You'd think by now this battle-tested veteran of the crisis wars would be able to distinguish between a real and fictitious lead and, in the process, avoid giving away free advice. But, clearly, some remote part of my brain still clings to the belief that prospects will do what they say and deliver on their promises. Alas, such is not always the case.
Two recent examples prove my point:
– A month or so ago, the CEO of a family-owned business was referred to me. His organization was in deep trouble. A rival faction on his board was threatening to wrest control away from the man, ending what had been nearly a century-old love affair between the company and the CEO’s family. Listening to his plight on the phone (replete with sobbing, BTW), I went into action over a weekend. Joined by a few other Peppercommers, we dug deep into the issues, developed a strategy and submitted a plan and budget. Then… radio silence. Eventually, the CEO resurfaced to say he didn't have the funds to retain us. Case closed. Time spent helping this guy? Fifteen hours. Monies collected: none.
- More recently, the head of a firm whose work was at the epicenter of a global firestorm on the blogosphere was referred to me. As I'd done in the previous case, I listened as the executive lamented about the damage done to date, the very real possibility that customers would bolt and the need to do the right thing ASAP. Not understanding the nuances of crisis communications, the executive asked me to hypothesize various scenarios and possible strategies. We ended a lengthy conversation by agreeing to speak again the following morning with the organization's other top leaders and begin implementing a rapid crisis response. Once again, the silence was deafening. Time spent counseling: 1.5 hours. Monies collected: none.
My wife suggested I stop trusting prospects to pay for my time before a contract is actually signed. Instead, she counseled I say nothing until the proverbial check is in hand. She's right, of course. She's also a lot less trusting than me (which can be a good thing).
So, the next time the circus barker cries out, 'Get your crisis counseling! Step right this way!' the adjective 'free' will be noticeably absent from the proclamation.