Consulting, like most professions, requires training and practice. YourEncore has helped thousands of experts make this transition successfully and has compiled 10 tips for delighting your client every time. I will cover the first five this week and the second five next week.
1. Adapt to increased skepticism and no authority.
Everything you disliked about consultants when you were inside a company is now a headwind. People will inherently distrust you and know you are costing them money. Furthermore, you will be missing key enablers that helped make you successful at your previous employer: established relationships, successful track record, and decision making authority. Successful consultants adapt to these headwinds and earn trust by:
- Listening: The client has most of the information you need, so take notice if you find yourself doing all the talking.
- Being purposeful: You are there to advance an initiative. Make sure the conversation is leading to a decision, next action, etc.
- Being succinct: The faster you can make your point, the more value you deliver to your client.
2. Ask great questions.
Your job as a consultant is to assess the situation and make a recommendation that drives business improvement. Successful consultants spend a lot of time defining the problem and ask purposeful questions to do so. Good questions also challenge or validate key assumptions, which clients may have overlooked. Before offering solutions, make sure you are solving the right problem.
3. Don’t be crippled by ambiguity. Be a guide, not a tourist.
Clients mostly turn to consultants when they lack the time or specific expertise to do the job themselves. In either case, consultants usually will enter a situation of ambiguity, where the client does not have all the answers. When faced with incomplete information, effective consultants act as guides to help client makes the best decision possible. Document information that is needed and outline a plan to gather that information. If you can’t get the information you need, make some assumptions and recommend a path based on your experience.
4. Be sensitive to the situation.
Consultants have the distinct disadvantage of not knowing the situational context, which should shape any proposed work plan or recommendation. For example, a bottle of wine might make a perfect housewarming gift in one instance, but what if that person doesn't drink? Successful consultants quickly assess the situation and adjust their tone, approach, and recommendations accordingly. When entering a new client, it’s important to understand:
- Who wants you there and who doesn’t?
- Has the client recently gone through any trauma – layoffs, restructurings, regulatory fines, product recalls, etc.?
- Why are you really there? Does the client want new ideas and fresh perspective or really someone to validate work they’ve already done?
5. Get to know Minto.
Barbara Minto was a McKinsey partner, who wrote the Minto Pyramid Principle. This has become a go-to resource for logical structuring and effective consulting communication, which is a foundational training for many large strategy consulting firms. Good ideas are not enough – you need to present them crisply and logically to deliver the most impact from your work. Minto gives you a repeatable blue print to be a successful communicator.