Consultants have the privilege to offer solutions for corporations’ most critical issues, and they have the ability to highlight value-creating opportunities for clients. After the first consulting project, however, you want to retain the client for your client base in order to build sustaining business for your firm. In order to do so, engagement leads should prove their utility by providing clients with top-notch experiences as well as solid deliverables. While they are not foolproof solutions (note the caveat near the end of the post), here are six principles and methods consultants can integrate into their services to help build better long-term client relationships.
Explain, then explain again.
Clients (actually, most people) are often intimidated by what they don’t understand and by what they don’t know. Ensuring they thoroughly understand the analysis of and solution to a problem is a step that can require a bit of patience from the consultant – and often from the client as well – because nobody wants to explain the same thing multiple times in multiple ways. However, Ali Allage from Boost Labs writes that “Clients who don’t understand the process are usually classified as ‘difficult’” and written off as such with no further attempts at explanation. In order to set the client up for success and set the stage for additional business opportunities, it’s important to align the client’s expectations with your own. Allage suggests helping the client visualize the situation through case studies, stories of past engagements, and associated deliverables. A mental picture painted by your description of past events can help the client understand what’s going on and ensure he or she knows what to expect.
In this technologically savvy society, there are hundreds of ways to communicate:messaging platforms, cloud storage, task tracking software, etc. In other words, consultants have no excuse for bad communication coming from their end, and they need to establish clear expectations of their services from the very beginning of the engagement. In fact, setting expectations is one of the most important parts of the entry/on-boarding phase of the entire project. By consistently meeting these expectations, consultants build both long-term reputation and trust with the client.
This topic was covered in depth in another blog post, but vulnerable consulting causes you to be refreshingly disarming. Because you are more open, honest, and empathetic than the consulting stereotype, clients are more likely to believe your predictions and trust your analysis. This sort of behavior also means you seek out the voice of the employees across the organization, since many may have more experience in the industry than you do. Allowing for vulnerability creates pathways to innovation and to the best ideas. By doing so, you position yourself in a way that allows a solid relationship to develop between yourself and the client.
Leverage Human Data
A business is made up of its people, and so when questions are being asked about the business, everyone who has a voice should be heard. Human data becomes especially important when you are trying to validate your findings, since it adds persuasive context to numerical data. Jake Finkelstein, president and CEO of Method Savvy, noted that “Clients can always argue against hunches and perspectives, but using data that we all agree is valid can define the context around the decision and showcase the rationale behind recommendations.” Data speaks in ways that business leaders want to hear. As a consultant, it’s therefore key to find the best way to gather detailed quantitative and qualitative data from across the client organization.
Caveat:Know when to stop
You know those people who don’t know when to let a joke slide? Instead of realizing what was originally funny isn’t appreciated anymore, these jokesters push the limit, leading to frustration and fraying patience. In the same way, consultants need to realize when to draw the line and let a client go when the relationship is no longer profitable. That doesn’t mean you should shut things down any time things go wrong or appear difficult. But unhealthy client relationships prevent consultants from moving forward both inside and outside the engagement. After you have seriously analyzed a damaged relationship and have come to the conclusion that there is nothing to be done, it’s probably time to sever the relationship and focus on other opportunities.
Stepping back from the strategies and nuances, what successful client retention boils down to is better client relationships. And the key to successful relationships, not surprisingly, is to relate to the client, making real efforts to understand the organization and the way the client is thinking. Seeing things from the client’s perspective is often difficult, and so by doing so, you are sure to set yourself and your firm apart.