We have all had to deal with anti-sponsors, people in a client organization who don’t want you to get work at their companies. Dealing with them tests a professional’s rainmaking prowess.
One rainmaker I know advises his people to “nuke’em,” by going to their bosses and pointing out that they are obstructing progress. I have no doubt that this man does just that and does it successfully. It’s not an approach for all professionals in all situations.
My colleague, Gary Pines, a proven rainmaker, took a different approach with an anti-sponsor, whom I will call Marie, who was blocking our chance to work at an old client. For some reason, she took a dislike to Gary and Harding & Company. We are not sure why, but perhaps it was because on our original assignment we were brought in by the Managing Partner of her firm, without Marie’s knowledge or approval.
Whatever the reason, she was trying every tactic she could to make sure we got no more work. She said that the members of the committee she was working with didn’t want us, though we knew from moles on the committee that this wasn’t true. She said that we were more suited for a small piece of work, awarding the larger share to a competitor. Even when the competitor failed to produce results, she continued to resist hiring us. She threw up barrier after barrier.
Gary, a cheerful, likeable, gentlemanly person, might have been able to nuke this anti-sponsor, because of his relationship with the Managing Partner and several key committee members assigned to selecting consultants. Instead, he chose to win her over. Over the next eight months he wore away her resistance.
He remained irrepressibly sunny and helpful to her. He included her in most of his communications with the firm, demonstrating that he wasn’t trying to go around her. He was helpful above and beyond what was required, in spite of her sour responses. During one meeting with her at which she was raising objection after objection, he leveled with her, saying, “Marie, somewhere along the way we got off on the wrong foot with each other. I don’t know why or how and I don’t care. From today, as far as I’m concerned, we’re starting fresh. I want to work with you, I want to help you and I want you to be a success.”
She absorbed the message without comment, but from then on things began to change. In communications with others at the firm, Gary made a point of mentioning Marie positively, if she provided him even the remotest excuse for doing so. He stayed in touch with her and continued to be positive, polite and helpful. And he wore her down. Today, she is a strong sponsor for Gary and our firm.
Turning around an anti-sponsor is one of the toughest challenges a professional can face. It takes emotional intelligence and maturity to resist taking personal affront at someone like Marie and to do what Gary did. It also takes a lot of hard work. But the return on the effort can be huge.