July 8, 2005
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One frustrating aspect of a high-tech career is clients
who ask for your advice and guidance, but, for whatever reason, never
seem to heed it. In these cases, I have found 3 distinct classifications.
There are those that don’t listen, some who can’t listen and
others who, simply won’t listen. While dealing with each of these
3 types has its unique challenges, it is the last one that seems to cause
all the problems. If you run into clients who won’t listen, your
career could be in for some very difficult times.
The most common type of high-tech client are the ones that simply don’t
listen. You can remind them about backups, upgrades and the importance
of virus protection, but they never seem to internalize it. They are usually
too busy or too disorganized to take your advice, yet, in the end they
do understand the importance of it. While they can be frustrating to deal
with, you can make some small, slow progress over time. After enough repetition
or, worse still, a major data loss, these clients will find out the importance
of what you have been preaching all these years. Your job is to make it
as easy as possible for them to help themselves. Automated upgrades, backups
and more are the key to keeping them on track even when they may not be
thinking about maintaining their computer. There will be times you will
have to bail them out, but overall, your relationship should be, and remain,
a good one.
In your high-tech travels you will also encounter those who can’t
take your advice. They want to do the right thing, but they are constrained
by lack of finances or lack of authority over purchasing. Perhaps they
inherited an old computer from work or a family member. Replacing that
system just isn’t an option sometimes. Also, in small companies,
the financial pressures may be too great to make large capital investments
until some form of income is created. Here, too, you can still be effective.
You can try to maintain some basic level of functionality until the machine
can be replaced or newer equipment can be handed-down to the user. Just
as in the case above, the user isn’t ignoring your advice out of
spite. They simply don’t have the capability to use your advice
at the current time. This is important to remember. Many of my clients
originally started out as this type, but have since gone on to become
wonderful clients who regularly take my advice and act on it.
As noted above, it is here that the biggest problems arise for high-tech
workers. Often unknowingly we can find ourselves engaged with a client
that seems to want your advice, but they really want something else. They
might listen to your advice and then do the exact opposite. They might
ask you to constantly justify your advice in a hundred different ways
while never actually implementing it. They can take joy in debating every
technical issue with you, no matter how small, and yet never utilize a
single thing they learn from these discussions.
So why would someone hire you and then ignore your advice? Here are a
• The Yes Man
Sometimes a client only wants someone else to agree with them. This
could be to impress upper management, silence critics or simply calm
their own worries. Of course, the moment you don’t confirm their
opinions or try to develop a different, more effective approach it could
be the end of the working relationship. You are not there to give your
opinion. You are only there to say “yes.”
• The Scapegoat
Some clients may hire you to be a scapegoat or fall guy in order to
protect their own position within a company. Then, when a given project
or technology fails, you will be the first one to blame. It matters
little whether they heeded your advice or not, you will be the one who
is turned out. As an outside consultant, it is very difficult to know
what is being said about you behind closed doors or around the water
cooler. Your own client could be the one selling you out so they don’t
lose their job in the crash.
• The Ego Builder
Sometimes clients will bring you on to assuage their own ego. Having
a bevy of consultants working for you is almost better than more employees.
You don’t have the rights or costs of a regular employee, so in
some cases you can be more easily added to the payroll. Constantly overruling
your advice to implement their own ideas also helps to “prove”
they are even more worthwhile to the company, “keeping all those
consultants in check.” Of course, as in all these scenarios, you
could find yourself out of a job at a moments notice. Once you become
a liability, or your client is found out, it will all be over.
As you can see from these examples, dealing with the “Don’t”
and “Can’t” clients is a regular part of your job. Both
you and the client can still benefit greatly, even if the situation is
not perfect. Dealing with “Won’t” clients, on the other
hand, is to be avoided at all costs. The results to your work and your
entire career can be disastrous. Be aware of these clients and watch for
the warning signs. If you see yourself as the Yes Man, Scapegoat or Ego
Builder, it is time to get out. Any other action could be putting your
high-tech career at risk.