By Erica Christoffer, Multimedia Web Producer, REALTOR® Magazine
Mark Twain once said, “Always tell the truth, then you don’t have to remember anything.” This is the philosophy behind the book Getting Naked (Wiley; 2010) by teamwork consultant and speaker Patrick Lencioni.
Getting Naked, Lencioni says, is the mantra of being transparent with clients. His fictional story delivers this message through the main character, Jack Bauer, a strategy consultant with a large management consulting firm. Jack’s view of what works in business is turned upside down when his firm merges with another that has a very different approach to serving its clients. For the first time, he sees that providing competence trumps protecting one’s own reputation.
Lencioni, founder and president of The Table Group and nine-time author, gave REALTOR® Magazine’s Weekly Book Scan insight into his motivation for writing Getting Naked, and explained what holds service providers back from being transparent with their clients.
What is the model of Getting Naked in business?
LENCIONI: “Being naked” is being vulnerable, open, and honest. The concept of being naked can really apply to anyone in a service field who has an ongoing relationship with their clients. Getting Naked is a fictional story about two consulting firms, but I largely drew from my experience in management consulting during my first few years out of school. I started out at a company that was not “naked.” The culture was to keep up a front with our clients. Rather than serve their needs, we were encouraged to create a dependency.
Later I became involved on the organizational side of high tech fields, and eventually became an executive. About 13 years ago, I decided to start my own consulting firm because it felt like the right thing to do. Our firm is called The Table Group and we help companies become healthier. When we first started, we talked about what kind of consulting firm we wanted to be – and what we really wanted to do was be totally transparent to our clients.
How is social media influencing the idea of “being naked”?
LENCIONI: The concept has always been important, but it’s really becoming harder and harder for people to disguise themselves because of the open atmosphere social media has created. Customers rate people now and anyone can find information about you and your business easily. But it’s always been true that customers respond to service providers who are honest about what they can do and demonstrate naked consulting.
Why do people resist transparency?
LENCIONI: It’s fear. In the book, I outline three underlying fears that make people resistant to being naked. One of those fears is of losing business, which is ironic because the more you fear it, the more you’re going to do things to protect your business unnaturally. My advice is to always consult instead of sell. Don’t try to monetize everything. When you offer your services freely, ultimately, you gain loyalty with the kind of clients you’ll want.
Do you have an example of how this can work in real estate?
LENCIONI: I have a great story about a woman who I know – some friends of hers were looking for a house. They were about to buy when their agent stopped them and said, “I don’t want you to buy this house if it’s not right for you.” She directed them to another area outside of her market. The couple ended up purchasing their home in the other city, but they have referred more clients to her because she put their needs first.
What are the other fears that can hold back an open relationship?
LENCIONI: The next fear is the fear of being embarrassed. It prevents you from making suggestions or asking questions because you think you’ll appear dumb. If you’re a real estate practitioner, or any service provider, and you make a mistake, be the first one to say, “Oh, you guys, I just screwed this up.” There’s something so attractive about someone who will say, “I’ve made a mistake. Let me try to fix it.” Admitting fault builds trust and credibility.
The third fear that prevents people from being naked to their clients is the fear of feeling inferior. There seems to be a need to feel important to clients. Instead, you should be a humble servant. Your clients will, in turn, be loyal to you. For example, my literary agent represents another author who started a business called LittleMissMatched, specializing in girls socks that don’t match. Well, our literary agent wears her socks all the time. He’ll go to meeting in New York with publishers, sit down and cross his legs, and he’s got these multi-colored stripped socks on. People see them and immediately ask about the socks. This gives him an opportunity to talk about his client’s business. Honor your client and make everything about the client.
How does one begin “being naked” to their clients?
LENCIONI: Start out with one client. Make yourself vulnerable, transparent, and tell the truth. Don’t worry about closing the deal. Most people find it completely liberating. When you brand yourself, point out what you’re good at and what you’re not good at. I don’t know if that can be put on a poster or sign, but certainly when you first meet with people you should show them who you really are. If they appreciate that, they’ll be your clients. If they don’t appreciate that, then maybe they shouldn’t be your clients after all. You should also be willing to say, “I don’t think I’m the right agent for you, but I know this other guy…” I guarantee, they’ll refer you down the line.
In this world of hyper-competitiveness, this philosophy is a great way to differentiate yourself. Obviously, commissions are down. A lot of people have hit a dry spell. I understand the pressure and I empathize with people who want to close the deal. But once things turn around, it’s the people who stuck to their guns who are going to get so much business. Put the interest of your client ahead of your own and they will reward you.