The following is excerpted from Chapter 8: "The Role of the Consultant" in William's new book, 90 Days to Success in Consulting.
Life is short. Those who come into our circle should be treated as special. Call it fate or whatever, but by some stroke of coincidence, various people became your clients, vendor contacts, associates or high-value prospects. Don't lose that by becoming complacent in the relationship. The relationship and the delivery turn the prospect into a client and the client into a repeat client.
This column deals with the sometimes complicated, exhilarating, seldom linear and often frustrating process of the relationship between consultant and client. This is not about a put-on relationship where you really don't like the person and are faking enjoying the person in order to see what they can do for you sometime. If someone rubs you the wrong way, you have my permission to blacklist that person.
However, always check yourself when you do this, because getting along with others is a key correlate to success. You already have something in common with people you come in contact with in your business.
You may be great at building relationships, or you may need to work at it. True value-added consulting is business, but it's also personal. Some will struggle with this new way of relating to people. For those who have always maintained a mental distinction between business and personal, the blurred lines of consulting can be a difficult transition.
A Personal Relationship
Success with your clients will be evaluated by measurable impact. However, if you deliver your services in a dour or confrontational manner, your measurable impact will certainly be discounted, if not outright voided.
Consulting is a personal relationship. You do not want to compound the fact that a client's problems are usually people problems and not technical ones. You must deal with the people issues behind the complex problems of a client. Though I am often brought in to implement a technical solution to solve a problem, I have seldom seen real problems caused by technology.
Technical implementations, if they go well, will gloss over corporate problems for a while, but the corporate problems will return. Attending to the post-implementation client roles and responsibilities for success is part of true consulting.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
If your estimation of value to your client seems otherworldly, present a reduced, yet still acceptable, measure of success. I remember one projected ROI that was in the 500 percent stratosphere. Obviously, the client is going to want to proceed. Who wouldn't want 500 percent ROI?
Fortunately, this consultant chopped it down to 10 percent of the estimate - 50 percent ROI. That's still an eye-popper, but it is a more reasonable estimate in the eyes of the executives approving the project. The project was approved and had a good outcome - but more in the 50 percent range than 500 percent after all.
The point is that a "good enough" threshold certainly exists for project justification. Stop with the projected benefits when you get there. Don't look ridiculous by promising to singlehandedly solve all their problems and end world hunger while you're at it.
If what you are proposing does not show acceptable project benefits, then it's not worth doing. If that is the case, don't propose it. However, all companies need help and have ROI-producing needs right under your nose. Don't be a one-trick pony. Be creative enough to keep working on your project justification until you show meeting a real need with a real project.
Consulting is About Tradeoffs
It is a tremendous skill to be able to articulate various ways to get to an end state. These end states usually come with tradeoffs that look like those listed in the figure.
Your client may be pushing you toward one extreme or the other, only to find out he is ultimately not willing to live with the tradeoffs that come with that selection. For example, you are asked to complete a project in three months. You think that time frame is reasonable, so you only bring one additional person with you to accomplish the task.
One month into the project, something seems to have changed. The client is suddenly looking at the project for the deliverables. Perhaps he shares with you some of the new pressures that he is under; perhaps not. Either way, it's time to get more aggressive with the project. You may need to move toward the aggressive side of the tradeoffs.
While you should have had the tradeoff conversation with the client already, it's now time to lay out some new possibilities for the client.
You can add another person and meet the deliverable goals more quickly. You can cut some corners to get to the deliverables more quickly. You can more sharply define the expected deliverables so you are sure you are working spot-on to the specific, grievous problem. You can enlist more support or involvement from the client team. The list goes on.
You must know your deliverables well enough to present these alternatives at all times. You should be sensing the tea leaves of the project and suggesting the alternatives that make sense for the client.
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