When you ask your manager, peer, or client for feedback, have you ever received a response that goes something like this:“This document looks good, but…?” The answer to this question is most likely a “Yes” since most of us have experienced this response at some point in our careers. In these situations, your boss, peer, or a customer is your client. Ironically we are all consultants in some capacity because we all have some sort of client deliverables, just like consultants, whose primary role is to work with clients and ensure high quality client deliverables. Every professional in business today has to ensure high quality client deliverables because oftentimes, the client in question could be a manager, a subordinate, a peer, a global team, or even your company’s CEO.
As we continue creating deliverables, we would all benefit from learning a thing or two about delivering high quality deliverables from consultants – the professionals whose very nature of work makes them deal with multiple clients on a daily basis.
The Customer Advocacy team at 9Lenses works with consultants and supports them in achieving their goals. We did our research on some of the most successful projects and consultants that we’ve had the opportunity to support and compiled a list of great habits we can emulate. Here are seven ways in which the most successful consultants ensure high quality client deliverables over and over again!
1) Client discovery is not straightforward – so innovate constantly
Client discovery is often one of the first steps to producing superior client deliverables. Client discovery provides the data that informs deliverables, and thus the quality of the data will determine the quality of the deliverables. If your project’s stakeholders are just a handful of people sitting in the same office as you, client discovery will most likely be a straightforward process of conducting a few one-to-one meetings and interviews. Identifying the right stakeholders to interview, however, is a whole different ball game if you have multiple stakeholders, especially if these stakeholders are spread across geographies.
Consultants have turned towards tools and/or assets in order to save time and costs involved in client discovery. Our client Infinitive, a digital consultancy, successfully reduced the time it took for client discovery while interacting with over 200 stakeholders located across geographies. Here’s a case study on how Infinitive achieved both speed and depth of insight during their client engagement.
Look for ways to innovate your processes and systems to stay relevant to the fast-changing market and the client expectations.
2) Follow the brief – but don’t be afraid to redefine it
When you are assigned a certain task or are responsible for a particular deliverable, it should ideally come with a brief. If your task doesn’t come with a brief, ask for it. The simplest briefs should tell you “what,” “when,” and “the expected result” of your task and/or deliverable. Typically, through further research, you will often figure out “the who,” “the why,” and “the how” of your deliverable.
The best consultants that we have worked with know how and when to follow the brief the client gives them, but they are not afraid to redefine the brief after the their research begins. Some of the consultants that we’ve had the opportunity to work with have had to redefine their client’s briefs based on their findings after the client discovery phase concluded. It is important to redefine a brief as necessary in order to make sure your project is on the right track and that your efforts are not futile. If the brief that you are working on is based on false assumptions, the results of what you produce would try to solve a problem that didn’t even exist in the first place!
3) Set expectations – again and again
Our CEO Edwin Miller stresses the importance of setting expectations on a regular basis. According to Edwin, the logic behind continuously setting expectations is a no-brainer – “Remember that each minute you spend not setting expectations, others are filling up the vacuum and setting them for you!” When other people set expectations for you, you are probably going to be sucked into a cycle of trying to meet another’s expectations rather than telling them what to expect.
Top consultants are aware of the importance of setting expectations, and they proactively set expectations for their clients even before they formally start engaging with a client. Consultants use client meetings and proposals as ways to set expectations even before the client engagements start. In order to build lasting client relationships and have successful client engagements, consultants share regular updates and keep the lines of communication open.
4) Question everything – ask the right questions
Questioning everything comes naturally to most consultants. They are taught to probe into an issue until they get to its root cause. But what distinguishes the best in business from the good consultants is their ability to ask the right questions and get to the bottom of their clients’ problems faster than their competition can. Many consultants determine the best questions to ask by analyzing what has worked in the past and by thoroughly analyzing the information they uncover during the initial stages of the engagement.
The best in business today are taking “questioning” to a whole new level and are productizing it as frameworks that they can scale and use repeatedly for similar client engagements. A consultancy’s set of questions is its intellectual property to own!
So learn to ask the right questions of your project stakeholders, and own the questions you ask.
5) Regular audits and feedback – initiate them
While working on client deliverables, it is easy to just forge ahead to meet the set expectations in terms of results and timelines. While this is good, being in a constant “execution mode” isn’t. It is also important to take a step back from and solicit feedback on a regular basis. Don’t want for your manager or team member to ask for a progress report. Instead, proactively share updates on progress and ask for feedback. Be sure to take remedial actions based on your client’s feedback.
From our interactions with consultants, we’ve noticed that they actively seek feedback and consistently audit their deliverables using both internal and external stakeholders. For instance, if you had to create a presentation for a wider audience within your company, be sure to ask for feedback from your team members or manager (internal) about the content for your presentation. Also, reach out to a couple of people in the wider audience (external) that you will be presenting to in order to ensure that you are including relevant content in the presentation.
6) Timelines – are everything
For any client deliverable, timelines and deadlines are sacrosanct. Agreeing on timelines is also a part of setting expectations for your client. While there can be some flexibility about timelines as long as all parties involved agree to it, it is crucial to be sensitive about the timing of your deliverables.
Meeting timelines adds to your credibility and also could result in the expansion of the scope of your projects.
7) “Post Engagement” is a real phase in client engagement
Once you hand in your client deliverables, make sure you have conversations with your client about how useful the deliverables were. Post engagement is a phase that consultants use as an opportunity to increase the scope of their engagements and help their clients implement the recommendations they make. For all professionals, the post-engagement phase with your manager or team member presents opportunities for learning and/or career growth and development.