How to (not) kill a project and/or client

Did you know that according to Gallup 86% of buyers would pay more for a better service experience, and Forbes magazine reports that only 1% of them feel that they are getting it?

As a result, they ask for reductions in rates, increase in additional non-paid services (more Excel reports anyone?), and they complain more often about the quality of deliverables – most often with change requests that are preferential.

The impact on your bottom line? You are missing a big chunk of additional revenue and lose what you already have. Happy customers spend an average of 23% more of their budget with an engaging localization vendor and between 1 and 18% less with the rest.

The graphic below shows how that process works in a profession called translation and localization as an illustrative example. In it, disengaged clients become more demanding. They may ask for a reduction in rates for individual services, an increase in the scope of projects without wanting to pay for it, and they voice concerns over the quality of deliverables (in this case translated documents).

If you grant those requests, you will experience losses in either real revenue (18% on average) or opportunities (23% on average).

In turn, your operations will be stressed even more, leading to yet less client engagement. And so, the circle of death continues. Little by little you will kill your client account.

As a small business owner, I have felt the impact of both an 18% revenue loss with a client and increase of 23% with the same account. It’s the difference between doing very well and struggling to make ends meet. It lets your thoughts sway from ‘I can do anything I put my mind to’ to ‘What was I thinking? I can’t do this!’

The impact on operations and project teams is horrific

According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress. 14% had felt like striking a coworker in the past year, but didn’t.

It’s not just an American problem. In a recent study funded by the European Commission, 55.6 million European workers report that their mental well-being had been affected by stress. 62 % state that beating tight deadlines is one of the reasons.

The cost to European businesses: €617 billion annually – resulting from absenteeism (€272 billion), loss of productivity (€242 billion), healthcare costs of €63 billion and social welfare costs (€39 billion).

How do businesses and staffers respond? Often we are just throwing things against the wall and see what sticks. We pretend we have it all together for long enough hoping one day we actually will.

Until then, we face countless setbacks – lost clients, overly demanding ones, quality disputes with vendors, increased competition and pressure to lower rates. Until we get to the point where anyone will jump take our phone or reply to our email. Along the way, project managers break down or leave, which makes it harder to create the experience our clients so want and need. Ask any buyer of services when a project manager that they love moves on. If they could, they would rather follow the person than be staying with the services provider.

I have observed services providers from all angles for over 20 years: as managing director, as a client, and as a consultant. There are two reasons why they kill a client.

Reason #1: They operate like a black box

They bother a client as little as possible with the good intention of offering ‘turn-key solutions.’ But if not implemented well, this approach backfires. The client simply does not feel engaged and slowly but surely drifts away.

To the contrary, successful localizers and translators

  • Proactively reach out to share queries from project stakeholders and resolve them effectively.
  • Ask customers for additional information and resources, such reference documents, product info, organizational charts, etc.
  • Communicate progress, manage expectations and make the work easier for the next person in the process.

In other words, engaging your clients well is the key factor to winning and growing more business.

This insight may go against what some project managers observe. I often hear push-back to the idea of client engagement. They believe that many buyers of \ services are not willing to do what it takes to get better deliverables, but instead, want the least number of requests and queries from their service provider.

I call this kind of thinking the ‘monkey house.’ To speak with Tim Gunn: “I have this refrain about the monkey house at the zoo. When you first enter the monkey house, you think, ‘Oh my god this place stinks!’ And then after you’re there for 20 minutes you think, ‘it’s not so bad’ and after you’re there for an hour it doesn’t smell at all. And anyone entering the monkey house freshly thinks, ‘this stinks!’ You’ve been living in the monkey house.”

Keep in mind that 86% of customers are not engaged – and we all think it’s normal. In fact, it stinks. Thus, it is also true that if you do not engage your clients, they will not do it for you. A disengaged client is one that easily leaves. A quiet client often builds new capacity or develops new vendors in covert operations.

Reason #2: They work against the grain

Many project managers think that being smart, nice and hard-working is enough. But that thinking only addresses two of three parts of the mind, the cognitive and the affective. But it’s how project managers act on the conative parts of the mind that cause them stress, strain or conflict.

The conative part of the mind sits in the primal system which also controls life functions such as the autonomic brain, breathing, heart rate and the fight or flight mechanism. It is concerned with fundamental needs such as survival, hoarding, dominance, mating, and basic emotions of love, hate, fear, and lust.

Our instincts sit here as well, and we get mental energy from them. Drive, urges, necessity, innate force, and talents all originate here. All our decisions are made in the parts of the limbic and primal parts of the brain where there is no language. We know from neuro-science that the brain begins preparing for an action a few hundred ms before the person is conscious of their desire to perform that action.

How we naturally work is deeply ingrained into our conative part of the mind that has no capacity for language but drives our decision-making nonetheless.

Good for us, Kathy Kolbe developed a system that gives a framework and terminology to describe the conative mind. It helps us understand our four basic action modes and the instinctive strengths that drive the way we would act of given the freedom to be ourselves.

Watch my keynote speech on education reform for language studies at the 2017 Monterey Localization Forum at MIIS earlier this year for a more detailed explanation.

Successful project managers organize their time and energy according to their natural mode of operating (MO). In particular, they:

  • Take down time to re-energize
  • Cut their losses when it isn’t working for them
  • Save time by doing things ‘their way’
  • Initiate action to fully use their strength

Do you want to know what your natural MO is? Head over to the Kolbe page and take the assessment.

I am using Kolbe assessments in my workshop ‘Manager Better Projects in 30 Days.’ It has made a dramatic increase in the effectiveness of the program. At LocWorld in Barcelona this month, all participants said that the training exceeded their expectations. But what is most meaningful to me is that they deemed it to be life changing and a milestone in their lives.

So, don’t wait and find out about your instinctive strengths and natural talents in about 20 minutes.

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