Brutal Transparency

What happens when my client’s customers tell me my client is a dick? Find out in this week’s Moment of Clarity.


I had a client recently tell me that he was looking for brutal transparency. He wanted to be sure I was up to the task of speaking truth to power. That’s never been a problem for me. In fact, it’s one of my most valuable skills.

I’m always reminding my clients that a company is really a bunch of human beings. But we tend to think of companies as a monolithic entity that is somehow immune to the foils of its human inhabitants. I see it as just the opposite.

Every company faces the distinctly human characteristics of ego, competition, power struggles, competing beliefs, the list goes on. I have found that I’m in a unique position, as an objective third party, to help teams resolve issues by simply telling them the unvarnished truth.

Of course I try to be diplomatic – but ultimately my focus is to help them solve their problems. There is nothing like a good dose of truth to get people moving in the right direction.

One great example of this happened a few years ago. I was working with a twenty million dollar industrial technology company. Part of my work was to interview a sample of their customers to better understand their perception, buying criteria, etc.

Sixty eight percent of the customers I spoke with told me they dreaded talking to one of the founders. A couple used the word “dick” in describing him.

At the same time, when asked “Why do you work with him?” each customer responded that Dave was the most knowledgeable person they knew in his specialty.

I was faced with telling my client that a majority of his clients thought he was a dick. I remember thinking to myself “This should go over well…” and I told Dave about my findings.

His response was “Well, I know that already!” We laughed and then quickly got down to what was really going on.

Dave was taking on too many duties. He was stretched thin. When a customer called with a technical question, it derailed what he was working on and he tended to be short with people on the phone.

The solution was to have Dave delegate more work and use email as his primary communication tool.

Was this technically marketing? Sort of. I found a significant problem that was hidden from my client. The only way to resolve it was to cut to the chase and face up to the hard truth.

The customers wouldn’t share this information directly, and nobody on Dave’s team would dare bring it up either. Not because they feared Dave. They just didn’t want the conflict because they have to work with Dave every day.

Now Dave is happy, his clients are happy, everybody happy. And that’s the truth.


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