From My Cousin Vinny:

Vinny Gambini: I object to this witness being called at this time. We’ve been given no prior notice he would testify. No discovery of any tests he’s conducted or reports he’s prepared. And as the court is aware, the defense is entitled to advance notice of all witnesses who will testify, particularly those who will give scientific evidence, so that we can properly prepare for cross-examination, as well as give the defense an opportunity to have his reports reviewed by a defense expert, who might then be in a position to contradict the veracity of his conclusions.

Judge: Mr. Gambini?

Vinny Gambini: Yes, sir?

Judge: That is a lucid, intelligent, well thought-out objection.

Vinny Gambini: Thank you, sir.

Judge: Overruled.

Not fair. That’s just how it feels sometimes.

You believe you have a sound position, a fine strategy or a winning campaign, all backed up by solid arguments. But then you’re overruled. And you’re left shaking your head and saying to yourself: “This is a winner. Why don’t they get it?”

I’m sure that’s how brand strategists and consultants, whether internal or external to an organization, feel at times when their proposals are rejected. In fact, I know that’s how they feel. I’ve been there.

I’ve never sat on the agency side, but I know they’ve been there too.

On blogs, discussion boards and in conversations I’ve had with professionals working inside and outside of organizations, it’s not unusual to hear rants about bonehead clients.

“They don’t know what they’re talking about.”

“They’re too scared to change.”

“They think they know more than us. We’re the experts, but of course they know best!”

Look, I get the frustration. Consultants, for the most part, know their discipline and have a unique expertise their clients don’t possess. Otherwise, the client wouldn’t need the consultant in the first place.

However, let’s not forget that the internal brand steward or owner has a unique perspective as well. And it’s quite possible they may rightly reject or resist a consultant’s recommendations.

When it comes to the brand, brand stewards and brand owners don’t want to compromise. They’ve got too much on the line. As Janis Joplin said: “Don’t compromise yourself. You’re all you’ve got.”

Those who would choose to rant about client resistance, in my view, are missing an opportunity. And that’s to use the resistance and any reservations to better understand the client’s needs and then use that knowledge to help the client make the best possible business decision.

Pushing back is never the answer. Essentially, that’s exercising resistance in return.

You’ve got to be open to the possibility that you’re not right. And is that really such a stretch? After all, is anyone right all the time?

Instead, you should listen. You should listen carefully. And you should show that you’re open to the client’s concerns. After all, you want the client to be open to yours, right?

As a communications professional for over a decade, I’ve long listened to the complaints of colleagues about “difficult” clients who won’t accept their ideas.

Recently, I attended a writing workshop for communications professionals where, once again, someone belly ached about how their internal clients didn’t accept or respect their recommendations.

I greatly admired the workshop facilitator’s response, which went something like this:

We all have challenging clients. But we must not turn it on them; we must turn it on ourselves first.

You’re a communications professional. You’re supposed to be the expert at persuasion. You’re supposed to be wonderful at selling ideas and recommending change. You build and run campaigns to drive action. You need to look at your recommendations in the same way as any other campaign.

If you’re not having success with your clients, take a look at yourself and make sure you’re practicing the necessary skills to sell your solutions. Don’t be so arrogant to think it’s just the client’s problem.

I couldn’t agree more.

My view: present your case fairly and as well as you can. Then back off and listen to the client. Uncover the resistance and deal with it. In the end, you may just come up with even stronger solutions.

One more thought here. Whether you’re an internal or external consultant, invest time educating clients about brand building. Help them understand the nuances. Bring them into your universe. Help them understand the principles. Help them see what works and what doesn’t. Bring in speakers. Show them case studies. Ask them to participate in your strategic thought process with other clients.

In short, give them the knowledge and tools to better assess your recommendations. Bridge the divide.

In turn, brand stewards and owners also have a role in fostering a winning relationship. They can help the consultant understand their organization and its “whole story.” They can bring them into their thinking processes and marketing decisions. And, of course, they can be brutally honest about their concerns and reservations.

I’m sure many of you have experiences and good advice in how to bridge the divide in the consultant-client relationship. Why not share them here for everyone’s benefit?

—David Cameron, On Brands