on being receptive + making informed decisions: the ideal client
We’ve come to the ¾-mark in this series on the consultant-client relationship. This week, we’re switching gears and taking a look at what makes for a good client. For most of us, we will find ourselves, at one point of another, in the role of the client. It is often an incorrect assumption that since the client is the one paying for services, responsibility does not extend beyond the paying of invoices; however, critical to nearly every consulting relationship is the active participation of the client.
In this blog, we will outline the four central qualities of first-rate clients – clients who are rewarding to collaborate with throughout the process and who are rewarded with consultation work done well.
Good clients are:
A good client is aware on multiple levels. They are aware that they need consultation. They are aware of their goals. They are aware of the role of a consultant and they are aware of their responsibility throughout the engagement. This general level of understanding will compound the efficacy of the relationship at every turn. When a client is lagging on a deadline or when inevitable communication misfires happen, a client’s understanding of their role in, and responsibility to, the outcome is critical in navigating these challenges with perspective.
Many of our clients at Duchesne Communications have reported being unsatisfied with their previous consulting relationships, and upon digging a little deeper, it soon becomes obvious that while there was incompatibility from the outset, the consultant’s failure to outline their expectations of the client led to the ultimate dissatisfaction. Because the client was unaware from the beginning of what the consultant expected, it was difficult to live up to those expectations, as one would well imagine.
Consulting is an advice game. There’s some manpower involved too, but advice has high emotional impact. Therefore, the degree to which a client is receptive will indicate how the communication will probably go. This is largely based on personality (and also the point we’ll cover next). Some people are just more optimistic that things are going to work out. Some people also have a healthy dose of perspective when it comes to these sorts of projects.
As consultants, just as with any other interpersonal exchange, you have the opportunity to leverage your communication in the direction of receptivity. Effectively communicating with your client in a way with which they identify is one of the subtle nuances that absolutely contributes to success. All those interpersonal communication skills lend themselves to creating an environment of positive change and collaboration.
It’s not a marriage but if the client plans to end the contract early or if they envision what you’re doing to be on a trial basis, maybe you need to go back over some things - trust establishment and the like. A healthy consulting relationship begins with a client committed to both the projects at hand and the consulting relationship.
When clients are committed to the projects and the consulting relationship, they’re then committed to the work. When they’re committed to the work and the consultant is competent, the projects are going to head in the right direction. Floundering on the goals or the engagement are two critical points in which commitment can easily waver. Try to avoid serial consultant hiring. Hire well and have confidence in that decision. Which leads to our final point...
Clients can be trigger happy or gun shy and neither is optimal. In a new consulting relationship, things can start off hot and heavy. Super enthusiasm over the new projects or the new relationship can have things running smoothly in the beginning. However, as things start to become more practical and less theoretical, a lag in decision making can start to come into play. Kicking the can, if you will, on big decisions is a huge pitfall for many clients. Ultimately, this may be one of the largest risks to timeline, budget, and success in a consulting relationship.
We established earlier in this blog that the consulting relationship is one of advice. The trouble is that the client is left to make decisions based on the discoveries made during the time together. A choice has to be made on what to do and how to proceed. And this can be the most challenging thing of all. Wisdom is required. An exploration of the reasoning behind the advice offered is also required, so the best decisions can be achieved. The chosen path must be one the client is confident and secure in going down. Any doubts or concerns must be addressed prior to the final commitment. As clients, we have to get ourselves to the point of believing in a direction and staying committed to that direction.
Tune in next week as we bring this series to a close with "on consulting success: mindsets and attitudes from the outset."