Back to Basics #5: The Essence of Mandeville

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Back to Basics #5:
The Essence of Mandeville

I recently was listening to a client whose firm does program management for many major federal clients – many of whom currently have surging budgets. He just participated as a member of a client selection committee for a major research facility, and was amazed at what he experienced. Specifically …

  • Not one of the firms ever Mandevilled the clients, even though all of the members of the selection committee were available. None had any sense of the client’s concerns, and none of presentations had anything to do with addressing their concerns.
  • One of the presenters claimed top global expertise as a scientist and an architect, who was then better able to create top laboratories – even though two Nobel Laureates were on the selection committee and had never heard of him. Claims of expertise, not linked to how that expertise will help the clients, looked ridiculously pompous.
  • The firms all featured senior leaders of the firm, flown in for the presentation, though the clients preferred seeing and talking with the people with whom they’d be working. Again, it felt like old-line and costly flag-waving … with no real benefit to the clients.

When my client told me who the firms were, every one has had Mandeville workshops … though many were a few years back. And there’s no way to know if the people involved in the marketing effort were people who had been to the Mandeville workshop, whenever it was conducted.

The winner was simply the firm with presenters with whom the clients felt the greatest personal comfort. They simply tried to find people with whom they could later share their concerns and with whom they could work out approaches to solving their concerns and achieving their goals. (They felt obliged to pick someone.)

My guess is, each firm spent considerable sums of money on visual aids and on rehearsals, for this kind of major pursuit. Yet no one felt a need to just sit down and do some listening to each of the clients. Forgetting, for the moment, the need to secure new contracts, what we’re saying to clients, as a profession, is …

“I’ll wow you with how good we are, inflate our credentials as much as we can reasonably get away with, show you our top people – who will assure you of their full support – and tell you what we think you need.”

Just re-reading that last paragraph is uncomfortable for me. The client reaction?

“Except for the firm that claimed global scientific expertise, which simply was not believable, they all seem relatively able to design research facilities. Who do we think we can get to listen to us and respond?”

The essence of The Mandeville Techniques isn’t “Here’s a clever set of questions you can ask so you can improve your hit rate.” The essence is empathy … understanding the “world” through your client’s eyes …

  • What are they really hoping to accomplish with this project?
  • How does this project fit in with their long-term goals?
  • What issues are keeping them awake at night?
  • What kind of help do they want most?

Our attitude needs to be there before any of the “techniques” have any real value. Haven’t you ever been speaking to someone and, as you look at their face, realize that they don’t seem to really care about what you’re saying?

I know that every professional that serves me – my physician, dentist, accountant, attorney, etc – needs many patients or clients to maintain a successful practice. I don’t expect them to “jump for joy” as I walk into their office. But I do expect them to care about me and my welfare, regardless of what the cost for their services happens to be that particular time. Otherwise, I’ll find someone else; so will you.

All the firms involved in this particular pursuit were large firms that work all over the country. The question, then, is …

  • Who in your firm seems to really care about these clients?
  • Who is willing to sit down with each client, and just listen – without judgment – to that client’s goals and concerns?
  • Who is willing to commit some time to detailing how you’ll go about solving those concerns and helping the clients reach their goals?

If the people who fit these criteria don’t have the skills, brief them. Give them the Mandeville book or video or coaching from someone who has had the training. If many people fit this category, then perhaps a workshop is warranted, but you have many options, and many are inexpensive and not especially time consuming.

On paper, a federal agency hired a firm. In reality, a small group of people who work in that agency – and who have professional aspirations and serious project concerns – hired a small group of people they felt could help them.

It’s people hiring caring people … every time. That’s the real essence of Mandeville.