Why Clients Always Hire Pigs and Not Chickens

Question: In a bacon and egg breakfast, what’s the difference between the chicken and the pig?
Answer: The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed.

Most of the time, being called a pig is not a compliment. But if clients think you are a pig, it is the ultimate seal of approval.

The caller ID flashed on the ringing phone and Jonathan, the Chief Legal Officer of a Fortune 100 company, immediately tensed. The display showed 10:06 AM and Jonathan knew the number was his law school buddy, Lori, now working at the Securities and Exchange Commission. Jonathan picked up the receiver and said a friendly hello.

Lori shared pleasantries, but the tone quickly changed. Lori informed Jonathan that the agency, after months of study, was preparing to launch a formal investigation into the company's accounting practices. Immediately, Jonathan envisioned the disclosures, the inevitable drop in the stock price of his company, the exodus of customers, and the harsh scrutiny of the company’s shareholders. His face went white thinking of the bill attached to managing the investigation and follow-up rulings.

Jonathan wanted to move quickly and decisively. Once he hung up with Lori, he immediately called his go-to legal advisor, Bart. Bart was a litigator at one of the 20 largest law firms in the world. The 2 had worked together for more than 15 years and there was no voice Jonathan wanted to hear more. When Bart picked up the phone, Jonathan shared the news.

Bart, understanding the gravity of the situation, shared his sympathies and quickly reminded Jonathan, “SEC and accounting investigations aren’t in my wheelhouse. However, I don’t want you to worry. Last year, we brought on a new partner who has tremendous experience in these types of matters.” Bart went on, “This guy is based out of our West Coast office, so he’s a few hours behind us. I’ll give his assistant a ring and have an appointment scheduled for the 3 of us as quickly as possible.” Before they hung up, Bart confided, “Now, please understand. This partner’s going rate starts at $1,100 an hour—I just want you to be prepared for a little sticker shock.”

The 2 hung up. Jonathan stared at the phone, afraid it would ring again. He knew his CEO would be calling any minute demanding an action plan and Jonathan had nothing. He reached for the phone and dialed Deborah, another attorney he had worked with recently on a handful of major matters. Jonathon hoped Deborah would have some quick advice for him.

Once patched through to Deborah, Jonathan begain retelling the details of the SEC decision. Deborah quietly listened and afterwards asked if she could put Jonathan on hold for a few minutes. Jonathan placed the call on speaker, muted the line, and responded to a handful of emails while he waited. 11 minutes later, Deborah returned to the line and introduced Jonathan to Gary and Susan—2 experienced SEC attorneys ready to start brainstorming next steps with Jonathan.

Post Script: Later in the afternoon, Bart's assistant called back to schedule a meeting between Jonathan, Bart, and their West Coast SEC attorney. Jonathan was on his second conference call with Deborah and her partners and didn’t return the call.

Jonathan ultimately spent more than $33 million dollars with Deborah's firm.

This a true story and one I’ve heard many times—admittedly on a smaller scale than in the tale of Jonathan and Bart.

Poor Bart. He’s a pig in hiding. His heart was in the right place, but he sent out a bevy of unintended messages suggesting he was a chicken.

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Commitment to help is the single most important factor to C-level executives when they evaluate and hire professional services firms.

Your commitment to help clients will make—or break—the most meaningful client relationships.

Do your clients see you as a pig or a chicken?

In order to prove your pig-ness, a professional must go beyond the boundaries of a typical commercial relationship. Call it engagement, investment, or commitment—clients want you to match (or exceed) their own levels of:

  • Urgency
  • Energy
  • Perceived investment of time, money, and psychic energy

While Deborah, in the above anecdote, addressed Jonathan’s most pressing need in an urgent manner, Bart was talking about rates and overlooked the client’s need for immediate action. Bart was being helpful, not committed.

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This excerpt is just a snippet from my newly released book Clientelligence: How Superior Client Relationships Fuel Growth and Profits. Already in use at over 100 law firms, the 17 activities within Clientelligence are proven drivers of superior client relationships. Based on 14,000 in-depth interviews with clients, this consistent and systematic approach to developing superior client service skills gives you unparalleled access to your clients' most complex—and premium-rate—work.

I hope you’ll take a moment to learn more about how you can use these activities to create and maintain superior client relationships of your own while fueling growth and profits—or order your copy—here.

MBR