Working for a client is not an easy thing. Whether it is related to information systems, finance or operations, just the simple exercise of understanding the needs that a client has is a unique experience and sometimes it can be a task of titanic proportions.
But, that is your job. Consulting gives you and your client the opportunity to see things from another perspective, taking into consideration aspects and issues you didn’t thought of before. In the end, you are the expert. It’s you who the client chose to help him solving the problem he’s facing. It doesn’t matter what he hired you for, what matters is that you are the person best qualified to find the right solution to the problem because, after all, you are the expert. You are the one who understands the topic better than anyone and you are in a better position than him to make an assessment or recommendation.
So, just doing what the client asked you for is not good enough. You need to make a good analysis of the problem at hand and put the client in the best position possible to make the best decision. What good are you if you are not advising your client correctly? Aren’t you supposed to be the expert? What’s the point of going into a meeting with a client and not make recommendations? By not being proactive, you are not creating the necessary value so that the client feels satisfied with your contribution and you are putting a future relationship with your client at jeopardy.
In my experience this are 5 important keys to be a good consultant. As you can see, not all of them are related with your technical capability about a topic. As a consultant, you have to pay attention to other areas that sometimes go unnoticed.
1. Know your stuff
Obviously you have to know what you are taking about. You are the expert the client chose to address the issue. You don’t only have to know why you recommend option A; you also have to know the reason by which options B, C and D are not appropriate. Remember that besides convincing the project “champion”, there are other crucial people that need to be persuaded too.
2. Win their trust
There is no better proof that you are doing a good job as consultant that when your client trusts you. A vote of confidence not only earns you “bragging rights”, but also puts you in a better position than other consultants and in occasions above employees of that client. The power that trust gives you will let you be more effective and more assertive when giving your opinion and making recommendations.
3. Beware of your hygiene and always dress to impress
I shouldn’t have to say this but…you have to pay attention to your hygiene and mostly your breath. Keep mints or chewing gum and use them after lunch or before a meeting. Your clothing is vital and you shouldn’t make assumptions about a specific way to dress. Always maintain conservative business attire, at least until you know your client well. This will earn you initial respect from your client and will make him look at you in a better way. Remember that you dictate the norm and there isn’t a second chance to create a first impression.
4. Never Say Never
We have to watch the way we say things. One of the worst things you can do as a consultant is going to a meeting and say something can’t be done and end of story. It looks bad and participants don’t take it in a good way. The way to say that something “can’t be done” is by giving alternatives and explaining why that option is not feasible. To say “can’t be done” puts you on the side of those who don’t want change and see the glass half empty. In engineering we say that: “everything can be done, it’s only a problem of time and money”. Try to always be positive, give options and alternatives.
5. Learn how to write an email
Marc Twain once said: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Writing a concise email to a client, in general, takes times because we have to be careful of:
- how we say what we want;
- who do we send it to; and
- what is the purpose.
We have to question ourselves: Is the email well written grammatically and logically? who should receive it and who I should send copy to? What the tone of the email? Emails have replaced personal contact and, sometimes, people don’t pay attention to the way they write them. You have to make sure that your grammar is perfect because this says a lot about you. We have to make sure that we put the reader in position of understanding what are we talking about. Writing perfectly what we want to say is essential since, if we don’t do it, we are at risk of causing misunderstandings that we will have to explain. Always remember that it is better to speak directly with the person rather than writing a long and confusing email.
Finally, don’t forget that everything has a balance. The client will place on a balance the cost of a consultant versus the value that you bring to him. It is your job to create enough value for the balance to move in your favor.