Monday, June 9, 2008

Resistance and How to Overcome It

The resistance affliction that plagues most firms' client development efforts has another name: The Knowing-Doing Gap. It displays itself in professionals who know what it takes to succeed at client development, but just can't bring themselves to do what it takes. You may have noticed the Knowing-Doing Gap in peers, subordinates and, even, yourself. Though there's no panacea for this behavioral ailment, there are several measures that can help you and your firm battle its stagnating effects.

There are many potential causes for The Knowing-Doing Gap. Could be the compensation system is demotivating. Or, it could be that internal politics is sapping the motivation from you or your colleagues. It could have to do with the general mindset and culture of the firm. Or, it could be a skills or performance anxiety problem. Or, it could be all of the above. When you see the signs of client development inertia it pays to put some energy into diagnosing the problem and its root cause. Then you'll know best which of the following approaches will be best to pursue. As it turns out, often all are required.

• Practice Helps Bridge the Gap Between Knowledge to Experience

Are you rehearsing enough so that you are not affected by stress? "There is a big difference between knowing about client development intellectually and knowing it viscerally," said Luis Valdes PhD, Founder and CEO, PerformanceVertical Consulting ( Valdes is both a specialist in organizational behavior and an accomplished professional services business developer. "Many professionals lack the real sense of confidence that derives from preparedness and rehearsal. Like with world-class athletes, practice eliminates over-thinking. It is almost as if your mental and physical muscles have been through a ritual or procedure so many times that you are conditioned to do it so that under any circumstance you will follow the skill through to completion," Valdes said. Got the Knowing-Doing Gap? Practice can help. Visualization is one approach that you can use on your own. Picture the upcoming client development conversation; play it out with a colleague or coach. Practice under a variety of conditions so that you are ready for anything. Move internal practice into the real world. Put yourself in lower risk client development situations first - perhaps with prospects that you already know and who know and like you. Then gradually build to more challenging opportunities where the stakes are higher.

• Get Group Support or Coaching to Keep Moving

Bob McDonald, PhD is President of The Berke Group ( - an organizational and executive coaching and performance-consulting firm. McDonald witnesses the Knowing-Doing Gap regularly in his work with professionals. He agreed that client development practice could be especially helpful. McDonald advocates for group support as a forum for rehearsing and peer sharing around client development issues. "It is often difficult for adults to set themselves in motion. It helps to have a coach or support mechanism of some sort. That's why it is good to have a study group that meets regularly to drive your client development initiatives forward," McDonald said.

"Taking time to rehearse and reserving meeting time for group or individual client development coaching can seem like a big economic investment but typically it comes back in your team becoming more effective at bringing in revenue," Valdes added. "You have to have faith that it will work. Some time ago, our firm made an internal commitment to develop a different culture where we were delivering higher quality service and getting better clients. We invested in implementing briefing and debriefing sessions on a regular basis - both around client development and execution efforts. Whether we are preparing a proposal, creating a presentation or doing client follow-up, we team up as much as possible to counsel each other and review each other.s work. The ongoing feedback is absolutely critical."

• Change your mindset

The historic culture of the firm is often the culprit creating the Knowing-Doing Gap. In certain organizations, Professionals are hired and inculcated with the belief that any attempt to promote oneself is an impropriety. "You will find an aversion to the whole idea of selling in many Firms," Valdes pointed out. "If you dig deep enough, there is a mental picture that has to get eradicated. Many professionals will admit that they are afraid they will be viewed as a used car salesman or Fuller Brush Man - the door to door peddler image," said Valdes.

The reality is that being a great client advisor and being a great client developer are integrally linked. Both demand creative problem solving, tenacity and strong communication skills. And, its rare to be a true "Rainmaker" without having some client advisory skill upon which to establish credibility with prospects and it is exceptionally obvious that you won.t anything to advise on if you haven't participated in some degree of client attraction. "You must see selling from a broader perspective," Valdes noted. "It is a necessity. And, it is helpful to view your client development efforts as providing a valuable service; approach it as an extension of consulting to your client rather than separate from advisory work."

It also may help to seek help outside the firm. When you seek advice and mentoring only from those with whom you share the same professional "upbringing," you risk repeating the same faulty client development thought patterns. McDonald said, "When you are feeling "stuck," there can be a number of reasons for it but almost always the answer that gets you truly unstuck comes from outside your normal system." Seek client development ideas and inspiration from new sources: look to other industries for examples of what works or doesn't and how professionals in other fields stay motivated; get counsel from friends, coaches and other experts who don't necessarily just specialize in your profession; or take a break and do something you just don't usually do, letting your mind unlock so that you can return to balancing your advisory work and development work with fresh perspective.

• Take one step at a time

Professionals often imagine that the client development process should be more difficult that it actually needs to be. They mentally blow what's required way out of proportion - creating a daunting scenario in their heads that paralyzes them from any action. One client of mine recently admitted that he was under the impression that to be a good business developer, he had to be making direct contact with the likes of the CEO of The Coca-Cola Company or the Chairman of IBM. They can't imagine a way to make that contact or what to say if they did. So, they do nothing. In other cases, they can imagine so many initiatives that they should be undertaking to drive their marketing efforts that they overwhelm themselves. "Some people can name six courses of action but can't chose which one to take," said Bob McDonald. "They play ahead and play out all the options.but in their minds all options end in a bad scenario." So they do nothing. As a coach, McDonald helps them choose a direction and take a first small step. He helps them gain confidence and narrow their scope of vision temporarily so that they are not daunted by a landscape of obstacles. "Achievement oriented executives sometimes feel like they have to come up with the whole scenario, the whole solution all at once. I help them move forward one action at a time and help them recognize that we will deal with whatever comes up as a result and decide what step is next as we need," McDonald said.

If you are seeing a client development knowing-doing gap in yourself or others, find one small first step to take. Move forward in any way you can. Just move. And then, remember to move again. I've been asked recently to speak at several offsite meetings for regional and national professional service firms. They are anxious to "do something" related to client development for their teams. In every one of these cases, I urge the firms to recognize that one brief training session is a good first step, but not nearly enough. How many one-day seminars on marketing (or, on any topic for that matter) have you been to where after a few days of good intentions and motivation you have a relapse of doing nothing? A continuing program of progress must follow first steps in client development or you are wasting your time.

• Dispel the illusion of doing

There are some truly excellent books covering the Knowing-Doing Gap and I recommend that you stay away from them. Two that come to mind are The Knowing-Doing Gap (which named the topic directly), by Jeffrey Pfeffer, and Execution, by Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan. They are very well written chronicles of the phenomenon of inaction within Corporate America and what to do about it. Don't read them.

Instead, "do" McDonald observed, "People read books and go to seminars and they think they are doing something. But, their behavior doesn't change. Doing is equal to reading 20 books." Similarly, we go to excruciatingly boring sales status meetings, we make lists and relists of prospects, we make lists of client development initiatives, we perform random acts of networking and we are under the illusion of doing client development. These are activities, yes, but devoid of the heart of true client development - actively and genuinely connecting with the right executives and demonstrating your ability to help them succeed.

Like Star Wars' Yoda said, "Do or do not. There is no trying."

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