5 Strategies all Consultants Need to Make an Impact on New Clients
As a consultant, it’s crucial to provide advice and solutions for clients as quickly as possible. However, consulting in the AECO industry – or any industry, for that matter – can be difficult. But there are some strategies to overcoming the inherent challenges consultants face when taking on a new project.
We sat down and talked with Leigh Ann Couch, a senior consultant here at Microdesk with an MBA and Masters of Architecture from Texas Tech University. She discussed five methods to help ease the stress of working with a new client and allow you to offer value as a consultant as soon as possible.
1. Don’t Come in Guns Blazing
The client hired you because they need additional expertise for a problem they are having difficulty with. Choosing a consulting firm can be a very challenging decision, and the process of trusting an outsider can prove even more stressful.
The first step when approaching a new client is to let them know that you are an ally, not a threat. Let them understand you are there to help them, not add to an already competitive environment. The client does not need to feel like their authority is being overpowered. At the end of the day, you are all there to solve the same problems and reach the same goals. Coming in with a collaborative mindset will help facilitate a trusting relationship.
2. Get to Know Your Client’s Culture – No Headphones!
Refrain from wearing headphones in a new office during your first month there. This way, you can observe and listen to the interactions and conversations around you, and you will better understand the relationships between employees, their managers and the senior staff. Part of the client’s problem could be deeply embedded in their culture – but you would never know this unless you take the time to try and understand it.
This method will guide you in your own interactions with the employees. A new work environment necessitates that you adjust your actions and behavior accordingly – the same rule applies when working with a new client onsite. When you understand a client’s culture, you know how to best approach them; a misunderstanding between you and your client could cause tension and a delay in productivity. If you approach the client and their project properly from the get-go, you can initiate progress and demonstrate your value as a consultant immediately.
3. Be Aware of When “No” is the Right Answer
If saying “no” supports your goal of providing value to the client, then it is the right answer. You know an action does not provide value when it can’t be done at all or in the given time frame.
It is imperative to communicate the impossibilities of the task to the client so that they have the most accurate and honest expectations possible. Part of saying “no” is redefining the expectations; if their expectations are accurately redefined, it prevents the project from being set up to fail.
A way to confirm if saying “no” is necessary is to ask for a second opinion from a peer or fellow consultant. This will help you feel more confident and reassured about your answer.
One method of saying “no” to a client is the domino effect. Politely providing a hypothetical situation about why a certain task cannot be completed properly or on time and listing the chronological consequences of the dilemmas will portray the flaws in the process to the client, and reveal why “no” is the appropriate response.
4. Be Inquisitive
Asking industry or job-specific questions is a crucial tactic that demonstrates you are trained to solve relevant problems, and you are educated in the same field or industry that the client is.
For example, asking architectural or design questions to clients in the ACEO industry informs them that you have been trained in architecture and are their peer. Often, clients are under the impression that consultants are only able to solve managerial or behavioral issues, or provide guidance on a software or technology; clients are pleasantly surprised to learn that a consultant they hired can speak their industry-specific language as well.
Small steps like this one are important so that when things go wrong, clients can approach and trust you for the right answers.
5. Meet With as Many Employees as Possible
As a consultant, you are considered a temporary part of the team, but have a fresher and more objective view of the company than the staff, who are more accustomed to the day-to-day routine. This unique duality allows you to have a dynamic perspective on aspects such as culture.
You can use this to your advantage by conducting the following exercise: sit down with each level of the staff, starting with the most entry-level employees and working your way up to the executive staff. Ask each group what they think currently works and what could be improved within the company. Ensure that the managers of each group of employees are absent during the discussion, so that the responses will be as genuine as possible. By the end of the final meeting with the executive staff, you should see a consensus about possible problems within the culture.
These five rules may be used as rough guidelines when approaching new clients; however, each project and client is unique and should be approached in a specific way. But if you remember your job is to provide value to the client in a respectful way, tackling new projects should never be a problem.