Two of the most critical things a consultant needs for success are respect and credibility. They go hand in hand. If you’re not a credible advisor, it will be hard to earn the respect of your clients.
Some consultants assume they have respect just because they call themselves consultants. But calling yourself a consultant doesn’t make you credible or worthy of respect. You need a license in most states to fish, but any idiot can print business cards and call himself a consultant.
So how does a consultant earn credibility and respect from the client? Here are three critical ways it can be earned.
Showing the client that you are committed to their success, even if it costs you additional billing hours, is a great start. Consultants put food on their table by charging for billable hours. Any fair-minded client accepts that. And clients expect to be billed by their consultants for work performed.
Issues arise when the consultant starts billing for hours that the client doesn’t agree with. For example, the client contracts with a financial consulting firm to develop an accounts payable system. The consulting firm gathers the client’s business requirements, designs the system, develops the code, tests the system and hands the application over to the client for user acceptance testing (UAT).
The client begins testing the system and finds that, although the system performs all of the functionality they requested, its performance crawls at a snail’s pace. It will be impossible for the client to use the application as is in a production environment.
A reputable consulting firm would have addressed performance of the system early on in the business requirements. But since no mention was made in the requirements for this application, the consulting firm claims that this requirement is out of scope and that they will charge the client for any hours spent working on improving the system’s performance.
From the client’s perspective, the consulting firm has shown a lack of commitment to their success. A committed consultant would have ensured that all of the client’s needs are addressed in the requirements and made certain that the most important deliverable of the project is satisfaction.
For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants
One of the most popular movie lines of all time is “It’s not personal, it’s business” from The Godfather. Unfortunately, it’s a contradiction. In The Godfather, they used that as a rationalization to perform violence against their business associates. This usually happened in situations where they could no longer trust them.
While we hopefully don’t resort to violence, business deals are made and lost based on the trust we have for each other. Trust can’t be earned by a consultant until they’ve proven their honesty.
Few, if any clients will do business with someone they don’t trust at a personal level. Honesty implies doing what you say you will do. This includes showing up to meetings on time, delivering what is agreed to and always keeping the client’s interests in mind.
As soon as a consultant doesn’t do what they said they would do, trust begins to erode. It’s business. And it’s personal.
Respect isn’t earned overnight. There are no get-respect-quick schemes. Respect is like paint. One thick coat is much less effective than many thin coats layered over and over. Honesty and commitment are proven by continuously displaying them to the client. They are proven more by what you don’t do than what you actually do.
Good consultants spend a lot of time developing a relationship with the client. Sometimes they will often do an initial project either at no fee or a reduced fee to prove their commitment to the client. Sometimes, they’ll just do a small, low-risk project for the client to get their foot in the door to prove themselves.
But even before that, there is a courting period. They meet with the client; learn more about their business; share free advice or free content that may help them solve some of their business issues.
Earning client respect
It’s difficult to show someone that you are committed to them and that you’re honest, without the benefit of time. Neither of them have any meaning unless consistency is demonstrated over the long haul.
Few clients will hire a consultant that they don’t respect. Many consultants are unwilling to invest the time to develop strong relationships to show the commitment and honesty it takes to win that respect. But spending that time to develop the personal relationship and strengthening it with each interaction shortens each subsequent sales cycle. Some relationships evolve to the point where the client automatically turns to the consultant with their issues. No proposals or competitive bids are involved. The consultant’s commitment and honesty over time have made those steps unnecessary.
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
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.