Wednesday, February 11, 2009

What's Your Client's Motivation?

Part two of this seven-part installment (to which I will contribute more frequently, I promise) covers the importance of understanding client motivation as a key component to delivering great client service. Rather than assume "why" your client is moving ahead with a PR campaign, just ask. And once you get the answer, keep your eyes out for other signs along the way that may offer additional insights into what's driving the effort. It will help you and your client move together more productively and provide you with important information about a topic we'll cover in the next post - "coming to agreement with your client about what success looks like." Since I'm a big fan of storytelling and its powerful illustrative properties, here's one on motivation:

Many years ago, I met with the Regional CEO and Marketing Director of a major financial institution who informed me that he made a healthy six-figure commitment to being a regional sponsor of World Cup. As I heard the news, we discussed the opportunity with great enthusiasm, only to be told of course that the company would not provide any additional funding beyond our current fee to leverage the sponsorship. We were to create something from nothing.

I thought it was a bit odd at first because both of these guys were sophisticated enough to understand that the sponsorship investment alone doesn't buy you much. Unless you're willing to leverage the sponsorship with a significant commitment of time and money, then one typically doesn't enter into a sponsorship agreement like this in the first place.

We came back with a creative, high-profile plan that cost no money because we concocted a way to keep it within our fee structure and "self-fund" any of the out-of pocket expenses. The response? Tepid at best. My instincts at the time told me that it wasn't because he didn't like the approach. (It was actually really cool!) There's was something more to this; I just had to learn what it was. Fortunately, I had sources within the company who I could trust (always a big help by the way) so I asked around regarding the prevailing belief among the rank and file about the World Cup Sponsorship.

Here's what I learned: It was understood by the employees that the CEO had "zero" interest in leveraging the World Cup Sponsorship on the bank's behalf. The only reason he agreed to become a regional sponsor was because one of the perks was tickets to the regional games and to the finals in LA. I learned that the CEO's son was a big soccer fan. (See where this is going?) The CEO wanted to treat his son, among others, to a trip to the finals in LA. This was a surefire way to make that happen.

Rather than get into the myriad reasons why this is unethical and rather unbelievable on so many levels, it explained why our program was not enthusiastically received. We were given a next to impossible task for a reason. He approved it, reluctantly at first, but over time I think the CEO realized it offered him good cover. It made it actually look as if the sponsorship was designed to really benefit the bank in the first place. For our part, we enthusiastically executed the plan in an effort to give shareholders some return on the investment, despite the CEO's motivations, and to build our own case study for the future.

In this instance, would it have changed our initial approach? Probably not, but because we had a better understanding of the motivation, it allowed us to make subtle adjustments in the way we interacted with the client. This not only encouraged them to embrace the program, but helped improve the overall relationship long-term.

Unless you understand the motivation for one's actions, either directly or indirectly, you risk reinforcing benefits that your client doesn't really care about. And if your client won't be straight with you, then ask around!

As for the CEO's son, he got a touch of the flu and never made it to the finals. Too bad ; - )

1 comment:

  1. Leo, thanks again for a great post! It's hard to read people's motivations sometimes.

    I have a client who often changes direction on a dime with product emphases, etc. I have learned that it's (usually) not because the marketing director is a poor planner, but because she's getting outside pressure from people who have different motives. I work hard to support her in her role and it pays off with a long-term relationship built on trust.



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