BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS IN CONSULTING
by Leezan Omerbell
There are many consulting agencies saturating the market today. As a result, being knowledgeable in a particular field is not enough to set a company apart. I have known consulting firms that were experts in their field yet failed to provide adequate services because they did not take time to truly understand their clients’ needs. These companies make two novice mistakes. First, they assumed their services and products were adequate to meet the clients’ demands. Second, they did not listen to the clients’ concerns regarding product usability and clarity. While the consulting firm initially had the client’s business, it is doubtful the client would return to that firm in the future. Consulting is an art form. It is a precise balance between knowledge and client relations. In this article we’ll cover the three main pillars of how to successfully build and manage client relations.
It is vital for consultants to establish a professional but genuine relationship with clients. Client-consultant relations require a strong foundation, and foundations are built over time. It is important to express sincere interest in the client and an innate desire to serve. This desire to serve motivates you to learn and address your clients’ needs. Optimize each engagement by practicing active listening and being truly present in the conversation. Active engagement in conversation provides the needed tools to anticipate future needs, capture and assess blind spots, and be a better consultant by capturing and addressing your clients’ unrealized needs. This level of dedicated personal service, executed proficiently, will undoubtedly build trust over time.
A client’s trust is vital for a consultant. A client must trust the consultant’s level of skill and knowledge of the industry. Most importantly, however, a client must trust that a consultant has their best interest in mind. The goal should not be to make a profit, but rather to help your client to the best of your ability. As Joy Hubert, the former CEO of Best Buy and author of The Heart of Business, said, “profit is the outcome, not the purpose itself.” In addition, mediocre service should never be an accepted practice in a consulting firm because that is a quick way to gain a bad reputation. Providing a quality service or product should be a long-term effort practiced company wide. Make it a standard procedure for yourself and your company to actively follow up with the client after a service or a product has been delivered. When a client experiences genuine service, they will trust you and be more inclined to communicate openly.
We have all heard that communication is one of the most important foundations to any relationship. I think what they mean to say is that communication, through active listening and understanding, results in better relationships founded on trust. This trust helps establish a communicative environment and acts as the catalyst when you, the consultant, need to deliver bad news to the client (hopefully infrequently) or if you need to assist in maneuvering them through a difficult situation.
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