A key to our success as consultants is found in relationships with clients. Regardless of the type of consulting service offered, the ultimate success of each of our businesses depends on an ability to build trust and confidence.
To be effective, we must connect with clients as individuals and develop relationships with them, just as we build relationships in other parts of our lives. The relationship can enhance not only the current work but will also bear fruit when former clients seek services in the future.
From my own perspective, the longer that I am in business (11 years and counting!) the more I find repeat customers playing a significant role. A strategic planning process completed in 1998 can lead to a new planning effort in 2001, a development plan completed in 2001 may result in the hiring of staff who require training in 2002, and so on.
Perhaps not surprisingly, my best work has been done with people that I respect and truly like. In fact, I have enduring friendships that began through a consulting/client connection.
Essential to any relationship is a healthy respect for one another. I am brought into an organization as a consultant because I have a particular set of skills that the client needs. The client, for their part, should respect what I have to offer. As a consultant, I must respect that the people in the organization know more about their business than I do.
Most of my work is in planning and that often entails bringing about change in the organization. Even though change can be revitalizing, many people view it as threatening, disruptive and anxiety-provoking. It can be a very emotional time for people within an organization. A consultant with a strong relationship with the client can help to channel the emotions in a strategic way.
Four years ago, I worked with an organization that had gone through a severe financial crisis. The result would be a sea change in how that organization operated. No one involved had a very positive view of the future. During a particularly difficult board retreat, the executive director/founder burst into tears while trying to lay out the very serious difficulties the organization was facing. The recommendation on the floor was to shut the organization down.
Because of the relationship we had built, we were able to continue the meeting with a reasonable discussion of the organization’s future, based on choices. In the end, the board elected to reorganize rather than fold and the organization continues to operate today.
We live and work in a culture that expects everything to be fast. Fast food, fast lanes on the freeway, fast checkout lines at the supermarket, and quite often, fast answers from consultants. It is easy for us to fall into this trap and provide clients with the quick and easy answers they may be looking for. I call that “drive-by consulting.”
What differentiates good consultants from the rest is the care we take in assuring clients that we know enough about the organization, about the people in it and about their current situation to make a reasoned recommendation. This can only happen if we have taken the time to develop a relationship with our clients.