Sometimes You Can Only Win After Failure


Sometimes your client or potential client needs to fail before you can help him. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn, but has proven to be an important one. And if you’re going to be successful in the service industry, you better learn this one, and fast.

success and failure client strategy

Earlier in my career as a consultant, I would try to argue and convince my clients of a course of action that I thought was best for them. Most of the time my advice became strategy or a tool that eventually brought results. But from time to time I encountered, and still do to this day, people who believe they know more than I do and decide that their solution is preferable to mine. As a consultant, this know-it-all attitude has always puzzled me. After all, if you know the “what” and “how,” why hire me in the first place?

In the early, lean days of The A Group, I would take on the flawed strategy projects because I needed the money. They were disastrous. No one ever won. My team would begrudgingly execute a plan we knew was not going to work. The anemic performance would cause the client to blame the implementation, of course. That’s a lose/lose situation.

One day I wised up. I walked away from a potential big project because I knew that even a well-executed but flawed strategy was not going to bring results. The potential client went to another firm that took the project as directed. It failed. A year later they were back. This time there was no big argument, no arrogance, but collaboration and eventually success.

As counter-intuitive as walking away from a potentially lucrative project might be, sometimes it’s your only option. Unfortunately, the ignorant and arrogant are not able to learn from others’ mistakes. They must make them and pay a high price before they are ready to be helped.

What has been your experience with an arrogant leader/client and a project doomed from the beginning?

  • I think your right on the money!  I’ve been in a writing critique group for several years now and I’ve seen people come in and instead of learning from the critique, they argue about their ‘style’.  These are the ones we never see again.  It’s those who take the critique (me), go home, do my research and re-write.  I’m not saying every person gave me the best feedback and I took what i felt was valid and moved on.  My first novel TWISTED ROOTS (which the first draft was written 3 years ago) comes out this summer.   The ninth draft is the one being published and it was well worth the wait!
    Thanks for your blogs, I enjoy them and learn from them!

  • This is a hard mindset, but essential. As the leader of a group of “internal consultants” for my corporation, we are often told what the customer wants the answer to be. I would rather try to convince the customer to let us run our analysis process and present the real results, and risk not getting the job, than craft our process to get the “right” answer. As I tell my team, integrity is all we have. When we lose that, we lose the trust of the customer base. When we lose that trust, we will eventually go out of business.

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  • John

    Unfortunately, tough times have forced my company to take on projects that were doomed from the get go. It’s been horrible for everyone.

  • Partrick W

    We have just fired a client. We could never win with them and the relationship had deteriorated to the point of everyone just covering their butts on tons of follow up emails. Sometimes you have to cut your losses and walk away.

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