Client Foibles – Murphy’s theory of relativity

New client meetings are difficult. Always. There are barriers to break down, rapport to establish.

Who is selling to whom? How hard? How much advice should you give now to show competence, and how much needs to be held back before the clock starts running?

Which brings you to the inevitable question of fees. ‘Oh,’ you say, ‘we charge by the hour depending on the grade of staff providing the service.’ You know the line. It comes straight out of the engagement letter. The trouble is no-one seems to believe it.

Responses vary, but they all imply doubt. The starter question is: ‘Am I being charged for this meeting?’ A straight ‘no’ is a disaster. Before you know it, they will exploit you for every bit of free advice they can get.

Assuming you avoid that obstacle, the next question is: ‘Well, just what is an hour?’ Avoid the obvious response that it is, as far as you have always known, 60 minutes. That rapport you have established might just disappear.

But, somehow, that is the message you have to impart. You can always tell the ones who will cause trouble. They say: ‘You mean you will charge me for phone calls?’ ‘Yes,’ I reply. ‘Is that fair?’ they say. ‘Well, if I don’t, who else will pay me for the time I spend talking to you?’ But you know the answer already. They think you are a charity with nothing better to do than spend the day listening to their idle chatter.

Now the new client is on dangerous ground. They can give up, and realise that we have to reach an economic bargain, or they can persist. But if they do persist, the relationship is over as far as I’m concerned. Decency probably requires me to continue for a little longer before showing them the door, but as I smile politely I will watch the hour hand moving slowly round the clock regretting that they are off to see another, more gullible, firm to ask them to provide a services under value.

Why is an hour 60 minutes except when it comes to billing?

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