Wednesday, April 13, 2005

To hell with clients. I just returned from a meeting with a new client and I'm ready to assign the worst three associates I know onto this project, just to spite him. There are two types of clients. There are the ones who understand how this business works and let us come in, solve their problems, and get out. And then there are the ones who want something we're not selling. They want a therapist. They want a business advisor. They want someone to "partner" with them, and "understand their business," and "be a member of their team." And if we try it their way, they get their first bill, realize we cost more in a month than the rest of their "team" costs in a year, and, finally, they let us do it our way. We're not psychologists. We're not management consultants. We're not life coaches for depressed CEOs. We do legal work. Sophisticated, cuting-edge, expensive legal work. What makes our tax guys good is that they know how to save clients money on their taxes. Not because they smell like flowers. What makes our bankruptcy guys good is that they can get our creditor clients more money back than they deserve. Not because they make good conversation at lunch and have carefully-pressed suits.

Clients like today's will tell us, for hours and hours, that they'll trade a little bit of competence for some bedside manner, but when push comes to shove that's not really what they want. They want success. On whatever the case is. If we succeed, even if we don't take the time to ask them about their kids, even if we couldn't care less how long they've been in business, how they make their widgets, and who's been drinking too much coffee from the pots in the employee lounger, they keep hiring us. If we fail, even if we're really friendly about it, even if we go with them to the Yogurt Manufacturers Convention, even if we give them a few hours of free advice about exploiting the stock options loopholes, even if we go out of our way to learn their names and not take the vegetarian COO to a steakhouse for lunch, they don't pay us.

We can charge what we charge because we're better than the guys in the yellow pages. But that means we're not generalists. We're specialists. We have people who spend every day of their lives executing the same deal, over and over again, for different companies. He's the guy you want executing that deal, because he will do a better job than virtually anyone else on the planet. But you don't really want him telling you how to optimize the way you put your sprockets together on the assembly line, because that's not where his expertise is. And we as a firm don't want him spending time learning all about your sprockets, because that's not where the best use of his hours is. We want him to do your deal, and then do six more deals this quarter, make 7 happy customers instead of just one, and have people lining up to get us to help them do that same deal too.

Today's moron told us they fired their last firm because there were issues "they could have spotted in advance had they paid more attention, but instead they waited until they were real problems, and it ended up costing millions more to solve them." Well, sure, in a fantasy world, we'd solve problems before they ever became problems. But that's the client's fantasy, not ours. Do you think the firm they fired is upset because the jobs cost millions more of the client's money? No way. Economically, where's our incentive to find the problems early anyway? You're willing to pay more when you're being sued then 6 months before when you "might" be sued, "if" the customers ever find out. At that point you don't want us telling you there's a problem. You're not willing to pay us the money it would take to fix it anyway. It's not a problem yet. You just want to ignore it. So stop lying and telling us you want us to find problems early. You don't. You want us to find the one that's going to erupt into a lawsuit, but the nine that won't, you don't want us touching. And we're no better at fortune-telling than you.

It's disingenuous for them to argue that they want us to be partners in their business because they spend considerable energy hiding everything from us they'd rather we didn't see. No one shows us the fraudulent accounting records before the Wall Street Journal writes the front page story about them. At best, the clients telling us these stories about wanting closer customer relationships are lying to themselves. At worst, they're lying to us. And this is why they should all go hell. They're worse than we are. At least we're up front about it. We are going to charge as much money as you will pay us to solve problems that the guy in your own accounting department could probably solve if you bought him a Lexis-Nexis subscription and a couple of books about corporate finance from Barnes and Noble.

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