Create a Lasting Impression with Your Client
When I started working for Caiman in 2006, I knew nothing about the consulting world. I was making the move from a secure, 11-year position as a product manager at a local software company to the unfamiliar and seemingly-daunting environment of consulting at a big tech company. I wasn’t fully confident I’d survive since my impression of big tech employees came from friends who’d worked there in the ‘90s, e.g. “everyone works till midnight”, “the bottom 10% get fired”, “the CEO wanders the halls looking for weak links to crush.”
Of course, this was an exaggeration. But I quickly found out that the pace of business was much faster than I was used to, and I had to adapt quickly. After the first few months of my project, I settled in and found my groove. That project set the foundation for the rest of my consulting career. What I learned there, and through each project that has followed over the last 13 years, has helped me to meet the needs of my clients, create lasting connections that go beyond the projects themselves, and enhance Caiman’s reputation as a leader in the consulting world.
Many of you who have been in consulting for a while will find the following tips familiar, and probably have your own as well. For those that are just beginning, maybe these can help set you up for success early as you find your groove.
When You Begin a Project
Establish credibility early. Learn as much about your client’s role and his/her political position in the team. Ask your client lots of insightful questions. Show them you are invested in the project by thinking critically about the world they live in and the needs they have. Be present (either online or in person) during business hours and always respond to requests quickly. This will instill trust that you are serious about adding value, not just wasting time and collecting a paycheck. Be prepared to (within reason) respond to requests after hours, especially when starting a new project.
Identify and complete a quick win as soon as possible. Find a simple pain point that can be easily addressed, possibly with a new tool or missing process. Show your client you can be a partner in problem-solving. Of course, be cognizant of the politics of the group and don’t solve for something that is beyond your or your client’s scope.
Most importantly, always be friendly, upbeat, and positive. Be enthusiastic about working for your client. If they are having a bad day, be understanding and helpful. If you are having a bad day, don’t pass that along to your client. Find a trusted resource in your firm to vent to if you need to.
During A Project
Put yourself in your client’s shoes. Think like your client. Find ways to show that what’s important to him/her is also important to you. Make them feel like you’ve got their back. Figure out what keeps your client up at night. If possible, consider how to create a solution that will address their biggest issues, or even issues they aren’t even aware of. Try to combine both a strategic approach and tactical implementation.
Always have your consulting hat on. Be a sounding board for your client. Because you’ve spent so much time thinking about their world, you can be ready to help guide them through various decision points. If you disagree with your client’s position, try to tactfully push back if have the data/experience to do so. Don’t be arrogant or pushy, but try to understand what they truly need, not just what they are asking for. Think like your client’s manager, and even the manager above that. Consider what they need to know to make effective decisions. Find ways to make your client look successful to his/her leadership. Hopefully, they’ll appreciate the recognition they get based on your work, further cementing their trust in your dedication. Remember that you are not only representing yourself, but your firm as a whole.
Don’t miss the details. While helping your client with important strategic decisions can be exciting, you may also oversee more tactical project management duties. Stay on top of the details. Take effective notes, publish them quickly, and follow-up on action items. Take the burden of worrying about details away from client so they can rise above the weeds and tackle larger issues. Nothing loses credibility faster than letting details slip too often.
Go beyond the professional relationship. While often overlooked, this may be one of the most important tactics you can use for success with your client. Try to find something outside of work that you have in common and make that a frequent conversation point. Ask how their weekend went and share your hobbies/interests. Make them feel like you are more than just a resource they hired and that you genuinely like them. Eventually, they may go to bat for you on multiple extensions (or even bring you with them when they leave for another role) because they enjoy working with you.
Wrapping Up A Project
Document everything that you owned. Think about the transition and who will be taking over for you. If your client will be left managing your work, ensure they have access to all tools/databases. Setup highly organized and easily-consumable OneNote documentation and SharePoint folders. Setup time to knowledge-share and ensure they can contact you after you’re gone. Leave the project better than you found it.
Stay connected after the project is over. LinkedIn is a great way to stay connected with your client in a professional manner. You want to not only leave the door open for a possible future opportunity to work for them, but they may be a great candidate to consider working for your firm.
If you always keep in mind that connecting with your client on a deep level and making him/her successful will reflect positively on your firm, helping ensure future business. Whether you work for a highly-demanding client on a fast-paced project or have a more laid-back engagement, hopefully these tips will help you think about ways to create a lasting impression of trust, reliability, and even a friendship that will go beyond your time on the project.