Working With A Maverick

No matter where your firm focuses, there are some qualifications for an ideal client that will never change:

  1. Access to the decision maker, directly, without having to go through a gatekeeper.
  2. That person has used a firm like yours before, either at this company or a prior one, or they’ll underestimate how long it takes and how much it costs to get results. In other words, this person is an experienced buyer.
  3. There’s some “reason to act now” that is motivating the engagement: yearly sales meeting, change in the competitive landscape, bad recent quarter, I’m going to lose my job, etc. We’re essentially looking for some (reasonable) deadline pressure or it won’t move along fast enough with the decisions that are required for that to happen.
  4. Funds for the initiative have been earmarked, even if they won’t tell you exactly what the budget is.
  5. The decision maker should be spending non-personal money. If this should fail and they have to buy a smaller boat than planned or send a kid to state school instead of an Ivy League one, well, they’ll be too precious about every decision.
  6. Will they eventually let you influence the strategy, even if there’s no time for that this first go around.
  7. Will the entire relationship, if things go well at the outset, amount to a big enough client for your size. That’s 4% of your fee billings, by the way.
  8. Is your client-side ambassador widely considered a maverick.

There are other things you might add to the list (ethics, how they treat your staff, etc.), but I mainly want to focus on the “maverick” thing, because I don’t hear anybody else talking about that, and I think it’s an important element of successful new business.

What’s A Maverick

Here’s what I mean by a maverick. This is someone who operates on the inside of the corporate (or non-profit) world but has an external perspective on it. A maverick:

  • Presses the boundaries and skirts the rules, but not just because they are different or rebellious.
  • They do this because it’s the only way to get things done.
  • Some of their peers admire them and follow, and others resent it.
  • The ones who resent it are rule-followers and they expect to move through the ranks by following the rules, enforcing the rules, and building alliances around the rules.

Mavericks aren’t unaware of the rules, but they look across the expanse of people in that world and see people who want to get things done or people who have a job and don’t see themselves as rocking the boat, and sometimes the latter group gets in the way of the former.

What do the non-maverick leader types think of the mavericks they work alongside? Publicly they’re going “tsk tsk” but in their hearts they wish they had the courage. This public pressure that the mavericks feel to conform is very real, too, because the only reason a maverick isn’t fired is because they actually get things done. The minute that stops, they are gone. It’s risky to keep a maverick, and the minute they quit performing, the downside take over.

Working With A Maverick

You have to recognize them, first. These are the ones who will bend the rules a little by moving faster or without every single step that the procurement folks insist on.

And then once you get hired, do two very important things:

  • Keep pressing the envelope. Why do you think they hired you? They saw something in how you thought and how you worked that they were drawn to working with your firm. Don’t fall back to “safe”—they could have gotten there with any of the firms pitching the account.
  • Do not embarrass them! Geez! They are already skating on thin ice, and the last thing they need is for you to bring them down. No, make them proud!

And then once they do get fired—they always will get fired—follow them to the next job. Your career following a maverick will be far more lucrative than playing along with any single deadbeat client.

Companies Are Really People

Now, go back and look at that list from the very beginning. You know what’s fascinating about it? There’s very little about the company in there—it’s almost always about the other person across the table. Yeah, it’s a company-to-company (B2B) relationship, but at its core, it’s really a P2P relationship, as it should be.

*Some mavericks are really just assholes who think of themselves as mavericks while everyone else knows they are just assholes who break the rules…and don’t get things done…and are in it for themselves.

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