Mr. Client, How Do You Define Success?

define success
How does the client define success

Consultants love the client during the sales cycle.  It’s the courtship phase where the people at the client seem like decent human beings.  And better yet, the client thinks consultants seem decent.

Consultants promise them success and the client often believes it.  “We can do that…and that…and that too.”  They’re all so agreeable.

How consultants define success

Then they get into the guts of the project.  They’ve written a statement of work, a project charter and defined the scope of the project.

That’s when consultants begin thinking about the project costs, managing the scope so that they don’t do anything outside of the strict definition.

How clients define success

Meanwhile, the client’s attention is on content and the value that the project’s end product will provide.  Their focus is on what the consultants are delivering.

Many times, the project ends and the consulting firm was able to keep its costs low by avoiding any work outside of the tightly controlled scope statement. By the consulting firm’s standards, the project was a success.  They finished the project on time and under budget, meeting or exceeding their target profit margins.

Despite the consulting firm’s celebrations, the client may disagree.  Maybe they didn’t get all of the functionality they wanted because they assumed certain things would be included that were deemed out of scope.

They might have felt like the consultants were more concerned about keeping project costs down than getting it done to the client’s expectations.

For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants

Agreeing on how you define success

What if, at the beginning of the project, the consultants asked the client “How do you define success?”  What if they let the client define success and used that as their standard.  Maybe the margin would be slimmer…maybe not.

But if they focused on the client’s standard of success, maybe the client would turn to the firm more often; giving the consultant more projects and making them jump through fewer hoops to win them.

In the long run, the consultants may end up making more money while the client gets better service.

See my related post: Communicating Bad News to Clients

Consultants often get caught up in how they define success (profitability, on time, on budget) without considering how the client defines it.

How do you define success?

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. 

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