Consultants have the opportunity to create change in client’s organizations, but change doesn’t happen unless they ensure recommendations are implemented. Most consultants have faced the difficult situation in which clients don’t quite seem to agree with the suggestions brought to the table. However, if you follow the five suggestions below, you can proactively ensure that your clients will implement your recommendations.
Header image courtesy of Daniel Hennemand via Flickr
1. Empathize:Understand the Client and the Culture
As mentioned in a past post, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. From the very beginning of the engagement, consultants need to listen to the client and involve him or her throughout the engagement. Equally important is try to assimilate the company’s culture. Remember, clients have a vested interest in the actions taken given a consultant’s recommendations. If they implement recommendations you make, they have to live with the consequences—both positive and negative. Therefore, buy-in from clients is extremely important. Empathizing with the client from the beginning helps ensure that his or her interests are taken into account, and in the long run, helps ensure support during the implementation phase.
2. Show Humility:Be Willing to Admit Mistakes When Necessary
Clients want to work with someone who is real, not consultants who seem think they know how to fix everything the minute they walk in the door. As a consultant, you don’t know the full details of the organization, so don’t pretend that you do. Best-selling author and former consultant Pat Lencioni noted being vulnerable and transparent in the consulting industry is completely counter-intuitive—but effective. Instead of pretending to have all the answers to give an impression of false confidence, consultants should recognize their weaknesses and their potential to make mistakes. Ironically, this sort of behavior is actually disarming and can create long-lasting loyalty among clients.
The big caveat is that you should seek to minimize mistakes by positioning yourself for success. This includes bringing in the right team of experts and bidding on projects that are within your firm’s set of specialties. Admitting to too many mistakes on an engagement can be detrimental to your credibility.
3. Show Confidence, Not Arrogance
However, humility in the consulting business does not imply a lack of confidence and enthusiasm. By all means, be enthusiastic and confident about your ideas! But there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance.
Confidence does not mean that you have all the answers. While you believe in the answers that you have, you are not above admitting when you are wrong. Arrogance shuts down opposing views, but confidence welcomes them in order to find the best solutions. This sort of behavior will ultimately contribute to client buy-in and help retain your client base.
4. Seek Compelling Data and Insights:Go Beyond The Numbers
As information technology has continued to progress, it has enabled consultants to gather more data and faster than ever before. Clients commonly have massive data feeds on hand that they can pass along to consultants:financials, operations data, customer transactions etc. Good consultants will be able to analyze the data that is provided and uncover trends that the client may have missed. Great consultants are able to create entirely new data sets and connect patterns and trends that would have never been uncovered otherwise.
As the analytics bar has risen, the best consultants have moved from using spreadsheets to advanced visual analytics and BI tools. These tools are great at making sense out of quantitative data, but they fall short in analyzing qualitative data (which is typically captured during client interviews and the like). Where these tools fall short, 9Lenses shines. Our platform enables consultants to rapidly collect, connect, and analyze qualitative data. In a matter of hours, consultants can gather an entirely new stream of data that will augment their findings and help ensure clients buy-in to the recommendations.
5. Tell a Story:Narrate the Possibilities
Remember, consultants need to do more than communicate effectively. You need to persuade your clients in order to elicit action. Numbers can persuade, but a story can be the pivotal key to implementation. Human beings are driven by connection, and much of that connection comes from sharing the human experience. Stories are the perfect tool in order to create that process. Storytelling takes the final step in articulating the “why” behind the business problem and showing “how” to solve it.
Steve Job’s presentation of the iPod Nano provides a great example. Instead of citing that the Nano held 5GB of information—that would mean nothing to the average Joe—he described the Nano as “1,000 songs in your pocket.” In just a few words, Jobs told a short narrative to his consumers. This story allowed them to visualize their own lives made a little bit more convenient from one simple purchase. In the same way, telling stories to your clients allows them to visualize themselves in future possibilities and to envision opportunities.
If you get hung up on thinking of a “storyline,” consider comparing your current engagement to a similar experience in the past. Walk your client through the story of success, from how you collected and unraveled the data to how you reached the conclusion. In other words, a story captures your audience’s attention, and ultimately, can help ensure client buy-in.
None of these behaviors alone will guarantee the implementation of your recommendations, but when used in conjunction, they will certainly improve the odds. Consultants will always run into those sticky situations where no form of persuasion will influence the client’s opinion. However, in most situations—and in life in general—these principles can help lead the client to a point where he or she is willing to take action.