Written by Karen D. Swim
The “invisible client” has derailed deals, reset budgets and unraveled the best laid plans. Sales reps, insurance agents, and business people across the land have been brought down by this foe of good faith. So who is this puppet master behind the scenes?
The Invisible Client is the decision maker or power broker that you do not initially see. You are hired by a human being (or group) whom you believe to be your client but in reality there’s another who truly holds the control. The invisible client may be a spouse, administrator or C-level executive. Their power has nothing to do with title or perceived position but their influence on your client or prospect.
I was a licensed Life and Health agent at one point in my career. I was warned early on about the “one-legged sit.” The one-legged sit is an appointment where only one half of a couple is present. The prospect may have insisted that they are the decision maker. However meeting with one half of a couple is a surefire way not to close a sale.
In Corporate a variation of the one-legged sit is common. You work your way through levels of decision makers only to discover that a secretary in a different division has a relationship with your competitor AND the influence to sink your deal.
Sometimes you actually close the deal, and begin the work before the squirrely invisible client makes an appearance. You agree on scope and process with your client. You complete the first phase and the client loves your work. Two days later they come back with a “this is not what we wanted, you stupid dunderhead, you dare to call yourself a professional, change the whole thing” list.
More than a mere nuisance, the invisible client if not managed, can disrupt productivity, schedules, budgets and your ability to do your best work. You can however, unveil the mysterious interloper by using the following tips.
- Assume nothing. Don’t assume that the lead person is truly the lead. Probe for information by asking questions such as: Whom beside yourself will be involved in the decision? Can you step me through your internal review process? Let’s review how the process will work. Will I continue working with you or will others be involved? How will this work impact other departments? Would it be helpful for me to speak with them before we move forward?
- Listen for clues. The lead client will often provide clues that an invisible client is lurking behind the scenes. I recently worked with a Career Marketing client but the invisible client was his wife. I heard the clues but did not listen to them. While preparing for the process he mentioned his wife several times. “My wife looked over my old resume and told me it was not effective.” “My wife is a CFO who went through this process 3 years ago.” His wife turned out to be a nightmare control freak who almost derailed the project.
Once you uncover the “real client” you can involve them in the process and gain their approval before you begin work. Work to uncover their motivation and then offer solutions accordingly. For example your lead client may be motivated by the bottom line but the invisible client may be relationship oriented. In a joint meeting you will want to present the bottom line but also reinforce longevity of relationships, your follow-up process, team approach, etc.
When the invisble client is revealed after the fact you can can still involve them in the process. In the case with the CFO wife, I suggested a phone meeting with both parties to “maximize her expertise” and walk through the questions. I gave the wife the power she needed, and as a result I was able to continue doing my job without interference.
Finally, if you uncover the invisible client in advance and it’s clear they will be trouble, walk away! Sometimes the best course of action is to hightail it before trouble brews. Better to walk away with grace than to end up in the middle of a nightmare project you wish you had never accepted.
Have you ever had an invisible client? How did you handle the situation?
Broken stool image© Franz Pfluegl | Dreamstime.com
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