As we recover from the Great Recession of 2008-2009, unemployment continues to inch downward. Lingering effects remain, however. Many people who were unable to find jobs with traditional employers became consultants. Some were consultants in name only. They had no paying clients, but showed the title to fill the resume gap. Others were successful in finding clients. But were they successful in keeping those clients?
Consulting involves more than just offering your labor and knowledge for a fee. A consultant must focus on the client’s issues and make the client’s success a priority. You may call yourself a consultant. But it is still possible that you suck as a consultant.
Here are six ways that could mean you suck as a consultant.
1) You sell before understanding the root cause of the client’s pain.
Imagine if you called a plumber to come to your house to give you a quote on fixing a leaking pipe. Upon arriving, he sits you down in your living room, pulls out a PowerPoint presentation, and shows you all the kitchens and bathrooms he has remodeled. I don’t know about you, but I’d be a little impatient to have him address the reason I called him in the first place.
Consultants do this often. A client asks them to propose on a specific business issue. The consulting firm spends an hour presenting a PowerPoint deck that touts all of their capabilities, how wonderful their founder is and how many clients they have served.
Although a client wants a firm that has some experience, they are more concerned with having their problem solved. A consultant can’t effectively show their ability to solve the client’s problem until they fully understand it. The consultant should spend the first part of their meeting asking questions to fully understand the client’s issue.
2) You provide your solution rather than the right solution for the client.
An alternative approach by some consultants in a proposal meeting is assuming they understand the client’s issue. They read a few paragraphs in the request for proposal (RFP). It sounds a lot like the project they did last year for another client. They slam the same solution into the proposal.
Every client is different and every client’s problem is different. It’s good to have experience implementing similar solutions for similar problems, but a one size fits all approach is rarely effective.
3) You talk more than the client.
Starting with the proposal meeting, and throughout the engagement, two-way communication should be the norm. A proposal meeting should be more of an interview than a presentation. The consultant should ask the client many questions about their issue. If the consultant really knows the client’s industry and has experience with similar issues, that knowledge will come out in his questions.
The consultant will gain the client’s confidence that he has the appropriate experience. The client will also feel more comfortable knowing that the consultant is interested in their specific business issue.
4) You focus on billings rather than the client’s issues.
Once an engagement begins, the focus on the client should become even more concentrated. Some consultants try to up sell additional services, add scope to a project, or increase the staffing. This is often just a ploy to increase the engagement’s profitability.
These are short-term strategies that may cause fee fatigue with the client. Solving their problem in the most economical way will ensure that you become their trusted advisor. Once you reach that status, you will earn their repeat business over and over.
5) You don’t develop a relationship with the client.
Selling professional services of any kind is less about your past experience and more about how much the client trusts you to solve their business problems. If you focus on helping them solve problems, you earn their trust. Once you earn their trust, they will naturally turn to you as a trusted advisor. You won’t have to sell to them.
6) You measure project success on profitability instead of the client’s criteria.
So, you finished the engagement on time and under budget. Your profitability was above the target threshold. Was this a successful project? Some firms would answer yes.
The real measurement of a successful client engagement is the client’s satisfaction. If you meet or exceed all of your profitability targets, but have a dissatisfied client, you will not earn their repeat business or a reference for another client.
It costs significantly more to obtain a new client than to keep an existing one. If you focus on meeting the client’s success criteria, you will also be successful in the long run.
Have you ever worked with a consultant that sucked?
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