There is no question that client expectations and needs are changing. Internal and external clients are demanding more customized solutions that deliver more business value. They also expect projects to be executed more quickly than ever before.
As a consultant required to recommend client solutions, you must be able to properly understand the client’s needs, which may be poorly defined – especially where innovation is involved. You must also be able to assess the client’s situation and recommend a solution that meets increasingly demanding expectations.
Taking a consultative approach is a great way to deliver more business value and requires the right:
- Personal and interpersonal skills and competencies.
Whether servicing internal or external clients, your approach will be the same.
First, you must follow a proven process to ensure that you can properly engage with clients and deliver the expected business value. A typical consulting lifecycle includes five key steps:
1. Engage the client.
In this step, you establish the relationship with the client, develop a preliminary view of the client’s need and propose a description of how you will work with the client to address their needs. The result of this step is gaining the client’s agreement to proceed.
2. Gather and analyze information.
This second step requires you to engage in a variety of data-gathering techniques with both internal and external stakeholders to understand the client’s need and situation. In some cases this may require you to work with others to gather the data and determine suitable solutions. This step results in you fully understanding the situation and defining a recommended solution and at least one alternative.
3. Present findings and recommendations.
Based on your findings in step two, make a recommendation to the client and gain the client’s commitment to the recommendation. This step results in the client’s acceptance of the recommendation.
4. Plan and implement recommendations.
At this point in the process, you may be planning to hand the lead over to a project manager who will work with the client to implement the solution. If so, you will provide all the documentation from the first three steps and give insight on potential implementation risks based on your analysis to date. In some cases, you will also play the role of the project manager, so a formal handoff is not required. At the end of this step, the solution should be fully implemented.
5. Evaluate results and evolve engagement.
Regardless of your role in step four, once the implementation of the solution is complete, you will participate in a debriefing to evaluate the outcomes of the engagement. A critical activity of this step is documenting key learnings and capturing and sharing them to ensure they can be applied to future client engagements. Any outstanding activities should also be documented and ownership should be assigned to ensure that the loose ends are tied up. At this point, you may have uncovered additional opportunities to help the client, and a new engagement may evolve.
Having a good process in place is one of the elements required for success. Consultants also need tools to ensure that you can complete the process in an efficient and effective way.
As a consultant, you will use a number of different tools to document data and decisions throughout the consulting lifecycle. Commonly used tools include:
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This is not an exhaustive list of tools, and there are many other examples of documentation that may be required based on the size and nature of the project.
Personal and Interpersonal Skills and Competencies
Although a good process and the right tools are critical to success, consultants must have a variety of skills and competencies to execute the process effectively. Some critical ones include:
- Build and use business acumen:
- Demonstrate breadth of knowledge in multiple disciplines across your company and/or your client’s value chain, e.g., finance, technology, business operations, marketing, sales, logistics, etc.
- Use formal and informal methods to increase industry knowledge, such as industry performance, competition, trends, etc.
- Acquire knowledge of client’s industry.
- Display judgment in assessing costs and benefits of recommendations.
- Produce something of value to the client.
- Advance the client relationship, which includes your ability to:
- Manage client expectations.
- Build, sustain and leverage relationships internally and with external clients or partners.
- Increase internal and external network of contacts.
- Understand the unique needs of individual stakeholders.
- Communicate effectively:
- Maintain a constructive problem-solving communication approach when faced with negative or challenging situations.
- Constructively challenge the views of others.
- Negotiate effectively.
- Recognize and resolve conflict.
- Influence others even in the absence of formal authority.
The process and tools are the “science” behind consulting and form a solid foundation for getting results. The personal and interpersonal skills and competencies are more the “art” of the profession – and often most critical in the success of the consultant. Whether your goal is to start taking more of a consultative approach or to refine your consulting expertise, by addressing both the art and the science of consulting, you will improve your skills and, therefore, the value that you deliver to your clients.