Suggestions such as showing up to meetings on time and not using your smart phone during meetings could be seen by some as passé and old-fashioned.
I’ll respectfully disagree. Mainly because I believe those tips are ways to show respect in the business world.
I will admit that I’ve seen consulting evolve over my years as a consultant.
I recently had dinner with a former boss and long-time mentor from my early years in consulting. We had fun reminiscing about the “old days” of consulting when the morning choice was whether to wear the navy blue suit or the grey suit with the standard white shirt. A good consultant golfed with clients – bowling was too blue collar. Men didn’t wear jewelry and women didn’t wear slacks.
If the firm needed you in New Jersey the next morning, you caught the next flight out of town to get there. If you had already planned to take your son to his college orientation, let me repeat: The firm needs you in New Jersey tomorrow morning!
In those days, the sales process went something like this: The client identified a particular need, let’s say a new ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software system. They sent out an RFP (Request for Proposal) to a short list of consulting firms. The RFP detailed the problem definition, a description of the client’s technical infrastructure, vendor selection criteria and any other information the client saw fit to provide the vendors.
For more information, see Client Relations for Consultants
In return, the consulting firms began preparing their proposals to present to the potential client. They would usually schedule a meeting, or at least have a phone conversation which would be a Q&A session to fill in the gaps from the RFP.
Each firm would schedule a proposal presentation meeting with the client at which a multi-slide PowerPoint presentation would be presented with glossy printed copies presented to each client participant. The firm would bring as many suited consultants as possible to show their commitment, without outnumbering the client’s meeting participants.
The PowerPoint contained important information, such as the firm’s history, how long they had been in business, how revered the founder is, and how many clients they served. Some of their premier client’s logos would invariably be plastered in one slide in collage format. The firm’s price for their fees was in small print on one of the final slides.
Updating the old school consulting approach
There is a new breed of consultants that began to question this approach. They began to understand that no RFP –or document of any kind – can communicate a company’s true problem as well as a face-to-face conversation.
That face-to-face should be more than a Q&A session that fills in the gaps of the client’s self-diagnosis. It should be a conversation that digs deeper. “You think you need an ERP system? What are the problems you are experiencing that lead you to believe that?”
It should consist of diplomatic second guessing. The tone of the meeting should be: Let’s discuss the root cause of the problem and see what the real business issue is. Then we can work together to determine the real resolution to the problem. It may be an ERP system, or it could be something else.
The goal is to create a collaborative relationship focused on solving the client’s business issues rather than doing whatever the client says and billing them as much as possible.
Old school consulting still lives
There are still some old school consultants out there, and some old school clients who work with them. But as the new guard continues providing value for their consulting services, clients will begin to open their eyes and see the light.
I’ll admit to being a bit old-school in some areas. Counter to overwhelming advice, I don’t focus on keyword counts in my blogs and articles. I write what I want to write about. If that doesn’t optimize my Google-juice, so be it.
But a good consultant evolves with the times in important areas. Because excellent client service never goes out of fashion.
What old school consulting practices are you still using. Which ones have you updated?
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.