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Anatomy of Client Engagement Failure

As happens occasionally, I run into a bad client. Not uncommon in the entrepreneurial world where entrepreneurs and hired guns lose focus, receive market intelligence that changes things, and other mishaps. This is the story of one such situation, where hindsight is 20/20.

I engaged with a technology solution provider for which I had a good knowledge of the industry, contacts, technology, and prospective need. The training was easy and ramp-up required little time or energy. The provider was launching a new solution for which they had already pre-announced, it was out there in the right circles. They recognized that it would take time to build a pipeline and wanted to prospect and "pre-sell" to gauge market interest and set up introductory discussions.

While difficult to reach the people, the first three months yielded some feedback and interest. A demo was scheduled, another demo scheduled, and a few introductory conversations occurred yielding future opportunties.

The first demo did not result in business because the product was not ready to show and the need was immediate. The organization could not wait and did not want the risk of waiting to see what ultimately would result. The second demo yielded a person with need and interest, but who could not afford the solution (as is) and the client was unwilling to provide the tool on a flexible payment plan or discounted rate. One lead generated was never followed up on by the client manager who said he wanted to deal with it. Other opportunties, including an RFP situation, were not occurring until the next season.

I had complained that I was lacking sales support materials (particularly when a prospect asked for more information and I could not give him anything "next level") and the website they had was awful and not reflective of the company's capabilities. I offered to help with materials, but was limited in developing anything since I too - had no knowledge of the new product scheduled to launch. Plus my client manager insisted that he would hire a marketing person in a month or so who would do all of that.

Four months into the engagement, I was told the new product that I was engaged to take to market would not launch at all. Some issues arose that would push the product launch til the 2nd Quarter of the following year. Nervously, I asked if the engagement would end - but was told "NO" since they had no sales presence and could sell other services and products. I was confused about WHAT to sell and changed the messaging for the third time with the client manager's assurances. Also, the client provided me a list which I was working off of, they received weekly reports as to who I talked to and outcomes, and I used Salesforce.

The call came finally. Given the delay and lack of interest in other products and services, the client was "suspending" the relationship until the new product was ready and would contact me in Spring. I sent my invoice for the month and ended everything neatly.

When my final invoice was not paid on time (the second occurance), I inquired. To shorten the story, the company claimed that I had not fulfilled my duties and refused to pay the invoice - blaming me squarely and saying I did not deliver my deliverables "leads, meetings, opportunities, and market intelligence" and they should have ended the relationship "months ago".

So, lets recap:
1. The company failed to develop and launch the product they promised to the market.
2. The company could not deliver the promised product to the interested prospect and would not negotiate or compromise to get another interested client on the new product.
3. Despite reviewing every weekly report and seeing every piece of feedback from people talked to, they still continued the effort.
4. They continued the effort well beyond the three month trial I mandate for all clients.
5. They claimed I did not do any marketing or sales support work, yet did not approve of me doing any or get on the ball with providing me with any marketing support to help the effort.
6. They provided me with all the tools: the list, approved messaging/scripting, and used their CRM.
7. The client manager was clearly not suited to manage a sales effort, he oomplained a few times he was overworked and had too much on his plate to handle. So, I was not supported.
8. Despite the delay in product, they still continued the effort.

Am I to blame here? Isn't it usually the salesperson that is blamed for not delivering revenue or opportunity when the fault is in poor management, poor product strategy, poor support, poor processes? I know from my experience I could have easily taken them to court and won my invoice, but it wasn't worth my time.

The client manager was fired, the company is on vapors, and I found a super replacement client who is getting a ton of "leads, meetings, and opportunities". By the way, thanks to the reference provided by the former client's manager.

Permalink 02/23/13 -- 10:43:56 am, Categories: Background

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