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. Continue reading How to Help the Client Make Decisions→
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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. Continue reading Client Relations for Consultants→
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
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.
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.
Consultants and clients often have a contentious relationship. Clients resent the high hourly fees the consultants charge. They view consultants as a necessary evil. Consultants tire of the constant demands the client places on them, while pressuring them to lower their fees on an almost constant basis.
Consultants don’t understand that it is up to them to provide such high quality service that the client becomes happily dependent upon them. By following these tips, the consultant can get the client to love them almost unconditionally. Continue reading 5 Ways to Get Your Client to Love You→
I’ve worked with clients who had their own project methodologies. In most cases it was a binder or two somewhere on a bookshelf. It might have even been distributed in binders on everyone’s desk.
Unfortunately, that was often where it ended. It has been my experience that many clients don’t follow methodologies even when they have them. At least it is not followed consistently. One person may follow a few aspects of it and another person may use other features. Meanwhile, the general population of project leads all do things their own way. Their approaches are gathered from a collection of practices and habits from previous jobs. Continue reading How Herding Cats Allows Consultants To Get Things Done→
Ask any random business people what first comes to mind when they think of the word “consultant.” Some will tell you that they steal your watch to tell you the time. You might hear that they train their people on one client in order to charge higher rates at the next client. But some may utter a single word and most people will know what they are talking about: shelfware.
When a consultant shows up at a new client, it’s always a good idea to have one’s guard up. It’s very possible that he or she is entering hostile territory. It’s nothing personal. Okay, maybe it’s a little personal. You did decide to become a consultant after all.
I used to wonder why clients distrusted us consultants so much. Over the years I learned that it was a combination of past experience, confusion, and a little over-generalization. One of the major causes is, like any category of people, there are always some people in a group that give everyone a bad name. Continue reading 6 Reasons Client Employees Hate Consultants→