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Client Listening: how to get partners to say yes

If there is one thing we hear over and over again, in the context of Client Listening, it is “how do we get partners to say yes?”. In this article, we open our coaching toolkit to help you get buy-in for your client listening programme.

We often speak of the coachable middle in the context of the work we do. This is the idea that with a group of people, there are some who just get it and who are first onboard. At the other end of the spectrum, are those who are not going to be moved, no matter how hard you try. In the middle – usually the majority – there is the coachable middle.

In the coachable middle are those people who are a little uncertain and need a bit of convincing. You might recognise the following characters:

  • The Partner who really “buys in” to the whole concept of client listening, until you ask to go and speak to one of their clients.

  • The Partner who asks questions and wants to find out more about the process. They ask lots of questions. They say they will think about it.

  • The Partner who sits back, doesn’t stop others from taking part, but doesn’t really engage because “they really know their own clients well and would know if there was a problem.”

  • These are all examples of people who just aren’t quite there. How do you get those partners to open up their client relationships to scrutiny?

Increasing motivation for client listening

All business development professionals know that one way to get partners on-side is to show where success has been had elsewhere. There is a reason for that… are increasing their confidence in the process.

One of the ways that coaches increase motivation to change, is by working with their clients on their own confidence to make a change, and also on their perceived importance of the change itself.

How does this apply to client listening?


There are many reasons why professionals might not feel confident with Client Listening. First, try and get a sense of where confidence might be lacking from the conversations you are having with them.

Does their lack of confidence pertain to the person doing the listening, in the process, or perhaps in what might come out? You can usually get a sense of this from the questions that are being asked. For example, if you are hearing lots of “who is going to speak to them?” “Have they done it before?” then it is likely the interviewer who is a concern.

Try to think about how you can increase understanding of each of these elements (person, process, outcome) to increase the professional’s confidence.

Showing how the process has been conducted before and where “wins” have been made is a really good way of doing this. Make sure that the example is one that fits with the concerns being raised for maximum impact.

Explain how sensitive feedback is dealt with. If confidence is lacking because of fear of being “found out” then setting out how information is handled can help alleviate concerns around bad feedback being widely ‘advertised’.

Start small, and build confidence by doing. Perhaps think about approaching a client on something other than client listening to demonstrate how you handle interviews and the information that is received from them. Maybe you could do an interview as part of a case study, or thought leadership piece.


The next element that sits behind the motivation to change is perceived importance. Specifically, the importance to the individual of making the change. How important does the professional perceive client listening to be and how can you increase this? The more important they think the exercise is, the more likely they are to get involved.

Think of ways to demonstrate why client listening is important. Find statistics. How many other clients are part of the programme? How many firms are doing it? What do clients say about being part of this process? How might clients that are excluded from a client listening programme feel? Including this information in your discussions can help professionals understand why taking part is important.

Individual pain, collective gain

The last point above leads to an interesting dilemma with client listening. Individual pain is often a firm gain.

What do we mean by this?

When getting feedback from a client, there might be things that require individual professionals’ attention. We are not talking about Armageddon scenarios here. Maybe the client wants meetings to be a little earlier in the day. Maybe the client wants more in-person meetings. Perhaps the professional needs to research something.

All of these things require action by an individual in order for the firm to see and feel the benefit. Now, some firms will reward individuals if a client’s fees increase. Not all do. Even where they do, there might be other unseen consequences; early meetings might prevent a professional from dropping their children to school, for example.

Often with client listening, we focus on the benefits to the firm at large as the ‘selling point’ rather than thinking about the benefits (and challenges) that the professional might see at a personal level. This is before we think about mindsets and unconscious bias that can get in the way of feedback more generally.

If an individual partner is saying no, think about what that INDIVIDUAL partner might need in order to say yes. That might be very different from collective arguments that are being put forward to convince them!

What about those who really resist?

We started this article by saying there is a spectrum. Some partners might never say yes. Are there ways to move these partners? Lots of the techniques we have mentioned might work overtime. Drilling down to really understand what is behind the resistance will help. This might need to be done by someone in the business who has a close relationship with that person. This might be an example of where individual coaching might be the solution.

Carrot or stick?

There are always two ways to approach persuasion: carrot or stick. We always advocate for the carrot, but if a particular professional is standing in the way of a programme succeeding, then a stick approach might be appropriate.

A word of warning here though. Ask yourself the question: “does this professional really need to be included for the client listening programme to succeed?” You might get enough feedback without their participation. Perhaps there are other clients in the same practice group or sector that can give a sense of what is going on.

If you decide that a specific individual must participate (for whatever reason) think about whether you can use a “soft stick”. Could you include the client in a firmwide survey and find out their views on client listening there? Maybe they will indicate that they would like to be included in a programme and this is the ammunition you need to get the partner onboard. The stick can then come from outside the firm, rather than from within it.

Do find out how Client Talk can help you work with partners to get them bought in to client listening get in touch.


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