Category Archives: Client relations

Using a client laptop

Client laptop
Using a client laptop

I heard a consultant talking the other day about a client experience he had. He had a client laptop issued to him. He carried it home with him every night in case he needed to do any work off hours.

One Saturday night he had a few friends over. He powered up the client-issued laptop and started playing music on it. Later in the evening, he was in another room, not paying attention to the laptop. When he walked back into the room, he saw that some of his friends were viewing porn on the client-issued laptop.
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Effectively Reporting to the Client Executive

Reporting to the Client Executive
Reporting to the Client Executive

For any consultant, reporting to the client executive can be difficult. Clients don’t always specify what they want and how it should be reported. Even when things are agreed upon early on, it sometimes takes time to refine status and other reporting to a point where it satisfies the client.

Although it takes some time and effort, the more you learn about the client, the clearer your reporting becomes. You also eventually develop a better relationship with the client.

Understand what she wants when she makes a request

Clients, especially busy executives, often give what I like to call iceberg instructions. They expose just a little bit of what they want. They can envision the entire thing – at least to some degree. But the consultant listening to these directions only can see what is provided.
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Throw the Client Under the Bus at Your Own Risk

throw the Client Under the Bus
Don’t throw the client under the bus

It happened almost by accident. Jim was presenting his change request to the change review board. He had to expedite it to make the deadline. He needed approval from Paul, his client manager, in order to expedite it. He tried calling Paul a few minutes before the meeting but he didn’t answer.

He decided to attend the meeting anyway.

“Why don’t you have Paul’s approval for this?” one of the board members asked.

“I called him, but he didn’t get back to me.” Jim responded.
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Are you a bridge for the client?

Bridge for the client
Be a bridge for the client

I’m very fortunate to work for a consulting firm in which my engagement manager and client communicate on a regular basis. That hasn’t always been the case. Engagement managers get busy. They assume that you as the client-facing consultant are there to provide communication. The client also gets busy and doesn’t have time to meet with the engagement manager. The EM is usually just trying to sell more services anyway so they often just avoid them.

Maybe so. Engagement managers are often motivated to increase sales at their existing clients. And when that gets in the way of providing the best client service possible, communication breaks down. That is when the consultant that has daily access to the client is most needed.

Providing information about the firm

The client doesn’t usually care about the inner workings of the consultant’s firm. But every once in a while, there is information the client should be made aware of.
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How to Balance Priorities for Your Client

Balance Priorities
Helping the Client Balance Priorities

When a consultant begins a client project, there is a desire to keep a laser-beam focus on that project. It seems logical. Whether you are managing the project or simply a cog in the great wheel, that project should be the one and only thing to focus on.

However, it is likely that that client project is one of many efforts in progress for your client. And those efforts almost certainly are interrelated with your project.

The division you serve

The client manager that you report to has a vested interest in the project you’ve been assigned to. And she wants you to keep your attention trained on your project. That is after all what you were hired to do.
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Managing the Transitioning to Your Successor

transitioning to your successor
Transitioning to your successor

Today, we observe a phenomenon that makes the United States unique and special. We will observe the peaceful transition of power of the United States presidency. Regardless of your politics or whether your candidate won, this is a process that has gone smoothly for over 200 years.

The outgoing president works closely with the newly elected president to facilitate a smooth transition of power. I’ve always been impressed by this. Even when the successor defeated the incumbent (which has happened ten times in our history), the two work together in the greater interest of the nation.

Although it rarely matches the levels of significance and national security, I’ve seen this occur in consulting environments many times. A team member on a project is to be replaced by another. When this happens, the incumbent team member is expected to transition his or her work to the incoming person.

Transitioning to your successor

One of the great things about consulting is the variety. Consultants thrive on moving from project to project. Some even like to have a variety of clients. After some time on a project, they are ready to move on. This can be a pleasant process in these situations. The incoming consultant is excited about the new assignment. The outgoing one is just as excited to start something new.

Sometimes, a client will change contracts with their preferred vendors, needing to transition knowledge from one firm’s consultants to another. This can be based on cost savings or an effort to consolidate work to fewer firms.

A transition like this is comparable to an incumbent president losing the race, required to transition to his opponent. While the outgoing firm may resent being replaced, they must do the professional thing. They need to provide the knowledge transfer necessary to make their replacement successful.

This should not be confused with the story in 2016 regarding Disney employees training replacement workers. That was about permanent employees losing their jobs because cheaper consultants were replacing them. A consultant-for-consultant swap is much more common and more acceptable. Consultants expect to be temporary and to move on to another temporary assignment.

Interviewing your replacement

I’ve been in the situation where, as part of my transition off of a project, I was to interview candidates to take my position. On one hand, that is an almost ideal person to do the interviewing. No one knows the position like the incumbent.

There could be a potential conflict of interest, even if the consultant is leaving willingly. He could fear a newcomer showing him up. He could focus on hiring someone less qualified to make his previous work appear better in comparison.

But like the incumbent president focusing on a smooth transition of power, a consultant needs to think of the client and their project. Sabotaging the project, no matter how subtle, will tarnish the reputation of the consultant and his firm.

Handing off the work

Once the new consultant has been identified and brought in for the transition, it can be awkward. The replacement may feel uncomfortable taking the place of the outgoing guy. The new consultant may be present when people say their goodbyes and show their disappointment to see the old guy go.

It is up to the outgoing consultant, regardless of the purpose of the staffing change, to make the process go smoothly. All documentation should be shared and authorized access provided to the new consultant.

Key stakeholders should be introduced in person, if that is possible. Contact information should be shared and background on each individual’s role and responsibilities. The ultimate goal should be that your replacement is never heard saying, “My predecessor never mentioned anything about that.”

It’s just how it works in consulting

Some people may find it bad form to require someone to train their replacement. The Disney scenario is extreme because permanent employees had to transition to their replacements before their firing took place. Because of the temporary nature of consulting, transitioning to your successor is a fairly common occurrence. It may create uncertainty for the outgoing consultant, but it’s just the way consulting works.

Have you ever been replaced by another consultant?

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 Xura at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Contractual Documents Used in Consulting

Contractual Documents Used in Consulting
Contractual Documents Used in Consulting

I had a friend once who had several years of experience. He decided to give consulting a try. He knew a friend in the industry and made an agreement to consult for him. It was a handshake agreement. They were friends after all. It would have been insulting if either side insisted on a signed contract.

My friend worked for his friend for a few weeks and submitted an invoice for his services. His friend balked. He had no idea the cost would be so high. He didn’t agree to that.

My friend insisted that they had agreed on his hourly rate and that the invoice was accurate. His businessman friend had a different memory of the agreement and had different expectations.
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The Stone Soup Approach to Consulting

stone soup
Stone soup made in a village

The old folk story of stone soup is about three vagrant travelers passing through a small town with nothing but a cooking pot. They ask residents of the town for food but meet resistance at every door.

Finally, they go to the local stream and fill their cooking pot with water. They place a large stone in it and put it over a fire they built in the center of town.

This piques the interest of the towns folk and they asked the vagrants about their endeavor. The three men explain that they are making stone soup. They describe how delicious it is, but it just needs a little garnish to finish it off

One of the townspeople doesn’t mind providing a few carrots. Another offers come celery. Other people offer various herbs and spices.

Before long, a delicious pot of soup is enjoyed by the whole town.
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How to Help the Client Make Decisions

How to Help the Client Make Decisions
How to Help the Client Make Decisions

I have an aunt who up until the age of 93 drove herself to the doctor for each visit. At each of those visits, the doctor would to tell her to stop smoking. She didn’t heed his advice and her life was cut short at 95 years of age.

We tend to look to doctors to heal us. But they are really just advisers. They can prescribe medicine, suggest different ways to eat, and advise us to change bad habits. But we have the final decision over how we live and how it will affect our health.

Consulting works in the same way. Consultants can advise their clients on recommended business practices. The client can choose whether they want to follow that advice. They may disagree with it. They feel it’s too big of an investment. There are ways that the consultant can help the client make the right decision.

Be like an auto mechanic

When you hear a clanking sound in your engine, you probably take your car to the mechanic. The mechanic will investigate the noise and advise you on what needs to be done. If it’s very expensive, you may decide you want to live with the clatter. The mechanic should tell you whether it is dangerous to drive with the noise.
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Critical Consulting Role: Prioritizer

Consulting role
Critical consulting role: Prioritization

I was recently at a client that had a lot of issues. Business was great. They had a lot of customers. They were experiencing a lot of growth.

But because of that growth, they were beginning to hit the limit on their ability to serve their client base. Their servers were starting to hit their limits. They had a lot of manual processes.

Those processes worked well for them when they were smaller. But now, manual processing was causing bottlenecks. A lot of work went to the IT team as special requests. IT was bogged down with these requests, which caused delays of several weeks for seemingly simple requests.

When the client acquired a new customer, there was extensive setup involved. They needed to define custom reports and load new sets of data. All of this processing created a logistical nightmare that could take several weeks.

Where to start?

The business team wanted to be more self-sufficient from IT. Instead of submitting requests and waiting for them to get to their task in the queue, the business wanted a simple tool to set up the customer, load data, and create reports. But there were so many areas that needed work, they didn’t know where to start.

Have you ever started a day where you had so many things to do, that you struggled to get anything done? You could list the items out, but that only highlighted how much you had to do. It seemed to make it worse.

You might have been so overwhelmed that you thought writing out a list would simply take time away from doing the real work. If you feel so inundated with work that you don’t have time to organize, that’s a sign that you need to get organized.

Prioritize

If you do take the time to make a list, you might go through that list and prioritize it. When the list is long, it’s hard for me to prioritize in a sequential process. How do I decide what is 2nd most important and what is 3rd?

For long lists, I’ll prioritize in categories. “A” items are of top priority. “B” items are important, but not critical. “C” items are nice-to-have.

The next step is to estimate how long each task will take. This allows me to do a mini cost/benefit analysis. Let’s say something I thought was an “A” item will end up taking me six hours. I can do four other “A” tasks in the same amount of time, so I’ll do them instead.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants

A business application

This seems easy enough with personal daily tasks. It’s much more complicated when a business division is trying to make these decisions. It’s more difficult to determine which tasks have more value. It’s harder to estimate the cost of making each change.

An independent third party can come in and make independent assessments of the cost and benefit of each task. They can present their findings to the business to make the final decision on what should be done and what can be tabled for later.

Imagine a consultant coming in for you at the end of each day to help you organize and prioritize your upcoming overwhelming day for you.  Maybe that’s overkill for a daily to do list. But it’s just what some business organizations need to make the right changes at the right time.

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