Eight powerful secrets for retaining delighted clients

Eight powerful secrets for retaining delighted clients
(What they don’t teach you in business school)

Success-Secrets-1Over the years I have come to believe there are few simple secrets to my consulting success with several organizations both large and small. These secrets are not taught in business schools. And it seems the larger firms have stopped investing in helping younger professional learn the craft and soft skills needed. Many of these tips are just common sense and represent proven practice. You can always choose to ignore one or more of them and expect a client experience that is less than expected. I do think carefully about each one of them now in every engagement. They have served me well. Think you will them invaluable in your professional life as well.

1) Help them listen to themselves
The golden rule of any client communication is to listen. Once you are done listening, repeat or paraphrase what you have heard. Helping a client hear what they’ve just said is invaluable. Not only does it ensure you haven’t misinterpreted anything, hearing their thoughts explained by someone else often highlights potential issues. It is always better for the client to recognize problems themselves instead having to point them out.

2) Never ignore or reject a bad idea
When the client says ‘my idea is to …’ avoid the instinct to point out why the hilariously awful suggestion won’t work. Instead, listen, take notes and say something like ‘I will take that into consideration’. When returning with your much better ideas, they probably won’t mention it again. If they do, just say it didn’t quite work. They’re usually happy that you will have considered this and are truly receptive to their ideas. No matter how bad.

3) You can have it cheap, fast or good. Pick any two.
Explain the two out of three rule. All clients will always want you to produce distinctive, high quality work in less than a week for next-to-no money. But they sometimes forget that these things come at a price, and their reluctance to pay your rates or pressure to work faster can make you question your own reasoning. The most demanding won’t even understand why it’s not possible. Help them to understand by explaining the ‘two out of three’ rule:

Good Distinctive Quality + Fast = Expensive
You will defer every other unrelated job, cancel all un-necessary tasks and put in ungodly hours just to get the job done. But, don’t expect it to be cheap.

Good Distinctive Quality + Cheap = Slow
Will do a great job for a discounted price, but be patient until we have a free moment from pressing and better paying clients.

Fast + Cheap = Inferior Quality
Expect an inferior job delivered on time. You truly get what you pay for, and in our opinion this is the least favorable choice of the three. In most cases I decline or disengage rather than commit to something that may result in damaging the relationship. See secret 5 about never presenting ideas you don’t believe in and who can believe in junk?

To summarize: You can have it cheap, fast or good. Pick any two and meet everyone’s expectations.

4) Don’t make delivery promises straight away
Clients want immediate delivery date commitments. As much as you would like to conclude meetings with a firm, ‘yes I can’, always check with your team first or just ask for some time to ensure you have thought about the commitment thoughtfully. Not only does this show you take deadlines seriously, the next time the same client rings with an urgent request, you can buy time before committing. It is remarkable how many must-have-it-yesterday emergencies can fix themselves or simply melt away within hours of the initial request. A commitment is a promise. When you break a promise, no matter how small it may seem to you it can damage the client relationship and your reputation (brand).

5) Never present ideas you don’t believe in (no junk please!)
It’s tempting when preparing solution options to add one more into the mix. I guess we sometimes think that including a Junknot-so-great idea highlights the effort we put into the preferred option and will make our other suggestions look even stronger. But what if the client picks the wrong option? Then you are stuck producing your own dumb idea you simply don’t believe in. If your main ideas are good enough, that’s all you should need. If the client hates them, you can always fall back on the rejects or junk if needed.

6) Don’t assume you’ll find ‘it’ alone
You worked on presenting your ideas alone with little time for collaboration. Looks great to you – what a genius you are. And then client see this and says I’ll know it when I see it and this is not what I expected’. These are the words that you never want hear as a creative, hard-working professional. You have no found it. If a client doesn’t like your ideas but can’t explain why, never assume that you can hit the mark next time. The client not knowing what they want is your problem so spend more time with them exploring other work they like. This helps get inside their heads and closer to finding the elusive ‘it’.

7) Who actually has final approval?
The final seal of approval may not come from the person you deal with every day. Managers have Directors, Directors have VPs, and VPs have a C-level they report to. So always uncover exactly who is the ultimate authority before proceeding with your ideas. Most people usually hate showing rough sketches to their boss, meaning you need to flesh out one or two elements in advance (see the secret number 6) with your client. Ensuring your work avoids a last minute thumbs-down is worth the time and effort.

8) If all else fails, raise your rates
Most clients are a joy to work with. Hopefully these secrets will help you deal with the most challenging parts of the creative process and leave you with a delighted client. But sometimes, you just know deep down someone is going to be impossible to work with. And you will know this quickly. If simply turning down the work is not an option or will create a poor perception with the client, raise your rates by 20%. At least then you can console yourself with cash during another long weekend of last minute revisions, rework, and unnecessary stress. And what about that time forever lost to your family and loved ones? This is a trap; the higher rate is almost never worth the cost to your nervous system. Manage your time wisely, it truly “is never found again”.



The Holiday Message

Steve-Jobs-Secret-of-LifeIt is a new year, plenty of self-help and inspirational stories are available and the resolutions we have all made that will last about another week or two. And some are based on some inspirational thoughts from Einstein to Aristotle to Jobs, and more. Of course others are less revealing and downright confusing or just plain silly. We all struggle with this (what is real and what is just fluff) from time to time.

And then it happens. While pulling down the lights and placing the holiday decorations back in their boxes your child comes to you and asks you what to do, how to succeed where others have not and what is the difference between success and everything else. What? So, how to respond? This is serious business, no time to make light of the circumstances or blow off another conversation that always seems to end unresolved. My child is seeking knowledge and I’m now committed to deliver something worthwhile. He really wants to know. Even with all the chaos around us.

And this is where it gets interesting. I try with a simple exposition on focus and it’s importance to everything worthwhile in life. Then I get the inevitable follow-up. What is focus? And then it hits me in an unplanned moment of clarity I can’t explain. Focus means you have to do the hard things. Doing what no one else is doing. Maybe doing what scares you. The things that make you wonder how much longer you can hold on. Those are the things that define you. Those are the things that make the difference between living a life of mediocrity or outrageous success. Pressed for more, I have to respond with the following:

  • Make the call you’re afraid to make.
  • Get up earlier than you want to get up.
  • Give more than you get in return right away always. Care more about others than they care about you.
  • Feel unsure and insecure when playing it safe seems smarter – it will all be work out.
  • You have to lead when no one else is following you yet.
  • Invest in yourself even though no one else is – what do they know?
  • Prepare to look like a fool while you’re looking for answers you don’t have.
  • Deliver results when making excuses is an option – this is really not an option.
  • Search for your own explanations even when you’re told to accept the “facts.”
  • Make mistakes and look like an idiot – this is not the end of the world.
  • Try and fail and try again. Fail forward…
  • Be kind to people who have been cruel to you – they don’t know any better.
  • Be accountable for your actions even when things go wrong.

TheRoadAhead_ChildThe hard things are the easiest things to avoid. To pretend like they don’t apply to you is just not true. The simple truth about how ordinary people like us is to accomplish outrageous feats of success is to do the hard things that smarter, more qualified people don’t have the courage — or desperation — to do. And perhaps the most poignant expression we can learn from Steve Jobs:


“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”

Yes this is true, now everything is packed away carefully for next year and to my son I can only hope I have passed the audition; and you have come to realize something for yourself reading this.

The startling truth of the Overton Window

bc40ca5941f3795e465fb0c32c7caaffIn my analytic practice I do quite a bit of sentiment analysis. This is not a technology discussion or another post about algorithms. This is a quick introduction to the Overton Window, a key concept that has helped me make some sense of what seems to make no sense at all sometimes where politics and sentiment analysis are concerned.  Understanding this concept has helped when trying to identify business insights, understand customers, prospects, and opinion leaders to discover what others are saying about their brand, products, reputation and their competitors in a more meaningful way.  And does provide a useful way to filter or mitigate cognitive bias which may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, and sometime just plain irrational behavior. This is also one way to help understand the bigger picture in public policy debate and uncover key trends which can be mystifying at times.

With all the craziness going on in the world today sometimes it helps to peer beyond the trees to see the forest. This is hard to do with the provocative (and sometimes entertaining) statements, name-calling and the unnecessary marginalizing of those with a different point of view. See this post for one example where Donald Trump Has Brought Discussion of Political Impossibilities into the Open. Before reading this I’m sure many of you had to wonder about why someone like this with a commanding lead among his peers would take risky policy positions that seem to defy gravity and diverge from generally accepted views. And why this approach is succeeding where so many others have failed.

  • How can seemingly smart leadership take a position that seems to be so surprising given the firestorm of  political conflict created?
  • Is it just me (why is this so obvious, am I the idiot who didn’t get the memo)?
  • Has anybody in this political arena really stopped to consider the unintended consequences of their own response?
  • Is someone labeled by others a lunatic and a fool simply telling the truth?

In my field where data and its’ interpretation are important my own answers to these questions had remained a Overton_Window_diagram.svg
mystery to me until I ran into a concept known as the Overton Window. The Overton Window, also known as the window of discourse is term originated with Joseph P. Overton (1960–2003), a former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. He described a window (or range) that an idea’s political viability depends mainly on whether it falls within the window, rather than on politicians’ individual preferences. This window includes a range of policies considered politically acceptable in the current climate of public opinion, which a politician can recommend without being considered too extreme to gain or keep public office.

Before you think this only has use in the world of politics (which it seems is everywhere) see this less familiar example where Mark Pilgrim discussed the continuum of opinion about the W3C and web standards where the Overton Window (range of possibilities) looked like this in 2001:

1. W3C is the only organization defining web standards.
2. Other organizations may exist, but they haven’t produced anything useful.
3. Other organizations and standards may exist, but W3C is the only legitimate organization that should define standards.
4. W3C standards should be preferred because they are technically superior.
5. W3C is one standards organization among many.
Vendors should support multiple standards, and content producers should choose the standard that best suits their needs.
6. W3C standards are inappropriate for the public Internet, but may be useful in other environments.
7. W3C standards are not appropriate for any purpose.
8. W3C is not a legitimate standards organization.
9. W3C should be disbanded and replaced by another standards organization.

According to Mark, “…in 2001, the Overton window (the range of acceptable opinions) was squarely on #1 for every web standard you could think of. HTML, CSS, RDF, SVG, XForms, WCAG, you name it. Vendor-neutral web standards were all the rage, and the W3C was, quite simply, the only game in town for defining such standards”. By 2006, “ …the W3C is now under fire on several fronts, and various people have publicly criticized various W3C standards and (in some cases) publicly abandoned the W3C itself.” The Overton Window had clearly moved.

As Mark states “…there is usually no benefit in arguing too far outside the Overton Window. People who have been claiming since 2001 that the W3C should be disbanded (#9) have had a negligible impact on the ongoing debate. Their opinions are just too far outside the range of acceptable opinion, and they risk being dismissed as kooks. If the Overton Window does eventually shift far enough that such opinions become acceptable, those people may feel vindicated, but it is unlikely that they will have been responsible for shifting the debate”.

Where else does this window exist and what does it look like? Consider the following example where the Overton Window of political possibility is depicted in a gun control or 2nd Amendment discussion (note the subtle cognitive bias introduced in the choice of  colors).


Or this post about professional opinion on climate change…


And see this terrific example from Daniel Herriges about Moving the Overton Window in urban planning.

The implications of this concept should be recognized when analyzing the underlying data and its’ interpretation in social media and sentiment analysis. It has other subtle uses in transformation and change management. And of course in this crazy political season it may just help you understand the motivation and might just answer how smart leadership can take a position that seems to be risky, unreasonable, or just plain crazy like a fox.


25 years, 170+ million customers affected, 5+ billion transactions processed…

Sounds like the old McDonald marquee tote board
(for those old enough to remember when they used to count burgers sold chain-wide).


Actually everyone you see in this picture has had a hand in many of the products and services you use everyday and have come to rely on. Like shipping freight across the world, using a credit card, paying an electric bill, caring for a loved one in a hospital, or helping our young people protect this country of ours. I never really thought about this until we all got together for one evening last week to laugh about old times. And then it dawned on me when I realized the collective contribution this group has made to a number of lives. Call us clueless geeks, hopeless loons, but I for one count myself lucky to have had the good fortune to be associated with each and every one of them. They have enriched my life in so many ways. And the best part? I still get to see them every now and then and raise a glass or two to old times.



Welcome to the Applied Enterprise Architecture blog. Will try to keep this as entertaining as possible and encourage all to contribute and share their personal and professional experiences here. I will try to cover a number of topics with a dash of common sense and business experience thrown in to preserve my reputation as a seemingly expensive, over-priced management consultant intact.  This eclectic collection of posts will in many ways reflect the kind of chaos and wide variety of issues will all encounter in our daily professional lives and by necessity will require a little patience from time to time. Just like our stakeholders, will try to contribute my understanding of the news, events, and invaluable contributions others have made to our profession. And, thank you for your interest, hope this will meet your expectations and you will become a regular reader and contributor.