Do your clients see you as a vendor or expert practitioner?

If you've ever felt dissatisfied with how your clients treat you as a service provider, there could be a problem with the role you are playing in your engagements.

In this tip, I talk about the difference between expert practitioners and vendors, and what you can do to prevent clients from viewing you as the latter.

Treat your business like a doctor's practice

The best analogy I’ve found for explaining the role we should play as expert service providers is to operate like a doctor.

Doctors don’t just accept a patient’s self-diagnosis without questioning it first, and each appointment begins with a consultation stage to discuss the patient’s symptoms. 

Only until the symptoms have been discussed, and the root cause of the problem has been determined, will the doctor prescribe a solution.

This approach works well for all types of expert service businesses.

When you take into account the clients' specific situation before diving straight into providing your service, it shows that you have conducted a proper assessment before advising on the best course of action.

And lastly, if a doctor can’t help a patient, they will usually refer them to someone else.

This is also a good thing to get into the habit of doing if you know there isn’t a good fit between yourself and a potential client after the initial consultation.

The first meeting sets the precedent for the rest of the relationship 

As well as not jumping straight into providing your services for clients without a proper diagnosis, it’s also important to not be an order taker and beckon to their demands.

One thing I have personally found to be useful is to not let clients lead engagements – and this starts from the very first meeting.

Your initial interaction with a client signals how the relationship is likely to pan out. 

If a client is happy to let you lead, they are more likely to acknowledge your position as an expert and trust you to do what is best for them.

It’s also important to have a defined process you take clients through – from the very first meeting to a project’s close.

Not only does it make things more efficient and easier to do your job, it puts client worries and their need for control at rest.

Your expert position can change over time

Even if you have successfully established your position as an expert from the outset of an engagement, it doesn’t mean it will always remain that way if you work with the same client for an extended period of time.

When you provide regular or ongoing services, it’s quite easy for a clients’ perception of you to change to vendor.

I think this could be due to clients valuing your expertise more at the beginning of an engagement when they have a significant problem to solve. 

However, when that problem has been solved, and you transition to an ongoing arrangement, clients may be more likely to try and dictate your work because they come to expect a certain standard and scope of work from you.

It's worth noting that the chances of this happening increases if you are doing more hands on work instead of providing advisory services.

For the reasons discussed earlier, this is something to be aware of and avoid where possible.

Action points

The three main action points for today are:

  • Don’t jump into providing a solution to the client problem without first properly diagnosing the problem in the first place.
  • Define a process for working with clients that you can depend on and begin each engagement on the right foot by taking the lead and playing the role of expert practitioner.
  • Be aware of how your position as an expert can change and don’t be afraid to put your foot down when the best interests of a project are being challenged by the client themselves.