Appeal to diverse customers

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

You adopt a “what you see is what you get” attitude with your peers and the public. You’re not going to bend your personality to please everyone—and you’re proud of it.

While it’s great to feel comfortable in your own skin, there’s a danger if you refuse to alter your preferred communication style to win over others. People might decide to avoid you rather than put up with your inflexibility.

Peter Klein, a former senior vice president at Gillette Co., learned this lesson as a consultant with the Marketing Corporation of America in the early 1980s. He’d write long reports for his clients—sometimes too long.

“They’d get 50 to 200 pages where I gave them a micro level of detailed support for my recommendations,” says Klein, who now runs PK Associates, a consulting firm in Rye, N.Y. “About 90 percent of my clients didn’t want such detail. They had an attitude of ‘be bright, be brief, be gone.’ ”

Klein kept hearing the feedback, “We don’t need all of this.” So he learned to focus on the client’s overriding issues without getting bogged down in minutiae.

“I adopted a new approach,” he says. “It was more linear and succinct. It clearly communicated the key issues from the client’s point of view.”

For the 10 percent of clients who welcomed detailed analysis, Klein crafted reports that he calls “deep and wide.” He recalls a senior executive who combed through every page of Klein’s thick binder. Finally, he asked Klein to ex-plain a typo in a footnote amid a huge appendix.

“Good consultants, like good managers, know how to read people,” Klein says. “You need to decide if you’re dealing with a ‘tell me what I need and why’ type or a micromanager who can’t let go.” To tailor your approach, note how others respond to your comments. If they nod frequently and endorse your proposals, you’re on the right track. But if they scowl, fidget and look bored or confused, you may need to talk less and ask more questions to create a livelier dialogue.

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