect the client. And this can’t be faked. The question comes what if the client is involved in a business we don’t respect, and the answer is, it might be an indication that we shouldn’t be working with them.
  4. Do the Dirty Work —Sometimes the client needs may not be as attractive or exciting as we would like it to be. Naked consultants are willing to take on whatever a client needs them to do within the context of their services. Doing so results in gratitude and higher loyalty. An example of such works can be ordering food for the client during the meeting, even though it's not part of what a consultant gets paid for.

Admit your limitations and weaknesses

This is a general advice, which sounds similar to “Celebrate your mistakes”. But it is different than that because it is one to be honest about a fault and another one to be open about your general weakness. No one is perfect and everyone has their weakness. By covering those, we are trying to be something we are not, which prevents us from doing our best in areas which we can thrive.

Parting thoughts

Like I mentioned in the beginning of the post, this is one of the best consulting books I’ve read. The best consultants in the world do almost all of the above to attack the three fears the author mentioned above. The practice am looking forward to, the one which I liked the most is, Always Consult instead of Sell. I believe this will have a huge impact the way we do sales at Multunus.

One thing I felt book doesn’t discuss in detail, it touches briefly about this though, is how to decide whether we should work with a customer or not. While explaining the “Always Consult instead of sell” practice in the story, it also mentions, this is also the best way to decide whether to work with a client or not, but doesn’t say anything more in detail. My hope is that it would become clearer as I practice the above to shred the fears.