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.
A self-serving mechanic may try to sell you something you don’t need. But a good mechanic may show you the damaged part and explain whether it is dangerous to drive in that condition. He will educate you to allow you to make a decision.
Explain the impact
When you suggest a form of action, it is important to explain the pros and cons of any options you provide. Your solution may have a high cost, but a potentially high payback. Doing nothing may have no initial cost, but may cause the client to fall behind the competition.
Part of the education process is explaining the good and the bad of each option to enable them to make the best decision.
Understand client’s objectives
Consultants should be aware of the client’s business strategy. What are they trying to accomplish? Are they seeking growth in market share? Do they want to maximize revenues? Or do they want to reduce costs? Each option may require a different approach.
In order to give the client advice they can act upon, the consultant needs to understand where the client is trying to go.
Advise from the customer’s perspective
Like the self-serving mechanic, some consultants advise clients based on what the consultant has to sell. If the consultant installs a specific software system, that is what they suggest the client buy.
This type of advice does not consider the client’s best interest. It also is not a long-term solution. If the consultant convinces the client to purchase a product or service the client does not need, he probably won’t be a client for long.
Providing the client advice based on the client’s needs will help them make good decisions. It will also make the consultant more likely to be the client’s trusted adviser for the long haul.
Make a recommendation
Simply providing a consultant with some options and providing the pros and cons is not very helpful. The client is looking for advice. Telling him all of the options like the scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, listing out possible directions may further confuse the client.
There are times when the consultant must say, these are all the options, here are the pros and cons, and this is our recommendation. Once the recommendation is offered, provide the rationale for the suggestion. Like a patient, the client may decide against your recommendation. But that’s their prerogative.
Implement according to the customer’s preferences
Regardless of your suggestions and any information you provide, the client will make a decision. That decision may result in a project the client wants your firm to implement. If that happens, implement it according to the client’s wishes.
Some firms are contracted to implement a system that goes against what they recommended. They will make decisions based on what they think is best rather than what the client ordered. This again will hurt your relationship with the client and keep you from becoming the client’s trusted adviser.
Consultants have a lot of expertise and are paid to share that expertise with their clients. But like a doctor, their expertise is sometimes not followed. A good doctor provides sound advice with sound reasoning, hoping the patient will follow it. A good consultant must do the same. Provide advice with reasoning and allow the client to make her own decision.
How have you influenced client decisions?
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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