In a business-to-business, price-sensitive, and technology-driven environment, one of our clients was almost kicked out of a major bid, not because of price or technical solutions – although these rational elements could have been the only criteria – but as a result of client relationships that were described as “highly aggressive and stressful” by a number of people within the customer system. Key stakeholders within the client’s organization, from procurement to program managers, were adamant that it was impossible to engage in constructive conversations and those review meetings left them with the experience of being swindled and disregarded.

When we are blind to the impact of context and past experience

In the case described above, the situation had slowly deteriorated, moving from a recognition some time past that technical experts and customer reps needed to stand their ground and hold the customer accountable – and willing to pay – for practices of changing their minds and generating extra design work, to an environment where all client interactions became about “going to war and winning the battle!”.

Taking the right actions in client relationships starts with complete ownership

Until this context was revealed, our client was looking for ways to convince their customer that their approach was justified. Understanding the context in which the situation evolved is a critical first step. The teams involved then had to bring themselves to fully own and take responsibility for the situation and the frame in which they were interacting. Only then was it possible to create a new context and commitment, share these with the customer and establish a new foundation for the individual and collective interactions. Winning a critical bid was one of the tangible results!

That would never happen in my organization!

Now, if that sounds like an extreme situation that would never happen in your organization, especially given all the training on managing client relationships and strategic selling you have invested in, I invite you to look again.

  • What context is your organization operating inside of, when dealing with its customers?
  • What are the internal conversations about customers that your teams engage in? What does that reveal about the context?
  • How are you encouraging open conversations with your customers?
  • Are you able to really listen to what they are trying to tell you, and own the issues?
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