I am reading Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, which details how we should strive to be indispensable. He covers indispensable people – the linchpins rather than cogs – of many different organizations. From waiters to writers, Mr. Godin describes how and why we should “deliver our art and perform gifts” rather than simply slogging away, trading hours for dollars, while a time-clock ticks away in the background.
I was given the book by my new friend, who is becoming indispensable to me. We talk a lot when we get together for meetings, but mostly about life and our experiences, rather than the details of our work. I shared something with him that had come up recently from another public relations consultant that I am friendly with: her client had been “stolen” by a competitor!
We discussed this idea of competitors “taking clients” and I shared my theory with him: clients are like lovers; they can’t be “taken” away. Or if they can be, it simply means that they were enticed into leaving sooner than they were planning.
See, if we are indispensable – sharing our art and giving our gifts – then we attract people to us that want to be there and that commitment is confirmed on a regular basis (both directly and indirectly). Client relationships work in the same way: if they leave, or the relationship is severed, it is rarely sudden or completely unexpected IF you are indispensable. When you are there, making it work for management and giving the team what they need, then you’ll be the first to know if lay-offs are being rolled out or budgets are being cut. When you work that closely with your client – in the indispensable way every PR person should work – then you are at the forefront of every new development (good or bad.)
When you are indispensable, you should also then be keenly aware of changes at the top that might lead you in a new direction. New CEO? You make sure you become indespensible to him as well. Big new creative team being brought in? You make sure you are supporting that transition, or ideally, on the team that is leading it.
It may be a little naive of me, but you know what they say: “Let a client go and if it comes back to you”…no wait, that was about a bird in a cage. What I mean is that clients are yours, but there is no such thing as the competition sneaking in and stealing away with them like thieves in the night.
If you are there to win. If you show up and bring it. If you give them what they need plus; you will not awake one morning to the miserable surprise that your client has is gone.
If you are indispensable yet they have no choice but to leave you behind (which is less likely when you have earned your seat at the table) you will see the early signs, feel the early changes, and probably be part of the early decision making process that takes them into a new direction.
If you fail to be that relevant and all of this happens while you are busy being busy, maybe you can’t get mad at the guy who “stole” your client. (The one who was busy making himself indispensable.) Take a long look in the mirror – cry if you must – and assess where you dropped the ball. Ultimately, you may not have been able to change the outcome, but you should have been close enough to see the red flags waiving and taken the opportunity to stop and ask questions.
My friend Leo Bottary says:
“Client service excellence will lead to better client retention, more organic growth, a reputation that will attract new clients, and strong revenues and growth…”
He has even written about the client relationship autopsy (a delicate process and not for the squeamish.) A great read if you are still standing there wondering how that other guy got away with your client.
I have lost jobs and lost clients, but I was never surprised. Have you ever lost a client or won someone else’s? I would love to hear your thoughts.
P.S. I just volunteered to host the first ever unofficial official Seth Godin Linchpin worldwide Meetup on Monday, June 14th in Boise.
Let’s be indispensable together!