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Sometimes it seems that our world is full of consultants, advisers, and experts. In their early 2000 collaboration Clients for Life, Jagdish Sheth and Andrew Sobel take on what separates the consulting masses from those who are able to deliver value and drive their client relationships to the highest level. Those special consultants are not concerned about when their next engagement comes from; they have developed Clients of Life.
Together the business school professor (Sheth) and the expert practitioner (Sobel) look at the world’s best lawyers, management consultants, recruiters, accountants, and political advisers to determine what separates these “all stars” from the pack. The duo does an effective job of drawing correlations from history’s iconic advisors such as Aristotle, Machiavelli, Marshall, Drucker, and Kissinger and to amplify their conclusions on what makes today’s truly effective and in-demand advisors indispensable. Clients for Life examines 7 key areas that great advisers excel including independence, empathy, broad expertise, seeing the big picture, judgment, conviction and integrity. Packed with solid definitions and plenty of examples, each one of these areas is extensively discussed and helps the reader create actionable steps to improve in each.
The Big Idea
Change or Perish
"…expertise sold by professionals is becoming easily replicable, more widely available, and increasingly cheaper in our internet-speed, technology-driven economy."
It was my expectation when I started this book that I would learn more about what makes a great consultant, what clients expect, and how to get there, all of which Clients for Life profiles in spades. Examining the 7 key areas that advisers excel is a worthwhile endeavor. What I didn’t expect was to experience a near panic attack when I read the above on a flight to Chicago! This book is about 12 years old and although time has shown that some of the “successes” may not have endured (AOL!), the flattening of the world and time passed has only confirmed Sheth and Sobel’s caution in this regard.
I am not naive and I understand that if you are not innovating you die. Consultants are often focused on solving problems for others and sometimes do not pick their head up long enough to understand what the threats are to our own businesses. (Ironically, focusing on the big picture is a key differentiator between the “good” and the “great” in the professional services world.) The threats to our professional services businesses are real, present, and need to be often considered.
"I once asked Sir Hugh Rigby, surgeon to King George V, ‘What makes a great surgeon?’ Sir Hugh responded. ‘There isn’t much to choose between surgeons in manual dexterity. What distinguishes the great surgeon is that he knows more than other surgeons.’ It’s the same with advertising agents. The good ones know more."
Experts are valued in knowledge-based businesses. However, Sheth and Sobel report that the world’s best advisers know more. They are not mere experts, but acquire broad knowledge and become “deep generalists”. This journey from expert to something more is a trip that is rarely taken. Experts are usually recognized as such, but how quickly things can change. What Clients for Life shows us is that the expert may be unaware that expertise is quickly commoditizing (see my The Big Idea!) or worse – becoming irrelevant. Building that broader knowledge base in order to engage clients across a spectrum of issues is an imperative that enduring consultants must develop.
On Your Honor
"In hindsight, bad judgments always seem particularly egregious and good judgments appear especially brilliant; but in fact the quality of judgment is extraordinarily difficult to evaluate."
At my firm we say clients pay us for our judgment. This requires one to evaluate a variety of incomplete facts, synthesize disparate information, consider culture, understand the personalities, and get it right! Clients will continue to pay us for great judgment. Sheth and Sobel give practical advice relative to the pitfalls that cause us to make bad judgments and provide a framework to make good ones. For me this means not falling into the trap of over simplification of an issue and to endeavor to dive deeper with clients instead of assuming that I know the answer. Overconfidence is one of the 5 traps of bad judgment that the authors highlight. Others such as starting out on the wrong foot, confirming what you want to see, making new inappropriate commitments based on previous commitments, and believing it is us versus them might apply to you. To help sharpen your judgment, know what are your most likely traps and work to avoid them.
Providing advice and counsel to those who need it is a worthwhile and rewarding career. To truly thrive one has to extend beyond expertise to creating long lasting relationships with clients. The ultimate arbiter of these relationships will be the client themselves. Clients for Life is a solid roadmap for this journey.
Do you know what it is that makes you valuable to your clients? Will your fate be that of the commoditized expert? What will you need to do transition from an expert to an adviser who develops Clients for Life?