Do you meet senior people in your client team when your project or relationship is going well? You should. This is a good habit like saving regularly.
Let me begin with a dialogue I had with a brilliant colleague a few years ago.
“Try to meet Pramod at least twice a week.” I told Sudarahan (all names changed).
“I will.” He replied.
Sudarshan was going to a client site in Chennai for implementation of our software product. The implementation was complex. I was not worried about Sudarshan’s technical capabilities but, this was one of his first projects as a Project Manager. A lot of work needed to be done by the client and us in coordination and brilliant people can underestimate the difficulties in such situations. Pramod was the client’s Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
I knew that Sudarshan’s yes was not really a yes. So, I persisted.
“In the first few days, when things are going well, ask for 15 minute time slots with Pramod. Even if it is just to tell him what all things have gone well.”
“Yes, I will.” Sudarshan said.
“You will be busy with urgent issues. You would be tired and sleep deprived. Your client contact will ask you why the meetings are necessary. You will have many reasons for not meeting Pramod ‘today’. But force yourself to set up the meetings.”
Sudarshan started laughing. He knew that I had taken away all his excuses before he had thought of them himself. I could do it because I had used all these excuses myself and then had learned the hard way how important it is to make ‘Goodwill Deposits’ with clients.
I was a co-founder at a software company. We were lucky to get many projects in our initial years, but there was a challenge in execution. The Project Manager for many of these projects, that is me, was learning on the job. I am an introvert and was a shy person at the time and this complicated things. However, the biggest problem was that I had a flawed mental model of client vendor relationship. I thought that it was an adversarial one. Put all this together and my inclination was to not seek out senior people in client companies. My reasoning was, ‘If everything is going well, why do I need to talk to them?’ Why indeed.
Experience taught me why. First, the client project coordinator, usually a relatively junior person, did not necessarily understand their own organization and requirements completely. Periodic reporting to a senior person would surface their incorrect assumptions. Assumptions that could delay the project significantly. Secondly, if things are delayed from the client side, you could need the senior person to intervene. For example, if the sales team is not testing the software quickly enough, the CTO may need to talk to their boss. Third, senior executives hate surprises even more than they hate problems. They expect problems in complex projects but they do not want to be blindsided by them. These reasons are easily appreciated. There is an additional psychological reason for meeting senior people when things are going well which is not so well known.
If your first interaction with a senior person in a client organization is when things are not going well, he will tend to associate you with incompetence and failure. This association may be unconscious. If blame is flying around, a lot of it will stick to you in his mind. This will reduce your ability to make suggestions to bring the project back on track. If, on the other hand, you had met him regularly when things were going well, it is more likely that he has a better impression of you and is more inclined to work with you. By meeting the senior person regularly, when things were going well, you banked goodwill with them. You can use this goodwill when the project needs it.
There is no reason for a normal client vendor relationship to be adversarial. The interests of both sides are fairly aligned. Goodwill deposits are a great way of reminding both sides of this fact.
The concept of goodwill deposits is useful in any business relationship. If you are a supplier to a client, make it a point to meet them when things are going well. Even if it is to remind them that things are going well. Of course, like anything else, this could be taken to extremes. You could end up wasting the client’s time. However, if you are a shy introvert, like so many of us are at the beginning of our careers, it is likely that you are banking much less goodwill than you should.
Like regular financial savings, goodwill banking requires just a little discipline. We don’t do it because we have more urgent things to do. But, the returns to this discipline are high.
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