A few months back, I was lucky enough to get to meet with a class of students in the Global Executive MBA program at Foster School of Business. They were getting ready for a student consulting project and I was signed up to talk to them about client management. To prepare, I asked my colleagues at Audienz what advice they would give to a group of aspiring consultants. Here’s what we came up with.
1. Be excited.
When you hire someone to do something, like paint your house or bring you dinner, it’s going to be a more enjoyable experience if they are excited about the job. Same goes for your client, it’s just plain nicer to work with someone who seems to be enjoying themselves.
2. Know your audience.
This phrase has been beat to death in marketing, but the same goes for client management. Do what you can to figure out who they are before you meet them (LinkedIn is a good place to start), and learn about them as you go. Everybody’s different, and the more you know about them, the better job you’ll do at working with them.
3. Clearly define the problem.
The number one reason projects fail: when the challenge was not clearly defined, or the parties involved did not have the same understanding of the definition. Work at this, even if it takes an extra meeting. Say “I still don’t understand the requirements” until you do. It’ll pay off.
4. Establish a rhythm.
In addition to the fruits of your labor, as a consultant, you’re also providing peace of mind. Your client should always know where things are and what to expect. Set a rhythm of meetings and communication at the beginning of the project so your client is never thinking, “when am I going to hear from her?”
5. Understand all aspects of success.
The obvious (and most important) aspect of success is meeting your client’s business goals. That’s why you’re all gathered together. Second, you should also consider your client’s personal goals. In all likelihood, she’s been allocated some budget to do something special. A successful project means success for her. Third, you need to meet your own business goals. Bad margins, internal conflict, bad publicity go against why your business exists. And finally, a project has to work for you. If you’ve been working until midnight every night, you’re stressed out, then you’re doing something wrong. A burned out consultant is not only a bad consultant, but an unhappy person. Double fail.
6. Face time equals business.
There’s something to be said for old adages. If you can, make it a priority to meet face-to-face. It not only improves communication on the current project, but the water cooler effect of your presence often leads to more work as well.
7. Make your client feel valuable.
In my experience this is truer of junior clients, but a little honest flattery never hurts. As the consultant, you’re the expert in something, but your client is the expert in something else. Make sure it’s clear that you understand that everybody is adding value.
8. Looks matter.
If your work looks crappy no one will value it, and they may not even understand it.
9. Be yourself.
Clients are people too.