So, you’ve impressed the client with your proposal during the RFP process and received the green light for the consulting project. Now comes the difficulty of actually starting the process of gathering information, compiling data, and discovering insights which will drive value for the client. During a client engagement, consultants will typically pass through 7 key phases or stages. In order to execute a successful project, the consulting team will need to perform well at each stage. Below are the 7 key stages that form the anatomy of a consulting project.
Header image courtesy of Dauvit Alexander via Flickr.
A major determinant of the value that consultants provide is driven by the people that they provide. Oftentimes, the expectation of team structure will be loosely set during the RFP process (e.g. 1 Partner, 1 Principal, 2 Managers, 2 Associates, 2 Analysts). Sometimes resources will be named, more commonly at the senior level, and particularly if they are known experts. However, once the deal is signed, there is typically flexibility in who you choose to staff on the project. With this flexibility comes opportunity to select the best and most capable resources available. Maintaining strong relationships with your practice experts is as important as having a good relationship with your staffing coordinator.
Entry / On-boarding Phase
Most consultants echo the cry that one of the most important steps before (and after) signing the client is establishing clear expectations. Without doing so, consultants set themselves up for unnecessary friction down the road. Concrete expectations about deliverables and touchpoints will set the stage for the project and let the client know what can or cannot be demanded by the end of a project. Be careful not to overpromise at this stage. Once you set an expectation, you must do your very best to meet it or exceed it.
In addition, it’s crucial during this phase to get your team up to speed on the client, industry, and focus area as quickly as possible (before day 1). This is typically supported with industry reports, any client briefing documents, and reports within your practice’s knowledge management repository.
After entering a firm, the consultants often spend most of their time within the client discovery phase. While you most likely know “what” is going on within the firm from the first meetings prior to the entry phase, you now need to dive deep and figure out why the problem is occurring. This often comes in the form of employee interviews and poring over any already available data. Ideally, consultants should start identifying key stakeholders―which ones may be causing difficulty, which ones would be willing to help solve the problem, etc. In order to soften this dilemma, best consultants are both intentional and genuine, disarming stubborn stakeholders and creating an open environment to gather information.
While this can be one of the most time-consuming processes, the 9Lenses software shines in its ability to achieve the depth of information that is gathered during an interview across an unlimited number of stakeholders in the organization. In a matter of hours, consultants can gather an entirely new stream of data that will augment their findings and allow them to confidently proceed to the analysis phase.
Analysis & Solution Phase
After gathering information, consultants need to take the data and separate the important from the superfluous. Again, this can be a time-consuming (and potentially frustrating) process. Consultants need to find anomalies in the data and determine whether or not they are relevant. They also need to solidify which stakeholders hold the most influence for when the implementation stage comes around. Throughout this entire process, consultants should also be following up with their client and keeping him or her updated with relevant information and checkpoints. This will help keep your client both happy and focused as you process qualitative information into a proposal.
Consultants ultimately need to dig in and find solutions. This is the part consultants really need to excel in, since ultimately this stage is what they were hired to do. Consultants need to make the information speak by generating solutions and answers to the business problem. This requires both dedicated analysis as well as innovative thinking. In addition, consultants need to start preparing for the recommendation phase by creating charts, compiling proper documentation, and updating the powerpoint slides.
So, you’ve compiled the data. Now comes the moment that dictates whether or not your work will be taken into consideration. This can be one of the most difficult points for some consultants. It’s climactic, and a negative response can send you back the drawing board or out of the office. In a previous post, we described in depth the ways consultants can ensure clients implement recommendations. These consist of understanding the client, being confident but willing to admit mistakes, and telling a great story. While none of these methods ensure your suggestions will be met with open arms, as long as you’ve done your homework, it’ll contribute to your overall persuasiveness.
Sometimes consultants stay onboard for this stage, but oftentimes, they don’t. Obviously, this depends on your contract and whether or not your clients agreed with your recommendations. During this phase, consultants have the opportunity to see the fruit of their labor (or lack thereof). Essentially, consultants will ensure that their suggestions are put into action and assist if the process hits a snag. While ideally your solution should solve the problem, problems pop up which often can’t be anticipated. In these instances, consultants need to help the client firm navigate these waters and set them back on course.
Expanding the Client Account Phase (Optional)
If the client engagement was successful and the senior consultants maintained a strong working relationship with the client team, then there may be an opportunity for follow-on work. Occasionally, the client will ask the consultants to help with additional challenge areas, but often the consultants proactively propose additional projects. The insights and opportunities for additional engagements are often uncovered during the client discovery or analysis phases. The key to remember is that you should always be looking for ways in which you could deliver more value to your client. If there is a match between the challenge area and your consulting firm’s capabilities, then you should prepare a new proposal to preempt a competitive RFP process. Then it’s back to the top of our list:wash, rinse, repeat.
Whatever stage you’re at as a consultant, be sure to step back and view the road ahead. While it’s impossible to prepare for the unknown since there are sure to be bumps in the road, your job is to help the firm navigate whatever storm or lull that it’s facing. And that itself is a privilege.
How important is client satisfaction and retention to you?
Get 9Lenses updates directly to your inbox + our free Consultant’s Guide to Building Lasting Client Relationships eBook