Are CEOs suddenly vanishing into thin air for days, weeks, months at a time? Have you ever needed an approval regarding an important decision and sweated it out while watching the company’s cash balances teeter? Have CEOs or Executive Directors left for a vacation without communicating first and you had to find out the hard way? Have you ever given up after no response on an urgently requested proposal and then suddenly hear months later, “Thanks for this, we’d like to proceed right away.” Despite maintaining good humor, giving the benefit of the doubt, and precision requests, are there times where you hear crickets?
Luckily, in our own pool of prospective and current clients, this isn’t everyone. However, despite the great relationships where we feel lockstep and fired up with the CEO, I think this dark phenomenon also increasingly exists. What used to be considered downright rude may be now shifting to an accepted communication style. I think we all feel oversold these days and can’t necessarily maintain the same level of responsiveness that we did years ago. However, is it really a shutting down from being overwhelmed or are norms for communication changing in a way that’s hurting business?
So, I asked colleagues at the top of their field, the best CPA partners I know, other finance practice owners, lawyers, EOS implementation experts, business coaches and other service providers, “Is it just me?” I was told repeatedly, that it’s one of the biggest and most stressful problems facing service providers like us that handle high liability situations – like managing cash and legal issues.
However, my perception is that it’s kind of an elephant in the room because no one wants to complain about their best prospects and business contacts or the owner that’s holding your pay.
Tricks and Tips?
Then, I spoke with my friend and colleague Elizabeth Austen who has 20+ years in recruiting and sales training and she said, in so many words, “Yes, communication is almost in crisis these days, but this is Sales Training 101.” My ears perked. As a CFO, I didn’t take Sales Training 101! She continued. NEVER submit a proposal without establishing the process and timeline for acceptance, even if they act like it’s a done deal at the table. She then admitted, “that still doesn’t always work.” Then she suggested that I send a check the box style request in the spirit of not wanting to bother them: “Would you like to have a meeting?” “Did you decide to use another solution?” “Do you want to meet after school?” Okay, maybe not that last one, but you can understand my resistance to this style of communication. I may have replied something to the effect of “You’re hired!” because she’s been connecting me with new clients on a monthly basis as our new manager of business development.
On the internal operations side of things, I have promised my own team that in addition to including names of who we report to in our contracts, I will start to review expectations for communication PRIOR to engaging with the client. It feels patronizing to me, but what is worse is feeling like we are under performing because we have no one to work with at that particular client company or being stuck trying to execute a critical move for a CEOs company and the CEO is nowhere to be found.