Exploring the Naked Business Model
By: Erin Robinson
Don’t worry…this post is “G” rated. The “naked” I’m referring to here is freedom from fear. According to Getting Naked, an outstanding business book written by Patrick Lencioni, the main thing that comes between service providers and unwavering client loyalty is just that—fear. Three fears, to be exact. In this post, I will provide an overview of the book, expounding upon concepts that are particularly prevalent in the daily lives of PR professionals. I’ll also provide a few examples of effective execution I have seen here at Identity.
1. Fear of Losing the Business. Pretty basic, right? No service provider wants to lose a client. It is devastating to his/her pride, not to mention the bottom line of the company. However, Lencioni makes it perfectly clear that this fear of losing the business is often the reason we do, in fact, lose it. Clients see this fear to lose the business as the service provider putting the needs of his/her agency in front of the client needs. If we are constantly afraid to lose the business, we won’t be positioned to tell the client what he/she may not want to hear, but needs to hear. Two of the three principles set forth by Lencioni that shed this fear are as follows:
• Consult, don’t sell. We have been doing this more and more recently. With the addition of Creative Director Brent Eastman to the Identity team came a new “discovery” process, during which Brent helps clients better define who they are, what they do, why they do it and where they are/should be headed. After sitting in on a few of these sessions, it is amazing how much he accomplishes with relatively few words. While he is certainly prepared for meetings, he doesn’t go in with a two-hour dissertation on what is wrong with the company and how to fix it. Brent sits a group of key decision makers from the entity around a table and starts firing questions. Difficult, often uncomfortable, questions. He allows them to embark on this discovery journey together, only interjecting to keep the conversation on a productive path or to ensure that he is clear on the decisions being made. Thus far, the clients I have seen go through this process leave the room feeling energized and inspired…even if they have just discovered that they have months of work ahead of them.
The point is this: Brent doesn’t go into the meeting with our portfolio in hand to sell a new website with a comprehensive media relations plan. He goes in as a consultant who is there to help the client define and reach business objectives.
• Tell the kind truth. The example from the book describes a business consultant who approaches the CEO of a new client to tell him that a member of his executive committee really isn’t cutting it…his son. While this is a fairly extreme instance, this concept definitely applies to the PR, marketing and graphic design worlds. Identity Managing Partner Mark Winter has the ability to tell the kind truth like few others I have witnessed. I was recently in a client meeting with him, during which we were discussing the possibility of designing a new brochure for the client, who was using a piece that must have been published before computers were mainstream. I tried to tell them in 10 different ways that it was time for a change. Mark came into the office and said, “This is terrible!”
Now, there are a couple quick things to keep in mind. First, this client is a close friend of the agency. Mark didn’t simply walk into a room of people he had never met to tell them that their marketing collateral was terrible. We have a strong foundation of trust with this client that made this open communication possible. Second, Mark quickly followed up by telling the client that his brochure was way ahead of his time when it came out, but that it didn’t meet the level of sophistication reflected in the company website and client base. The client appreciated the candor…and, after acknowledging that he was ready for a new product, asked for a quote. This last piece goes back to consult, don’t sell. The selling piece didn’t come into the picture until after Mark had served as a consultant and trusted adviser.
2. Fear of Being Embarrassed. No service provider wants to look incompetent in front of a client…or any colleague, for that matter. That said, this fear often does a disservice to a client. When in a meeting with a group of executives from one of the largest companies you represent, how often are you willing to admit that you don’t understand a term someone used? And yet, if you continue the conversation without a clear understanding, you could misinterpret the entire conversation. Which brings me to the first of the two principles I will mention:
• Ask dumb questions. Already pretty well covered above. Basically, don’t be afraid to ask a question that might seem silly. Chances are, there will be others in the room who don’t know the answer either, and they will appreciate your willingness to ask.
• Celebrate your mistakes. Instead of trying to cover up a mistake or stumble over your words to explain it away, just acknowledge the mistake and apologize. Clients don’t expect perfection from service providers. They will appreciate honesty and humility. And, if you are serving as a consultant by making consistent recommendations to your client, there is a good chance quite a few mistakes will be made in the long run!
3. Fear of Feeling Inferior. In an effort to display importance and avoid looking subservient, service providers often air on the side of self-importance. The naked service model makes it clear that a great service provider will do whatever the client needs…even if it seems “below” him/her. There is nothing more attractive to a client than a consultant, publicist, etc., who is willing to put aside his/her ego to put the needs of others before their own. Below, I have highlighted the example that comes into play in the PR world most often.
• Do the dirty work. Providing a client with great work doesn’t always mean landing a front-page story or coming up with the perfect brochure design, though those items are critical. There will be times when a client simply needs you to be there to assist with the check-in process at an event or, perhaps, assist as a volunteer coordinator. Showing that no job is below you will reinforce that you are dedicated to the best interest of your client.
A great example of this comes to mind from a rebranding project Identity did awhile back, with Stacy Butts at the helm. The client needed a new name, tagline, logo and basic marketing collateral in record time. After a lot of hard work, Stacy delivered the perfect rebranding package, only to find that the client now needed a creative, exciting way to announce their transformation…in a few short days. As a result, Stacy and I were driving all over town to pick up celebratory gifts, while the graphics team was back at the office designing a nice announcement card. In the end, speed shopping, packaging and shipping isn’t part of a PR professionals’ typical routine, but the client appreciated that Stacy carried the project through right to the very end.
This brief overview of Getting Naked is really just skimming the surface. If service providers out there want a more in depth look at the naked service model, I highly recommend reading the book in its entirety.