Don’t Let These Barriers to an End-Client Mentality Ruin Your Consulting Firm
In the consulting world, one rule reigns supreme: It’s all about the end client.
If you’re not scrutinizing your client service, satisfaction, and delivery on a daily basis, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to survive and thrive in the business world. Still, catering to your end client can be more difficult than it appears, especially when you’re juggling both buyers and influencers.
As a result, many consulting firms think they’re focusing on client satisfaction when, in reality, they’re just hiding behind rhetoric. It’s amazing to see the huge variations in quality, process, responsiveness, and overall experience among individual consultants.
For example, one consultant I work with excels at collecting feedback and clarifying expectations with all parties involved. He has formal and informal processes in place to gather this information, and he uses it to refine his engagement strategy with a client. On the other hand, I’ve seen consultants make empty promises on savings they can generate and problems they can fix without any input from the vendors involved. Not only does this create friction, but it also shows your client that you don’t value her relationships.
This disconnect between a consultant and a client can take many forms, including:
- A lack of valuable client-facing time. It’s important to look critically at the many interactions with your clients. Are they general updates or day-to-day discussions? Who’s invited? What level are they at in the company? I see too many firms forgetting this aspect.
- Services and products that are too general. This demonstrates either a lack of information about the client’s business or laziness in customizing solutions.
- Inconsistent or infrequent progress reports. Most firms have guidelines for communicating progress to the client, but this often falls by the wayside when things get busy. This step is critical to ensure that you’re delivering on your client’s expectations, reinforcing your values, and aligning your future plans.
- Superficial client conversations. I’ve seen many conversations wasted on superficial, generic discussions because clients aren’t comfortable enough or consultants aren’t knowledgeable enough. While these conversations help develop rapport, it’s critical to delve deeper into more uncomfortable areas to distinguish your service and insights from others’.
Improve Your Client Interactions
We know that miscommunication can sour even the most timeless romance. So why would a consulting relationship be any different? I would argue that communication is at the core of any valuable client-consultant relationship. More often than not, a failed partnership can be traced back to poor communication — perhaps conflicting assumptions and expectations weren’t aired, goals weren’t discussed in detail, or company information wasn’t shared.
Because individual consultant styles vary so widely, it’s important to have client service standards for everyone in your firm — this ensures that your brand standards are infused in each and every interaction. Here’s how to set up a solid working relationship with your firm’s clients:
1. Be attentive, not annoying! It’s important to stay in regular contact with clients, but it amazes me how many consultants hound their clients and try to work around them if they get no response. You need to have the right mindset. Are you calling a potential client to make a sale or to learn what’s on her list of challenges that you can help address?
2. Prove you know your client’s business. Winning and retaining clients is hard work, so earn it. Do your research, read your client’s business plan, memorize the strategic priorities, and recommend ways to help solve the biggest problems.
3. Never forget what keeps the lights on. Know the foundational set of products and services your company excels in, and don’t be distracted by potential customers. You can pursue them, but know which customers you can’t afford to lose.
4. Don’t make issue resolution painful. Give your employees the freedom to make judgment calls — it’s the true test of an end-client mentality. Use issues as opportunities to establish even stronger relationships.
5. Ask for feedback. Your clients are always forming new opinions about you, your firm, and the value you deliver. Most processes don’t capture these shifts, so the next time you’re with a client, ask for feedback concerning yourself, your process, and the services you sell. It’s an incredibly effective and nonthreatening way to gain insights and fine-tune your future interactions.
These suggestions won’t help if you only occasionally think of them. You need to focus on them every day. Ask yourself: What have I done or can I do today to make my clients more efficient, productive, competitive, and profitable? Their success will eventually translate into your success.
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About Sona Jepsen
Sona Jepsen is the Vice President of Consultant Relations at Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Her department drives solutions for sales teams in consultant-led opportunities.