By Patrick Patrick M. Lencioni
When a small boutique consulting firm gets bought out by one of its biggest competitors, they teach the more senior consulting firm a lesson in how to win over clients. Using “the naked service” business model, they show how vulnerability and transparency are the keys to customer loyalty. In the fable, the fictional character of Jack Bauer learns how to shed the three big fears of any business, by “getting naked,” and becoming more real to their potential clients, instilling trust that never existed in the past.
Sometimes when a company gets too big they forget important elements that led to their success, namely their customers. This is why big companies often suffer from lack of customer loyalty. Take a look at the fable of a large consulting firm that was in the process of acquiring one of its biggest competitors, a smaller consulting firm. In the process, they learned an invaluable lesson.
Jack Bauer worked for a full-service management consulting firm with much prestige, however, every time they went up against a particular competitor they lost the job to them. Even though Lighthouse Partners was newer to the game and a lot smaller, they beat the more experienced firm of Kendrick and Black when it came to client acquisition. In a twist of fate, Kendrick and Black eventually acquired their tough competitor, assigning Bauer to manage the merge of the two companies.
Lighthouse Partners ran their boutique consulting firm based off their “naked service” model. It revolved around the concept of being vulnerable; being transparent, selfless, and showing humility. This is not an easy thing to do for most people, let alone an entire business, but when it can be achieved it inspires trust and client loyalty.
Bauer learned that to get naked and become vulnerable, the boutique firm conquered their three biggest fears that frighten most businesses.
The Three Fears
- Fear of losing the business
- Fear of being embarrassed
- Fear of feeling inferior
Getting naked doesn’t allow a business to hide behind a facade, and for the client, that means there are no tricks up their sleeves. Let’s talk about each fear in detail and then learn how the little boutique firm showed the larger firm how to shed those fears.
1. Fear Of Losing The Business
Who doesn’t have this fear? Even the most successful business owners have this fear at one time or another, and this goes for consultancy businesses. It can cause consultants to hide their weaknesses to grow revenue, but always having to attract new customers, due to their high customer churn rate. A churn rate which can leave a business looking and feeling desperate.
How To Shed This Fear
- Always Consult Instead Of Sell
- Naked consultants attract loyalty from clients who appreciate their transparency. They provide a service to their clients as if they were already hired.
- They never sell, but instead consult, providing answers to questions and giving suggestions
Give Away The Business -- Charging a lower fee provides a welcome surprise to the client, showing that the consultant cares more about their relationship than making a quick buck. It also proves that the consultant is in it for the long term. An introductory low price earns the consultant business more revenue down the line, with repeated business.
Tell The Kind Truth -- When a consultant has to deliver a difficult message, it is best to be kind, using respect and empathy for the client versus being blunt and all business. In the case of having to inform a CEO that he should demote his son, a consultant doesn’t want his client to shoot the messenger. Instead, they find that using tact goes a long way in preserving the relationship.
Enter The Danger -- Sometimes a consultant has to bite the bullet and deal with the elephant in the room. Those who can step in and tell senior management that their tirade is abusive to their team, in a kind and non-confrontational way, are the consultants who are kept around.
2. Fear Of Being Embarrassed
This fear prevents consultants from taking risks, asking questions, and making suggestions.Those who are so afraid to make a mistake, can become distanced from their clients instead of being more concerned about helping their customers. Letting go of the ego and admitting what they don’t know is the quickest way to gain loyalty from clients.
How To Shed This Fear
Ask Dumb Questions -- To get past being embarrassed, ask the dumb questions first. Most often consultants will find that others had the same questions, but were too afraid to ask. Not understanding a particular company’s acronyms or terminologies is normal and asking for clarity is humanizing.
Make Dumb Suggestions -- Clients appreciate feedback, even if its dumb or not useful. Knowing that the consultant is willing to put themselves out there is endearing and instills trust.
Celebrate Your Mistakes -- Everyone makes mistakes. Accepting them takes practice, but shows clients transparency and honesty, instead being obsessed with perfection
3. Fear Of Feeling Inferior
Most consultant believe that they are in the superior position, and as thus, should always maintain that sense of self-importance. They are afraid to appear inferior in the eyes of their clients, so much so, that they lose the meaning of providing a service. A naked consultant realizes that putting the client above himself instills respect and trust from those that will come back for more.
How To Shed This Fear
Take A Bullet For A Client -- When a consultant made a presentation for a CEO, he took the blame for the contents being incorrect. Instead of throwing the CEO under the bus, he accepted the humiliation. Consultants who can do this are highly regarded and have a larger return customer base.
Make Everything About The Client -- Naked consultants downplay their own accomplishments and focus on the client, by understanding their journey and supporting them. When the client feels like number one, they make the consultant number one.
Honor The Client’s Work -- Taking an honest interest in the client’s work shows appreciation. If a consultant can’t find a way to be passionate about a client’s business, that client may not be a right fit.
Do The Dirty Work -- When a consultant goes above and beyond the call of duty, such as being the one to order or pick up lunch, that instills loyalty from the client for the long term.
Jack Bauer took what he learned from Lighthouse Partners back to his superiors to implement at Kendrick and Black, making the firm stronger as a whole.