Monday, March 10, 2014

Flaky Clients and Unfortunate Promises

Lots of clients are flaky, and it’s pretty common for folks like us to say whatever they want to hear just to get them to shut up. We often make promises we never mean to live up to, assuming they won’t be tested. So it’s no fun then these unfortunate client promises come home to roost.

A few months back, I had a quick phone call with a new prospect. The guy on the other end was excessively aggressive, making me question their buying power and his authority. Sometimes you can just sense it when the conversation changes from a client considering buying to a demonstration of his personal mojo.

He wanted in our schedule in April. Considering that was six months away, I decided to accept, even though I knew I would have real-money customers on the hook before then. After all, it was probably bluster and I didn’t want to call his bluff.

I followed up with an email, baiting him into making a real commitment. He didn’t reply, and I chalked him up to being a big-talker.

Then February rolled around. April was full to bursting when I happened to be on an unrelated phone call with Mr. Big. Of course, I had completely forgotten about my promise to him!

“How are things looking for April,” he asks.

“Oh, we’re busy, busy, busy as always,” I boast. “Completely booked up!”

“Yes, we’re ready to be part of that!”

Suddenly it’s The Princess Bride. “All but your four fastest ships,” Buttercup dubiously prompts…

Crap. I quickly search my email for any record of a previous conversation and there it is: A black-and-white promise of now-unavailable activity in April.

I knew what I had to do. “Yes, of course,” I reply. “I mean we’re booked up thanks to you!”

So I’m committed to making it work. I’ll rearrange April. Maybe I’ll bring on some temporary resources. Maybe I’ll let another project slip.

Then the transaction gets weird. “We’re actually not sure if we can do it,” he says after I’ve committed. “I need to check with the board. I’ll let you know in March.”

And there we are. I’ve over-committed my availability, I’m on the hook to deliver, and I can’t even plan on it happening! I did what I figured was best: Bet on his flaking out by still not reserving anything in the way of resources, all the while spending some internal capital on a “what if he comes through” plan with the team.

Know what I just heard last week? He flaked out.

Cadbury Flake photo by Evan-Amos used here for parody 

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