Taking a calculated risk

Situation

It was my first day as VP of Strategy at an Inc. 1000 interactive agency and I had been invited to sit in on a high-value client meeting that was taking place at 8 a.m. I had not yet met most of the employees, but the owners insisted I join on my first day to get a flavor of the work the agency was doing. I was not expected to participate – and the client had been told a new executive was starting and joining, but had not previously been involved in the work product so there was no expectation of substantive contributions.

Pretty quickly into the presentation, it was clear to me that the client’s c-suite was not hearing the revolutionary “wow factor” idea that they had flown across the country expecting to hear. The agency’s pitch was good, but it wasn’t a game-changer – and it was apparent from body language and the questions they were asking that the pitch was falling flat and would conclude the engagement.

Task

As the agency executive in the room, I took it upon myself to step in and address the gap between the clients’ expectations and reality. If our agency had any interest in turning this initial strategy engagement into a long-term high-revenue client we needed a wow-idea, or at least a change in approach to re-energize the situation.

I had to interrupt, at the risk of alienating my new colleagues and, then present a new idea that no one had heard before that might sink any chance of reviving the relationship, and might certainly torpedo my new work relationships.

Action

I tactfully interrupted the meeting asked the client to rate where they were on a scale of 1-10. The CEO answered a 5. Dead silence. I asked honestly why he gave a “5” and his reply confirmed my expectation that the direction was unimaginative and underwhelming. Rather than address the gaps the team may have made, I asked if we could pause the presentation and consider a new idea that I had – based on the questions they had been asking – and shift the meeting from a pitch to a workshop format? THey agreed.

Result

At first my new colleagues were bewildered by my taking charge of “their client” meeting. I pitched an innovative idea I had come up with during the meeting that was customer-focused instead of product/service-focused. The whole room lit up with excitement – and with that one step I had both solidified confidence with my teammates and activated a newfound enthusiasm from the client to see their business from the customer’s journey – and not their product offering.

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