5 Levels of Adaptability - How Adaptable is Your Client to Change?

If you aren't thinking about how to interact with your client and attempting to figure out the best way for you to adapt your style to their style, you are going to miss out on a lot of business. Equally important is trying to figure out how well your client is to adapting to change or something that is new.

It's incumbent upon you - the consultant, the professional, advisor, or whatever you call yourself - to work at relating your style to best match theirs and understand what is going on inside their head. Is this manipulative? Only if you think it is? Some of you may be thinking, "Why should I change? Why shouldn't the client accept me as I am?"

I don't think this is a good question at all. But I receive this question a lot. And the question usually  comes from - not surprisingly - people who aren't very successful with clients, and not very successful with people in general for that matter. These are the people who are rough around the edges. These people are usually argumentative and would rather be right than change.

I usually can't coach these people beyond the question, "What if you are wrong?" because they can't get their head around that question. It never really occurs to them that they could be wrong.

So, assuming you dear reader, are not one of these people, I am going to walk you through how people, specifically clients, interpret a new experience. A "new experience" deals with whatever it is you are trying to convince a client of - for example; one way is better than the old way, this new service is better than the other service, this offer (as in a negotiation) is different and meets what they are asking for, or some other event where they are getting new information, new data, and are trying to determine "where it goes" in the catalog inside their brain.

Five (5) Categories of  Adaptability  (Accepting Change)
When the client encounters this "new event" or "new experience" - and this happens quite a bit when meeting with you - he will do one of the following things:

Category 1 - Assimilating; He will assimilate the information with a past experience or previous information. It will slip into one of the many categories his has - as in a file inside a filing cabinet or a drawer inside a dresser. Think of it as new socks. These new socks are easy to categorize because they are like all the other socks. And they all go into the "sock drawer." Simple, easy, pleasant, compatible, and fast. Summed up by "Got it."

Category 2 - Threatening: He sees this as way too different. Radical.  Too far outside the box of categories. It may seem too threatening to his beliefs, his way of thinking, his current operation. It could go against the grain of the culture, too confrontational of a style coming from you versus his laid back style or his team's laid back style, or it goes against where the organization is heading because it requires a left turn or an about-face. It could be summed up as, "No way."

Category 3 - One-Off: -  He will see it in isolation. It is different than what he has seen before - and keep it apart from the other things. He will treat it as an exception, so that he can continue forward as he normally and customarily does. When thinking of a negotiation or a sale - this is a way to overcome the item above (number 2). Offering it to the client as this will be a one-time event and not disrupt the other things going on as in the current negotiation, other contracts, other projects, etc. It can be summed up as a "one off."

Category 4 - Similar: He might distort and morph the new event or information to make it fit into his current categories or past beliefs and behaviors. He will say, "It's similar to this, but a little different." Then he will explain how it relates to the other things.

Category 5 - Accepting: He will change his old thinking, beliefs and behaviors. More people are willingly accepting that  the information they have currently, may be outdated. This is summed up by, "Okay, this is different. Let's see how we can do this."

As a person who is trying to get the client to buy, negotiate, learn or change, you are always, and I mean this, always looking for win-win circumstances. Clients, as worldly as they are in today's business environment, on still on-guard for someone trying to pull the wool over their eyes - to try and trick them.

One of your tasks as a professional is to reach client-professional win-win strategies. This is especially true of new clients - and since they don't know you, it's incumbent upon you to convince the person that it wouldn't benefit you in the short or long run to go for win-lose propositions. Clients - especially clients who haven't worked with you in the past - are looking to see "what's wrong with this picture?" It's not the way I operate frankly, as it seems to me, this way of thinking is just too time consuming and energy draining.

However, a lot of clients have been burned before by half-baked ideas and proposals and purchases that came "without the batteries" if you get what I mean. They are part of a vast majority who after they bought something they have this feeling of, "If I would have known then about this, I would have asked this about it." I know you can relate to that - because we all can. Sometimes our experiences make us wiser and "we wish we would have known" something in order to ask about it.

Your job then, is to approach the client as if they are skeptical and perhaps even a little cynical. To overcome any skepticism what you can do is "over educate" them. Give the client all the information they need to make the right and best decision. Start off by confirming what they want and need and confirm how they want the process to go - this includes the buying cycle as well as the implementation cycle. And if they aren't asking the right questions - tell them that they aren't asking the right questions. The give them the questions to ask - before they learn the hard way.

This places the client in control of the buying process. They are not being sold, they are being educated. The client is learning. And by providing the client with enough information, the client slowly drops his guard, however he still might be a little wary looking for any indication that this might be a trick. Except there is no trick.

This is a great way to differentiate yourself by the way. Say to the client "You're not going to have an uneducated client." And you are looking for a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship, where you are working with the client in an open, non-confrontational, win-win manner.

I have worked with prospective clients where they not only were skeptical, they were deeply cynical. To overcome this, I pointed the prospective client to my other clients and pushed a client list of names, titles, and phone numbers, across the desk before I left, for them to call - to "see if I was real." I even offered to place the call and set up con call with clients where I screwed up, or the project was challenging, so they could hear from the client first hand where I made a mistake - and then hear how I corrected it.

I have gone even further, and you may not think this was a good idea, but I have told clients how much I made in profit or margin on a transaction before. When I did this, the client was shocked. First, they said, "You mean you can tell me how much you are going to make off a transaction?" I've also told clients  that I would actually place a cap on how much we would make in profit before - again - shocking the client. Clients think we make a lot of money - a lot of profit. When I tell clients what our margin typically is, I've actually had clients say, "Wow, that's all you make? That little?"

Well, I've gone on a little past where I wanted to go in this piece of writing. The main point I wanted to make is that there are certain psychological aspects you should be aware of in order to break through to the client and distinguishing yourself from the pack of other professionals you are competing with who are also vying for the client's business. Some of my ideas may seem radical, but from my perspective - I don't think they are, because you are opening yourself up to the client and telling him the truth and the facts and this is a very different approach.

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