Are you a trusted partner to your client?

In any client-vendor professional relationship, you can be successful and be a true partner, provided both the parties establish a common goal, play to the strengths of each other and be honest and transparent in their transactions. And, of course the surrounding eco-system should provide enough support for such a relationship to nurture.

Last month, I was taken by surprise, when one of our long term client decided to part ways, giving a mere 2 weeks notice period.

It was a surprise, not because the client decided to part ways nor because of the shorter notice period, but because I didn’t see that coming, especially the timing and the manner in which the communication was done.

We’d just completed a major production release and I was really looking forward to sit down with the team and client to discuss next steps, especially long term plans —this news came in.

My client counterpart is a frequent business traveller and because of his travel schedule, he couldn’t call for a in person meeting to deliver the message directly, rather he’d to delegate the ‘messaging’ part to his deputy. What could have been better though, is a quick call or even a text from him.

And, in the next couple of weeks, before I could get a face-face meeting setup with my client counterpart, there were quite a few conjectures being discussed within the team, few startling developments that happened at the client side — that left me more perplexed and to an extent frustrated.

In the meantime, I was trying to ‘objectively’ introspect what could have gone wrong that pushed him to take this extreme decision. And, I came up with the following list of potential scenarios:

  1. It might not have been a sudden, hasty decision from the client; rather a well thought out and well planned decision — only that, I didn’t see it coming
  2. From the direct business impact perspective, the stream of work that we were engaged with was not rolled out yet to a larger set of end customers. And hence, client was under no business pressure to add more features on top of the latest production release, he might have thought about having a pause, build an in-house IT team (which he hinted to me in an earlier conversation) and then resume feature development at a later point in time.
  3. The lead from other partner who’s transitioning in from us, has a more longer and influencing relationship with the client, than me.

Again, the above were the not mere speculations, but there were reasons to back up each one of these possibilities. For example, in the case of first potential scenario, all was not going well between my team and client stakeholders and I’ve to admit that it was slowly turning into a bad marriage, for various reasons. May be, he was just looking for the right time to file the papers!

I was also trying to do sort-of personality mapping of my client, more from the perspective of could-I-have-done-anything-to-prevent-this..

  • He’s a straight shooter and doesn’t sugarcoat things
  • Though he also played the role of the Product Owner for this engagement, because of his frequent travels and org. level responsibilities, he couldn’t help but to think at a 30,000 ft. level, which left things at ground a bit chaotic; also, the fact that he doesn’t really have got a good second rung team in-house who can translate / detail-out his broader ideas into more tangible ones.
  • He might come across as a hard bargainer, especially when you haven’t spent enough time with him — but, his demands would usually be reasonable and logical and they will only test your hold on the project domain and endurance.

After 4 weeks, when I finally met him in person, the actual reason turned out to be a variant of the first potential scenario I listed above — he claimed he wasn’t actually planning the “break-up” for a long time, but the decision was taken in less than 3 days and the main driver for the decision was the troubled relationship between the teams. And, I would say I took that at the face value.

Going back to the first paragraph, there are two key aspects in any client vendor relationship:

What really makes a client-vendor engagement a trusted partnership?
What do we really mean by strategic relationship?

Few basic questions:

Does wining and dining with the customer makes it’s a trusted relationship?

Does knowing the favourite Sport or TV show of the client Exec. and engaging in a social conversation around those, makes you a trusted partner?

Does a multi-million dollar, multi-year deal makes the relationship strategic?

Does going that “extra mile” by making the team work long hours and weekends to show your “commitment” towards the project makes it a trusted relationship?

A BIG NO…is my answer to all the above questions

As simple and trivial as it might sound, it’s the team, yes “the team” that truly makes a relationship strategic and trusted. All the wining and dining, social conversations, $ figures are just enablers!! I’m not trying to undermine the importance of these aspects when I say they are just enablers.

Until and unless, you can clearly articulate the purpose of doing business with your client, until and unless your team imbibes that purpose and aligns itself towards it, no matter how hard you try, you’re not going to make it a trusted and/or strategic relationship.

In the next post, I’m going to talk about how do you build strategic teams and more importantly, how to measure whether it’s working or not…