Maybe you’ve been in this situation before.
You have a sinking feeling that you will eventually lose the sale, or the client, or a high profile project unless you defuse a bomb…unless you bring up a potential problem before going any further.
I was having a conversation recently with the partner of an accounting firm. She shared with me that many of the senior associates in the firm were being groomed for partner and would be expected to bring in new clients and to develop selling opportunities. Yet, promoting themselves and their firm was awkward for the associates. Client development was not something they were taught, not something they enjoyed doing and not something they were comfortable doing...but their promotion to partner depended on it. They needed selling skills.
As the conversation unfolded, I had a few nagging questions that I knew from past experience could turn into showstoppers. So I asked the partner:
“Can I share with you some concerns I have? These are things I've run across in my experience working with professional service firms. Talking about them now will help me understand if these could be issues for us down the road.”
Asking upfront was like looking around the corner on her behalf for any roadblocks or speed bumps. In the end, we’d both be better off knowing what’s up ahead before turning the corner.
We spent the next half hour defusing the bombs. I was concerned that the associates would resist being trained on client development. After all, they didn't become accountants because they like to sell. I was worried that because the associates were accountable for billable hours, they wouldn’t make the time to find and develop new clients. Were we setting them up to fail? And lastly, I was curious why the firm wouldn’t just set up a mentoring program and let the associates learn on the job. She thought about this last one for a while. Although mentoring was an integral part of the firm's culture, it wasn't enough...it wasn't giving them the results they needed.
Don't let the fear of looking bad or losing momentum stop you from addressing the most important issues. You will, in fact, look more professional, open, and trustworthy...and you'll be one step closer to knowing whether you'll be working together.