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
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