Friend:  “Well, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

Me:  “Wrong, my job is to make that horse thirsty.”

I was frustrated because I’d unsuccessfully pitched a strategy and plan to implement a solution. Despite everything presented to ensure success, articulated business value, detailed implementation schedule, risk contingency and risk mitigation plans, nothing was working. Saying “I tried my best, it just didn’t work,” is not an option. “Lead a horse to water” offers no comfort. My job does not stop at pretty charts and suggestions. It is to develop and implement. What will make the client implement, what makes the horse thirsty?

Lessons learned show success or failure depend on the trust of the client. Trust means you can get relevant information. You can make the client thirsty. In the early days of the start of e-commerce, I worked with a brick and mortar retailer to improve their online retail infrastructure. As the team and I dug deeper, we found the “thirsty” moment. There was the T shirt fiasco. For this retailer, new clothes were introduced every 6 weeks cycles. In a recent cycle, the online inventory showed a particular t shirt style as out of stock. For almost 6 weeks, the online site displayed the t shirt as unavailable to thousands of online shoppers while the product sat in distribution centers. By the time the error found, it was time to reduce the costs of the t shirts to make way for the next 6 week cycle resulting in lost revenue. The t shirt incident highlighted that the manual processes were no longer working and could not keep pace with the company’s rapid growth in the e-commerce. We were brought into the client because they wanted an online solution. It was only after some work, we got to the business driver, they why, the thing that would make them thirsty. It’s the thing the client themselves, may sometimes not even have an awareness of.

This happens frequently with career coaching. Of course, people will tell you their career aspirations but that is just the starting point. People need to honestly tell you what they are willing and able to do. Willing to go back to school and able to go back to school are two different things. To facilitate an effective strategy and implementation, you need the deeper level. This deeper level can be intimidating, scary and frightening. It pushes people against questions they may not have asked themselves. This is why the trust aspect is important. If you don’t have trust, you may not be able to get to level.

In one situation, through our questioning, we found the client needed a solution fast because they were on the short list to become approved vendors for a client that would triple their annual revenues. This was huge and yet, not something the client said during all of our initial meetings. This information helped us frame our solution from the client perspective in the  most meaningful way possible.

You’ve got to asking and pushing for answers until you get the compelling why. Once, through our persistence, my team and I found out there was no money in the budget for a new solution. Our involvement was basically a political move for show.  We got the why and could adjust accordingly. Ultimately, you have got to ask questions to find out “why.”  Find that thirsty moment for the client and be there with the water.