Let's Talk: Peeking Behind the Curtin

Have you ever wondered why the client is so concerned with understanding what you do? It is as if the client wants to peek behind the curtain, to see what is going on behind the scenes. The problem stems from the fact that we have spent most of our time in the client relationship focusing on the backstage - the processes, the systems, and the services we provide and no trust is established. It is the front stage that should concern the client the most. The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore gives a detailed understanding of why marketing is like theater and the importance of understanding that the message is what goes on in front of the curtain. The front-stage experience the customer is looking for is a better understanding of having their needs understood and met.

Now as we consider this in more detail, keep in mind the difference between backstage and front-stage items. The delivery of your products, your services, the tools you have, the resources, the software, the technology you have; all of these are backstage items that assist you in delivering the performance on the front stage. Without them, the front stage performance could not happen. Likewise, you could have all the backstage in perfect working order, have the best service, have the best technology, have the best of everything behind the stage, but without the clients’ confidence that you know them and understand their situation, they will continue to peek behind the curtain. They will continue to spend a tremendous amount of time trying to better understand what it is you do and whether or not you are doing it well. The more comfortable they are in your understanding of them, the more they will relax and leave what goes on behind the curtain, behind the curtain and enjoy experiencing the relationship and the performance on stage.

This goes back to Peter Drucker's principle that the two most important functions of a business are marketing, i.e. knowing your clients more fully, and innovation, i.e. creating solutions for their problems and needs. If we knew our clients on a deeper level, we would be better equipped to assuage their fears of our being out of sync with their needs and desires. In many cases, I believe our clients feel insecure that we actually understand what it is that they want, both out of our relationship and out of life in general. For that reason, we entirely miss their main objective.

Developing a deeper understanding of the client easily solves this problem. In a coaching relationship, prior to the first session, a client is asked to fill out an in-depth questionnaire, often called the Client Intake Kit, which goes into extreme detail about his or her personal and family life, life story, business history and experience. This up-front, in-depth analysis of the client allows the coach to begin “right where the client is.” It is much like the relationship with an old friend who has grown up with the client. The old friend knows all the history, knows the traumas, problems and failures that have occurred as well as the successes and achievements. This knowledge of how the coach client handled things in the past is extremely valuable when it comes time to evaluate, consider or assist the person in looking at options that are ahead. Without this knowledge or without this understanding, we are strangers.

It is the same problem we have with our customers and clients. Because we do not know them at that deeper level, they do not have the comfort or assurance that we truly understand their situation and therefore, they try to second-guess us or double check that we have not forgotten something or missed what is most important to them. We have spent too long focusing our marketing efforts and selling our services in regards to our technology, our tools, our resources and all of the backstage items. How well the lighting is done or the sound system works is not of interest to the client or to the audience as long as they can enjoy the performance. We need to stop marketing our services and our technology and instead focus our attention where the clients’ attention is. In other words, focus on them, on their interests, on their goals, their fears, their tolerations, helping to alleviate the obstacles in their life and focus on the opportunities and strengths that they have. Assisting the client in building a better life.

Too often, we have spent too much time trying to solve the problem before we really even understood it. That is the significant flaw both in our strategy and in the solutions that we provide our clients, and, in the end, the clients understand that we have missed it, and we have focused on the wrong thing. We use our reports and our review with our clients in an ongoing way to focus on what we think is important and what we find exciting. In other words, we are focusing the client on the back stage and because of the concentration of our time and effort there, we think the client should be interested also.

Stop directing the client toward the backstage. Focus on the front stage, understand your clients’ real issues and go forward from there in a new exponential relationship.