In 2021, I read author Patrick Lencioni's book The Motive. The Motive and Getting Naked are part of Lencioni's fable book series. Unlike your typical business book, these are written in a narrative format, using storytelling to convey lessons about business, leadership, and collaboration. I really enjoyed both books and found myself anxiously awaiting every reading session.
Getting Naked centers around Jack Bauer, a senior consultant at Kendrick & Black, a prestigious, international full-service management consulting firm headquartered in San Francisco. When Kendrick and Black decide to make an acquisition, Jack is forced to get close to his biggest enemy and figure out what makes them successful. Throughout the book, Jack recounts his experience and shares the lessons he learned along the way.
I found Jack's story to be particularly relevant to our recent focus on rethinking how we structure business development at Barrel and deepen relationships with clients and partners. I had fun applying and experimenting with many of the concepts from the book as I read through it.
In this post, I will share three key takeaways after reading the book and five of my favorite themes/excerpts. For anyone interested in reading the book, it's worth noting that it offers a helpful framework for applying these lessons more broadly.
A primary theme throughout the book is reframing new business conversations as consultations, meaning you're not trying to win the client over or sell them any services.
Jack outlines the three fears that often get in the way of taking this approach.:
I remember feeling uneasy when I felt unprepared for a call with a prospective client. I'd worry that I didn't spend enough time researching their company or industry before I joined the call. While this research can provide helpful context, I realized it was less about being prepared and more about my discomfort with the three fears.
I loved this interaction in the book when Jack is asking his colleague about his approach to the meeting they're about to attend together:
"'You're not going to do a presentation? No proposal? Do you have any handouts?' Dick shook his head. “Nope.” He looked at the folder in his hands and smiled. 'Heck, this thing is just a prop.' He opened up the portfolio to reveal that it held nothing but a pad of paper and a pen. 'I'd feel kind of strange if I weren't carrying something.'"
In the meeting, Dick starts by asking a series of questions and then goes up to the whiteboard to start workshopping the client's challenges. The client is fully engaged and ends up pushing their next meeting to extend their time together. Jack is amazed.
I've enjoyed taking this approach to new business calls, treating them more like a conversation than a pitch, aka shedding the fears or "getting naked." Ahead of the call, I'll do enough research to ask probing questions but use the time with the client to learn about their business, challenges, and vision. Having this background helps us understand if we can add value.
I'll admit — some clients are turned off or confused by this approach, but most appreciate the curiosity and enjoy going deep together. All in all, I've found that the more transparent I am with the client and willing to share my ideas, the more they do the same in return.
In certain cases, we'll go further by connecting the client with folks in our network, bringing in tech partners to consult, or looping in team members to do further research.
When you start looking at prospective clients with a long-term view and are less concerned with the immediate win, the budget of the initial project is less of a concern. In that way, we're more focused on helping the client — delivering results upfront, building trust over time, and growing our relationship long-term.
With this in mind, we've been more open and flexible with how we begin our engagements with clients. For example, we may start with a small design project or a low-budget, fast-paced proof-of-concept website. In either case, we're using the upfront conversations with the client to see where we can add value, then getting to work.
A great recent example is a recent referral to a client who was about to sign with an agency until they presented them with a high-priced retainer. When I spoke to the prospective client, I learned that it wasn't the budget that scared them, they just weren't sure where it made sense to start and didn't appreciate the barrier of a high price tag.
Having built a sizeable e-commerce business in-house, the client team knows their website inside and out, and had plenty of insights to share. We landed on a budget range they were willing to invest upfront and worked together on a few different approaches we could take to get started.
Time and time again we see how important client references are for new business, whether it’s referrals from past clients or turning leads into new clients. In the book, Jack is shocked when he finds out his enemy's sales cycle is almost non-existent, thanks to the love from their clients:
"Almost all of [their] time and energy was being directed toward consulting to paying clients. Those clients in turn became the sales engine for the firm, and even when we did an occasional cold call, it was the references from clients that shortened the sales cycle considerably. I'm not even sure I'd call it a sales cycle at all.”
Our current process for gathering and sharing client references is pretty loose. While I've spent some time rethinking how we integrate client references into the sales process, I see an opportunity to go deeper.
Here are some of the areas I'm interested in exploring: