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.

Ask clarifying questions. When the client executive gives minimal direction, the consultant needs to make sure they have a full enough picture to perform the task. Asking additional questions regarding what they envision can force them to paint a broader picture. Ask about the scope of what they are offering (i.e. how large of the customer base would you like to sample?). It’s also important to know when and how frequently the client would like this information.

Repeat back. When hearing someone give instructions, it’s easy to misinterpret what they say. Make a point to describe what you just heard. You might be surprised by how differently it sounds to them when they hear their request described back to them.

Set expectations. Some executives don’t always realize how complex their request is. If what they are asking for will take longer than they expect, you need to level set early on that they either need to allow more time, or expect less to be delivered.

Understand the executive’s style

If an executive asks for a report, it’s good to know their preferences. This can be identified by observing how the executive presents their own documentation.

When they send an email, how much detail do they provide? Do they send a lot of text? Do they bullet everything? Are they conversational or short and to the point?

When they present to the team, do they tend to use a lot of text or do they prefer visuals? It’s most beneficial to know their style and emulate it.

Understand the executive’s responsibilities

When the executive asks a question, think about why they need that information. If you know what this executive is responsible for, you have much better insight into why they are asking.

If the executive is responsible for reducing software licensing fees and asks a question regarding the number of software applications deployed on a particular server, you can be almost certain that she is attempting to acquire information on which ones can be removed to reduce licensing fees.

Make the executive look good

Once you have identified and validated the client’s request. It should be your goal to exceed the client’s expectations.  Chances are they will send your information on to their superior. Provide deliverables that are easy for the client to forward on with minimal modification.

If you can easily provide more information than what they have asked for that you think would be helpful, provide that in a way that they can easily remove it if they don’t want to send it on.

There is a concept in software development called gold plating. This occurs when developers write code above and beyond what was asked for. This not only takes more time, but there could have been a reason the functionality was not asked for. Take care not to spend more time adding features that the client may not have wanted in the first place.

Sometimes, in an effort to make the client look good, it is necessary to take responsibility for something that has gone wrong. It might not have been completely your fault. But making – or allowing – the client to look bad can also reflect poorly on you. Assuming no long term ramifications, falling on your sword to make the client look good, can put you in good standing with the client for future work.

Make yourself easy to work with

Some consulting firms have their own standards and practices. They invoice all of their clients in a standard way. They also proudly use standard templates for deliverables on a project.

Some clients have billing systems that are incompatible with some consulting invoices. The invoices have to be broken down or manually processed in order to get into the accounts payable system. Check with the client and see if there are any changes you can make to help them pay you more efficiently.

If the client has their own standards for documentation, try to adopt the client’s formats rather than your firm’s. If possible, combine the best of your standard and the client’s standard in an effort to help them improve.

How do you report to the client executive?

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 Pong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

Related Posts
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 ...
READ MORE
Strictly Follow the Rules
In 1990, Burger King launched an advertising campaign with the tagline “Sometimes You’ve Just Got to Break the Rules”.  It was fairly controversial with parents wondering if BK was trying ...
READ MORE
Start Collaborating In Meetings
CIO Magazine used to have a box at the beginning of their longer feature articles called "Reader ROI".  It listed bullet points on what the reader would learn from reading the ...
READ MORE
Consulting Downside: Separation Anxiety
When I began interviewing with companies during my senior year of college, it was important for me to find a company that had a good culture. I had an outgoing ...
READ MORE
There Is No Success Rulebook
  Throughout my career, I’ve met people who seem to think there is a formula for success.  They are always buying the latest self-help books, CDs and DVDs.  They have lists tacked on ...
READ MORE
Does That Guy Really Bother You?
As a consultant, you get a unique array of seating arrangements.  It’s rare for a client to give their consultants a corner office with a view.  About the only corner ...
READ MORE
When your leader can't lead
I’ve had the good fortune to work for some great leaders during my career. Some have been better than others. But most were very good from one aspect or another. ...
READ MORE
What if Your Plumber Gave You “IT” Customer Service?
Imagine a scenario where you have a pipe that leaks under your kitchen sink.  You may be an expert user of water and all things plumbing, but when it comes ...
READ MORE
10 Ways to Have 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 ...
READ MORE
Learning From Consulting Mistakes
"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over, ...
READ MORE
Consulting Success from a Good Economy
Strictly Follow the Rules
Start Collaborating In Meetings
Consulting Downside: Separation Anxiety
There Is No Success Rulebook
Does That Guy Really Bother You?
When your leader can’t lead
What if Your Plumber Gave You “IT” Customer
10 Ways to Have More Efficient Days
Learning From Consulting Mistakes

  • Terrance Collins

    Great article, Lew.

    Whatever the assignment, ultimately, the client is paying us to deliver information. How well we convey that information is often the chief way we’re measured in the client’s eyes.

    Your mention of “iceberg instructions” is so accurate. Without further clarification, you may well end up like the Titanic.

    One tactic I use is to avoid disaster is to deliver a small piece of the assignment and get their feedback early to see it meets their need. I’ll often preface that delivery with, “I just want you to confirm this meets your needs before diving deeper into it. If it doesn’t, now’s the time for us to course correct.”

    It accomplishes two things: we get their feedback and buy-in and it shows we want to get them exactly what they want. And if it’s not, they will usually be more forthcoming.

    I’d never heard the term Gold Plating. I like it. Clients hire me to proof and edit their copy but often I will go beyond their scope and suggest alternative or supplementary uses of their piece (a thought leadership piece which would make a great infographic or Slideshare deck or a report which could become a great blog post).

    If it makes sense, I will sometimes even submit an abbreviated mockup.

    These small steps never go unnoticed and have led to deeper engagements.

  • Pingback: Effectively Reporting to the Client Executive - AITS Consulting()