6 Ways to Help the Client Make Decisions

Help the client like a good mechanic
6 Ways to Help the Client Make Decisions

Sergie is a mechanic that I trust with my cars. When I take it in for a problem, he’ll suggest an inexpensive adjustment to see if that solves the problem. If that doesn’t work, he’ll try something more. I know that he has my best interests in mind rather than thinking about how much money he’ll make in the deal.

It made me realize that he was really my auto repair consultant. What if every consultant followed the six steps that Sergie does with me?

Explain the impact

After Sergie runs an analysis on my car, he gives me a call and explains what is wrong with it. He knows that I don’t know an overhead cam from a drive shaft. Instead of taking advantage of that, he explains how it impacts the car’s performance. That helps me make a decision on what to do.

When a consultant identifies a problem, it is important to explain, not just the business or IT problem, but how it has potential to impact the business in the short and long terms. When the client understands how it impacts the business, they can seek the most effective solutions.

Understand client’s priorities

Sergie has asked me how much longer we plan to keep an automobile. He’s asked how many miles we usually drive a car to work. That helps him understand how much and how we use our cars. That helps him give informed advice that will be most helpful for us to get the right solution.

A consultant should understand the client’s strategy. He should know the clients priorities and goals in order to help achieve them. By knowing where the client is going, the consultant can give advice that leads them down the right path.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants

Provide options with pros and cons

When Sergie calls after I drop off a car, I know how the conversation is going to go. He’ll explain what is wrong in language that I can understand. Then he’ll list out a number of options. Some are simple stop-gap resolutions. Some are a lot more expensive. For each option, he explains the advantages and disadvantages. He’ll explain how the fix could affect the resale value and how long the solution is expected to last.

Consultants are paid to come up with solutions. They should provide clients with multiple options and explain the pros and cons of each one. Each option should be presented in a way that is clear and understandable for the client.

Make a recommendation

Once he explains all of the options and the pros and cons of each, Sergie often has painted a picture of a no-brainer. I’ll usually state what sounds like the right option and he usually agrees.

Sometimes, it’s not a clear solution. If he sees me struggling to decide, he’ll make a recommendation based on his knowledge of how we use our cars. He’ll explain why he thinks that’s a good solution. Then he patiently answers all of my questions and waits for my decision.

No matter how decisive a client is, or how well he knows his business, decisions can be complex. A consultant who knows the client’s strategy can best make a recommendation and explain why it’s the best decision. The client will most likely have questions. The consultant should be well-informed to be able to answer each question.

Implement according to the customer’s preferences

Once I make a decision on my car, my loyal mechanic implements the solution according to my directions. I’ve never gone against his recommendation. But if I did, I have confidence that he would do what I think is best rather than what he believes.

A consultant has to do the same. Clients often agree with the consultant. Sometimes they agree after some minor modifications. Other times, they may disagree completely for a variety of reasons.

The consultant may disagree. He may voice that disagreement. But the client’s wishes trump the consultant’s opinion. Solutions need to be implemented according to the client’s wishes.

How do you help clients make decisions?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Client Relations for Consultants

Client Relations for Consultants
Client Relations for Consultants

“I’m just a programmer. I’ve only been brought in here to write code for this client.”

That’s the general attitude I’ve gotten from many consultants on past projects. Some consultants just seem to forget that their really outsiders.

There is a double standard. Employees have their assignments. Their employers have expectations for them. When employers bring in consultants, they usually have higher expectations for those consultants.

Consultants are expected to be experts. Consultants are usually paid at a higher rate. Never mind that consultants have overhead costs. Whether the consultant is independent or associated with a firm, there is still health insurance and vacation time buried in the rate.
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Your Greatest Career Risk

career risk
Your greatest career risk

Career minded individuals always seem to be trying to chart out their next success. That may include striving toward the next promotion. It could mean making more money. It could mean simply making more people happy.

Whatever your definition of success, most of us set goals and strive to achieve them. That pursuit can be fraught with landmines. We face political pressures that force us down other routes. We struggle to balance family and our personal lives with our career goals. Sometimes things just don’t go our way. We have to exercise flexibility and go a different direction at times.

All of these, and many other factors contribute to career risk. You can receive setbacks and never recover. But all of these factors are external. Your greatest career risk actually lies within.
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Consulting Success from a Good Economy

Consulting Success
Consulting Success from a Good Economy

Things looked bleak in the depths of the great recession. Many major firms collapsed and went out of business completely. Some were deemed “too big to fail” and were bailed out by the U.S. government. For the surviving firms, layoffs were rampant, resulting in unemployment peaking at 10% in late 2009.

Effects of the Great Recession

Companies that were shedding employees also cut major projects, resulting in consultants being shown the door. Many consulting firms failed. Others survived by reducing their own staffs.

Unemployment in the U.S. hovered in the upper 9% range for over a year. In late 2010 it began a gradual descent. As of May of 2015, unemployment was down to 5.4%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average grew nearly 30% in 2013 followed by a more modest 10% increase in 2014.

Throughout the recovery, use of consulting has increased as companies, gun-shy of committing to permanent hires, continued to hire temporary staffing. Now, as the recovery turns into a stronger economy, companies are beginning to have the confidence to hire full-time employees.

Additionally, companies are investing in new projects. As long as they can justify an adequate and fast enough return on investment, organizations are turning to their large backlog of work that they were too risk averse to attempt over the past several years.

Translation to Consulting Success

This bodes well from many aspects. The willingness of the business community to make large investments in staffing and projects should translate to additional growth in the economy.

Additionally, investment in projects will almost certainly mean that companies will turn to consulting firms for help. Traditionally, firms do not rely on existing staff to implement large projects. Consultants are usually brought in for their expertise in the particular subject. Consultants are also temporary workers. They provide the needed guidance and extension of staffing needed during a major project. As the project winds down, the consulting staff is gradually ramped down and the project is handed over to the full-time staff for ongoing maintenance.

The existing staff is heavily involved during the project. Full-time employees act as subject matter experts (SMEs) on the project, providing consultants insight on the company’s proprietary knowledge and processes. As the project winds down, full-time employees take on a larger responsibility of the project, eventually assuming full ownership as the consultants phase out of the picture.

Challenge to Consulting Firms

The continuing decline of the unemployment rate is generally a good thing. It is the sign of a growing economy. However, as the unemployment rate becomes lower, it becomes a concern for hiring qualified people to do the job.

Hiring by client organizations results in fewer people in the market. Competition for qualified workers becomes stiffer. There are some who have concerns that we will get to a point where we are at full employment – a 0% unemployment rate.

While some may look at that as some utopian accomplishment, where everyone in the market is employed and productive, there is a downside. With full employment, we risk ceasing to grow. New investment is stifled because organizations can’t hire people to do new work.

The predicted problems of full employment may never come to fruition. But as the unemployment rate becomes smaller and smaller, consulting firms will find themselves competing more with each other – and with their clients – for qualified knowledge workers.

Conclusion

The growing economy is cause for great celebration for the business world in general. It is also a positive sign for consultants that they will experience continued growth. Like any type of benefit, there are challenges. Consulting firms will have to learn how to compete in the hiring market to acquire adequate staffing in order to serve their clients.

Their own success as well as the success of their clients will depend on it.

How is your firm preparing for a more competitive market?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Consultants are Vampires, Clients are Zombies

I’m intrigued with the popularity of vampires and zombies these days. Just doing a simple search for vampires on Amazon.com provides over 51,000 book titles. A search on zombies provides another 24,000. Netflix offers many titles under each category as well.

It might have started with the Twilight series, but I think that just fueled a fire that was already burning. The same goes for The Walking Dead series on AMC. I think it has just enhanced a wave that was already going

After more than twenty years on consulting, I’ve observed how consultants and clients interact with each other. They each have their own way of looking at the other. I’ve come to the conclusion that clients perceive consultants as vampires and consultants perceive clients as zombies.

Consultants are Vampires

Consultants are Vampires, Clients are Zombies
Consultants are Vampires

Vampires are Blood suckers: We all know that a vampire needs to survive on the blood of others. Consultants are always trying to upsell. They want to add scope to the project and then sell that next project in addition. Billable hours and sales, at the expense of the client, are their lifeblood.

Vampires are aristocratic: Just as vampires have the attitude of coming from the upper echelon, so do consultants. They dress more superior and have the condescending attitude that they’re just better.

Vampires are nocturnal: Just as vampires only come out at night, consultants like to burn the midnight oil. Then, they come in later in the morning because of their late nighter. When the client comes in at 8:00 AM to ask a question, the consultants are nowhere to be found.

Vampires have psychic abilities: There are some vampire movies where vampires can read minds. Consultants are the same. In fact, whenever a client manager says something intelligent, the consultant says, “I was just about to say that.”

Vampires can appear as mist: Consultants do the analysis, develop the plan, and present it all into a nice PowerPoint presentation. Then they disappear as soon as the actual execution of the plan is to be performed.

A vampire has hypnotic power over his victims: Many a client employee whose boss has hired a consultant has probably wondered what caused them to hire that consultant. He must have been under the consultant’s hypnotic power.

A vampire can turn victims into vampires: Every once in a while, a consultant convinces a client employee to come over to “the dark side” of consulting. Many consulting contracts prohibit pilfering employees from either party, but it still happens. Before long, the new consultant is taking his former colleagues out to lunch trying to drum up new business.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants

Clients are Zombies

Consultants are Vampires, Clients are Zombies
Clients are Zombies

A zombie is someone who has lost his or her sense of self: When a consultant first meets the client employee, he often finds someone who is entrenched in the politics and apathy of the organization. He’s there to put in his time and leave at 5:00. You consultants want to change how we do things? Why?

Zombies have increased endurance relative to normal humans: clients can endure long meetings in which their presence neither adds value nor is required. They go because they were invited. What else are they going to do?

Zombies have reduced or absent cognitive function: Clients know only their area of the business. If you want to know how another area of the business works, go talk to someone in that area. It’s not my job.

Zombies are Slow: Clients have no sense of urgency to implement change. They’re happy with the status quo. They show up late for meetings, or not at all. They practice passive resistance to hold up any chance of real change taking place.

Zombies are not dead, yet not alive: Client employees are present, yet they aren’t. They show up for work every day. They attend their meetings. But they are rarely productive.

Is Either Perspective Accurate?

Obviously, these are extreme perspectives that consultants and clients have of each other. Hopefully consultants aren’t that condescending toward their clients. Hopefully clients aren’t that cynical toward consultants.

But, these attitudes sometimes exist on both sides. Consultants can provide a valuable service to their clients if they face it with the right attitude. Clients can sometimes be resistant to new changes the consultant is trying to help implement. Maybe the client employees haven’t been convinced that the new changes are better than the existing ways of doing business. It is the consultant’s responsibility to convince them why the changes are better.

Consultants and client employees are often incented and motivated by different things. If the client employee wants to stay with the status quo and has no incentive to change, the consultant should work with the client to find ways they would like the changes. Will it make their job easier? Will it allow them to make decisions that will help them move up the corporate ladder?

Consulting, more than anything else is a communication process. Communicating change to a client involves communicating why the client should be interested in the first place. It is about the client.

How have you broken down stereotypes to convince a client to change?

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com

Getting In to Consulting

getting in to consulting
Getting in to Consulting

I could tell by the look on his face that the interview was over. I was sitting in an interview with a top tier consulting firm in my college’s career services center. The interviewer had explained what it was like to work there. He said there would be a lot of travel. It could be up to 100% travel if I was working for an out of town client.

My response was nothing short of sophomoric. I told him, “Oh, I like to travel. My girlfriend and I went on a trip last winter.” I told him a little about our trip for a few seconds before I read the look on his face.
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The 5 Biggest Myths of Consulting

A mythical land
The 5 biggest myths of consulting

When I tell someone I’m a consultant I never know what the response is going to be. Some people are impressed. With some people, their son or daughter is a consultant and they sense a connection.

Still with others, I see them trying to suppress a sneer. Some of these people may have had a bad experience with a consultant. Or, they know someone who lost their job because of some changes implemented by a consultant.

Whether the impression is good or bad, it seems that people have many myths of consulting. Here are just a few dispelled.
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10 Ways to Be the Chief Executive Officer of your Career

chief executive officer of your career
How to be the chief executive officer of your career

The chief executive officer is the head honcho. The person in charge. He or she is the one that presumably calls the shots. The CEO is everything you should be for your own career. Here I discuss 10 parallels between what a CEO does and what you should be doing to be the chief executive of your career.

1) Have a vision

The CEO is the captain of the corporate ship. She has a long-term vision for what the company stands for and where it needs to go. She steers the rudder of that ship to correct its direction before it veers too far in any other direction.
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10 Ways to Have More Efficient Days

More efficient days
More efficient days

I meet busy people all the time. They’re the people who run from meeting to meeting. They’re usually running late. They start a to-do list, but they usually don’t finish writing out all of their tasks. They’re too busy attending to one emergency after another.

People like this are in a constant mode of keeping their head above water. As soon as they finish one urgent task, there is another fire they need to put out.

If all you’re doing is keeping your head above water, you will easily fall behind.  Here are some tips for getting your head above water and having more efficient days.
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5 Tips for Consulting Interviews

Tips for Consulting Interviews
Tips for Consulting Interviews

When I was a college senior interviewing with top consulting firms, I had two problems. Information about how to interview wasn’t readily available and I wasn’t ambitious enough to seek out what was there.

I went into most of my interviews cold, just planning to be myself. And I failed miserably.  While I encourage people to be themselves during an interview, it is also imperative to be prepared. If you are interviewing for a job at a consulting firm, here are some tips to make the interview more successful.
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101 Tips for Success in Consulting