The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced the concept of social distancing. For those that have managed to keep their jobs, it has resulted in a sudden rise in remote working.
This has occurred in occupations that had not traditionally worked in this model. Teachers are teaching their classes in Zoom meetings. Doctors are using video calls to treat patients.
Consulting remotely is not a new phenomenon. Many of us have been using Teams, Skype for Business, and many other collaboration tools to meet with clients. In the past, we generally mixed remote meetings with a fair number of face-to-face meetings.
But now we have been forced into an exclusive remote model. While not ideal, there are ways to make this work.
Success in consulting has always been based on developing a strong relationship with the client. When you get that first engagement, you begin developing trust. The long-term goal is to establish yourself as the trusted advisor to develop a lasting relationship that benefits both parties.
In the traditional consulting model, we did that with a healthy dose of face time. We worked on-site and in front of the client, developing that trusting relationship. When an issue arose for them, we were there to help them resolve it.
Working remotely takes away that opportunity to be right there when issues occur. If you are truly a trusted advisor, the client will hopefully think of you first when an issue arises. But the “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome could also occur. They client may try to deal with it himself, or turn to someone else.
Making face time work remotely
Being off-site takes away many of the opportunities for face time that you might have had in front of the client every day. The important thing to do is to make the best of the time you have.
There are many collaboration tools such as Teams, Skype for Business, and Zoom. Make sure to use these tools for meetings rather than a standard phone call. They give you many more opportunities to connect.
Use the video option, even if the client does not. This allows the client to see you and connect at a deeper level. Dress like you would at the client site and have a professional background. Some of the tools allow you to create a virtual background such as a cityscape. These are fine, but your own natural surroundings can be just as good. If you have an office with a bookshelf, use that. Just make sure you do not have anything offensive or unprofessional behind you.
Be prepared to give the client guidance on how to use the collaboration tool. Thy may be reluctant because they have not used that tool – or any tool like this before. Even if they have used one of the tools before, there is a learning curve to each new one. Show them where the commonly used buttons are and how to do certain things. You may even want to type up a cheat-sheet for them to use. The more you can make them feel more comfortable with the tool, the better your chances of meaningful connection.
Be engaged and engaging
Look into the camera and talk to the client. Showing your expressions and being human is the best way to connect with them. While COVID-19 is still a concern, check in with them to see how they are dealing with it. Gauge their desire to discuss personal issues. If they have discussed any issues in the past, follow up on them and see how they are doing.
Avoid multitasking. Act as if you are in the same room as them. Letting them know you are focused only on them will mean more to them than you realize.
Make use of document sharing. In the old days, we would be on conference calls and distribute a document ahead of time that we would walk through on the call. We would always have to let everyone know what page we were on, or what section of the document we were talking about.
Sharing documents makes it seem like we are all in the same room. Sharing is the equivalent of projecting the document in a conference room. It helps the client feel more engaged and more comfortable with the technology.
In the on-site consulting model, the client could stop by any time to ask a question. In the remote consulting model, in order to avoid the “out of sight, out of mind” trap, we will need to reach out more. The technology available to us provides a multi-channel offering. We can text, call, instant message, Teams call, FaceTime, and the list goes on.
You don’t want to be a nuisance. But you want to let the client know you are available and that you are focused on them. Be proactive about getting in front of the client to maximize your remote face time.
Be human. Be engaged. Be there for the client
The remote consulting model is here to stay. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken it to an extreme. But it has proven how possible the remote consulting model is. When the pandemic is “over” and we get back to “normal” (whatever those terms mean to you), we will go back to face-to-face meetings. We will have coffee, lunch, and happy hours with clients. We will enjoy real physical face time.
But the remote model has proven to consultants and their clients not only that it can work but that it can work well. It reduces the time and cost of travel. It allows us to connect quicker and more efficiently.
It is going to take some getting used to for all parties involved. And it will change every consultant’s approach to relationship development. But it will have taught us all that we do not have to be in the same room to get face time with our clients.
How have you developed client relationships with the remote model?
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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