Client-centric Consulting

Michael Harrington

client-centric consulting, starting with the first conversation

Consulting success? It's all about me ……….No it's not!! Client-centric consulting is more powerful. "Adding value" to clients seems to be one of the latest buzz words of many consultants. Staying highly relevant to clients is becoming more challenging. More clients are expecting consultants to present with greater value than just being an expert in a certain field. What "value adds" can the consultant offer that would hold the interest of a new client?When reflecting recently on 25 years of training design and delivery it dawned on me how my methods of working with clients have refined greatly throughout my work "journey" thus far.Reviewing some of my early proposals, it seemed that they read too much "all about me" and client needs / interests / challenges were deemed as slightly secondary. As I became more attuned to a client focused approach, I saw (and still see … I hope!!) a shift to a more client centric focus. This seems to have assisted clients who have potential training and consulting needs to see that I may be able to support them. In saying that, I would like to think my approach to my work with all clients is continuing to "evolve", moving even further into a client–centric consulting space! I’m good at what I do however … I need to be more mindful of the WIIFM principle ("What’s in it for me" says my client!). It needs to be more of a focus.Wins and loses that I have experienced when courting clients have helped refine the way I work. Indeed, they have forced me to further align more effectively with clients and the outcomes they are wanting from working with businesses such as mine. Client–centric consulting makes sense … A lot of sense!I’d like to share some of these “learnings” here!

Synergise early

Often when we identify synergies early in client / supplier discussions, greater, richer discussions happen earlier around the client's challenges. So any time the "consultant" can spend doing some research pre – first meeting is time well spent. I mean researching the client, their Business, market trends, competitor activity; and also similar clients you have worked with, similar work you may have done, etc. etc.. Your potential client can see a greater level of professionalism; and a client-centric consulting approach. You are more likely to present as knowledgeable, more "in tune" with them, their working world, than without research. If nothing else, there is a fair chance your competitors wouldn’t have gone to that amount of effort …. A lot of clients are very aware of this when comparing consultants! As a consultant …..Is your client–centric consulting approach strong enough?However important your client research is, your "needs" from the initial meeting is another critical preparation piece. What do you need to ascertain, understand, from this initial client meeting? What will help you decide if there could be a "fit" with your Business and this client challenge? In your pre-planning for the initial meeting the answers to these questions (and others) should enable you to be more organised with your own "agenda" that you would like to address during early meetings.Prospects may interpret that lack of clear discussion focus in initial client discussions as lack of preparation from the consultant. Without a consultant "agenda", early meetings can often become information dumps from the client with minimal direction from the consultant. However, consultants having clear outcomes they’d like to achieve in early meetings can also sometimes be dangerous. Some clients could see the consultant "take over" discussions too much to drive their own outcomes. So, it becomes a balancing act!

The Elevator Speech Approach

I have often seen an "elevator speech" approach used effectively by some colleagues when addressing client needs or challenges that have been articulated within a meeting. This approach focuses on the consultant highlighting the "issue" they have discussed. Underlining why they see it as being an issue that leads to "exploding the pain" (highlighting why it is critical or important or vital to manage the issue correctly or deal with it swiftly etc.).The third step of the "elevator speech" is one where the consultant then highlights possible approaches to "solve" the client challenge. The last step of the "speech" is one that involves discussions around what would be needed to move the possible solutions into reality.When executed effectively, this approach can be very effective as it can highlights a client–centric consulting approach to offering support. The client sees that the consultant understands and has possible options (or even solutions) to deal with the challenge that has been tabled. The last step assists the consultant to assess the levels of interest the client has in what has been suggested.

Importance of consultant self-assessment

Lastly, we can become even more aware of our approaches to assist a client–centric consulting mentality by regularly self-assessing our efforts in meetings and client contacts. Reflecting on what went well and where did I struggle can enable a greater understanding of where the relationship is at. What gaps in client knowledge did the meeting uncover? what did I learn about the client I didn’t know? These questions can also help you get closer to the client. Where could I add value to the client (personally as well as business-wise)? What competitor intel do I need to research? what would I do differently next time? etc. etc. etc., can all help me become an even more effective consultant in my next meeting …. Only if I learn from reflections such as these (and others!).Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box or let's discuss opportunities to better engage wth clients via the Contact page

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