The Successful Consulting Series is a set of articles that are being written to both, help decisions on joining the consulting field and also, help existing consultants in their professional development initiatives. Please visit, “Successful Consulting Series” for a full listing of each part in this series.
This is in addition to Hope Foley’s excellent blog posted today on, Easy and Difficult Clients. The subject is such a good one and one to focus on, we both wanted to write a little on it.
Around the room are a mix of directors from every area of the business paired with IT personnel eagerly ready to pounce on anything that has to do with electricity. At one corner of a massive conference table, you, the consultant, sits, attentively listening to each other corner argue about what is needed for a successful campaign known a, Project Data. As you are listening to the arguments, you repeatedly receive glares from a few of the IT personnel as if they are disgusted with the fact you have been allowed to take the filtered air pushed into the office from an overpriced conditioning unit. All at once, you hear with a forceful tone, “data import will affect all our systems and business continuity”!
Let’s step back for a second and talk about what is going on in this setting. The situation that is happening is extremely common in consulting. As consultants, we have sponsors from the clients that hire us. These sponsors can be any number of management or senior level managers, down to supervisors or team leaders. The sponsors are typically the ones that have seen a problem or a need, made a case to pull external resources in and then set the initial discovery and envisioning phases up with the consulting company or independent consultant(s). The situation that is arising in the story we just setup is, some clients are going to be great, easy to work with and so open to your expertise, it’s almost as if they let you do anything and follow every recommendation to the letter. On the other side, clients can be horrid and miserable to work with. These clients may not listen to anything you recommend or refuse to work with you to even obtain the simple requirements for the purposes you’ve been brought in. It’s a fact of consulting that this happens.
To be successful in the situation in which a client is difficult or combative, you’ll need to put lots of energy into the political game and relationship stages to build some level of confidence with all the parties needed to accomplish the goals. Let’s review a few high points we should always consider in consulting.
1) Internal politics go hand-in-hand with business
- We all deal with internal politics in business; Fulltime Employee or consultant. With consulting, the political game is played with a different strategy, as support from your sponsor is critical to retaining clients and being successful in projects for future relationships and more work. Given the time constraints consulting typically has, determining the political minefields and finding a method to navigate through each to retain relationships is truly critical.
2) You’re sitting in a room and no one wants you there
- As mentioned, consultants typically have one or more sponsors who brought them in. Your sponsor is the key to your success and that relationship should be strengthened from day one. While in meetings in which the clients and all other business entities are faced with your presence, there may be much ill will towards the concept of why you are needed. At times, playing this out is an art. Finding a level field in which you exaggerate the success the business has had to reach the stage they are at is important. Meet everyone at a level in which you solidify the fact that the business knows what they are doing. Once this is accomplished, you’ll find explaining the specific skills that you have and how they can add value to the business will be much cleaner and met with much less resistance.
3) Every client is right
- Even if a client is wrong, consulting must portray an environment of the clients that has been built with much thought and stability in mind. This should be done even in projects where you are brought in to essentially fix areas that are deemed bottlenecks in the environment. Praise builds relationships. It’s fundamental in the building of teams, that each piece needs to rely on the other and each piece should see the value in the others efforts. Praising a client for the hardships they have gone through to get to the level they are at, wins more sponsors and more solid relationships. This will only assist you in being successful.
Getting back to our setting
As the battle roars on in the meeting, you, the consultant, hears, “data import will affect all our systems and business continuity”! This is your key. This is why you are there. Assist in the stability of the data integrations and services as one entity across the many systems the business owns. With a respectful manner, you catch the room’s attention. At this point you’ve done your due diligence and know all the systems in place. You’ve devised a strategy and design that can be taken to the whiteboard and discussed. Literally, you stand and walk to the whiteboard when you’re met with some reluctant gestures to your implementation ideas.
Take this moment to do some things to help better your ability to make the “mean client” part of your team and an asset to your success. While at the whiteboard or discussing the way you can help and make the project a success, absorb the areas from each business entity and their needs and concerns. Address each one! If one area is not coming forth, do your best to pull them in.
Clients come in all types but we can really label them good and bad. The way that we should go about clients on either side is, they truly are all good and it is a matter of how well we perform our jobs as consultants, if we make the interaction successful or not.
This post ties directly into, “Presenting yourself – Visually and Respectfully”. Take great pride in how you present yourself. It will cause the “bad clients” much more easily converted to good and potential life-long relationships and work that supports us continuing as consultants.