Over the last year - and through my introduction, my firm has developed a strong business relationship with a major media corporation, delivering multi-million-dollars in services. I have been the account manager and have overseen all aspects of the delivery of the work with this client. The standard fees of my firm are on the high side and I have worked really hard to give this client a good break on the fee structuring. Because of the size and prominence of the client as well as the large volume of business, my firm has been more than happy to adjust our fees. The problem is that no matter how many times, we make readjustments in the fee structure and renegotiate the pricing for our services, the client comes back and asks for further fee-discounting for our work.
I am beginning to feel like an unprofessional pushover and am also becoming extremely angry at the client with whom I have had a great relationship. I know, too, that we are very close to the bone now and there really is no further discounting possible. Please help me tackle this big challenge. I have never been in a situation quite like this before.
Challenged Marketing Professional
It sounds like you've bent over backwards to satisfy this customer and because of this your anger is becoming extreme and will continue to strengthen if you are unable to find a way to master this situation gracefully and firmly.
Let’s look at the many facets of this current juncture and see how many excellent communication strategies you can adapt and apply.
First, it’s important to look at the view you have of this situation to see if there are beneficial adjustments you can make in how you're seeing this. Even though you haven’t experienced this type of phenomenon with other clients, this actually is a natural progression of dynamics and behaviors which you have contributed to by already having provided this client with special discounts. If we think of human nature and what occurs when we, as authority figures or parents, give special privileges or rewards to our children, the same type of behavior occurs. Rather than think in terms of "enough” or “simple satisfied appreciation” – a child often will think in terms of “How much more can I get?” or “This works so well, I will try it again.”
It is up to each of us
#1) to adjust our perspective of the request,
#2) monitor the tone and attitude we exhibit when we respond, and
#3) make sure we pleasantly and respectfully clarify exactly what our solid response is to the request being made.
Here are a number of good approaches and communication strategies to select from.
- Always acknowledge what the client wants appreciatively: “I understand and have clearly heard your request for xxxxxxx, xxx and xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. I recognize how important this is to you.”
- Whatever the request is, think of it as legitimate. That’s very different from feeling like you have to give in or acquiesce. It’s a matter of seeing the request as being what the client wants rather than seeing it as something you are being pressured to provide.
- Outline without attitude or tone all of the discounts and special customer support services you have already provided to date. This can be presented in written form if you like.
- Make sure you omit the word “but” from your response thus disclaiming whatever you’ve acknowledged in any of your prior comments or presentation to the client. The word “and” works very nicely to replace “but” in these types of communications. Or, you can just end one thought with a “period/full stop” and then start the next sentence.
- Look for ways to provide a wide range of customer services that are outside of the fee structure altogether. Example: 24/7 on-call hotline response to phone calls and email.
- Outline and assure the client of additional elements included in the fees that demonstrate how much more your firm is providing that other firms and services don’t or can’t deliver.
- Clarify and present fees and fee-services with pride and without apology.
- Be clear. Be firm. Be respectful. Be pleasant.
In SPEAK EASY, The Communication Guide for Career and Life Success there is much that could be very helpful to you right now. Reading Chapter 8, "Refusing the Right Way" will be especially beneficial.
Until next time,