Have you had a client fade away without returning phone calls or giving any indication why? Were you absolutely certain you were going to get a prospect, then realized they went with another firm? Unfortunately, when you’ve done something wrong only 4% of your clients will let you know. The rest will simply stop using your services.
I recently had a discussion with veteran consultant and CEO of DreamSource Consulting, Alberto Riehl, and asked him for his best tips to earn and retain clients. He said the key is to recognize and avoid the common mistakes that consultants make.
1. Assuming the Small things are no big deal
Unless you are the rare and fortunate consultant who can do something that nobody else does, your clients and prospects have options. In addition to your expertise, you have to impress with your customer service, drive, and attention to detail.
If you aren’t doing the following, you could be doing your business a disservice:
- Returning phone calls and emails promptly.
- Ensuring that the links on your website are in working order.
- Showing up on time for meetings.
- Being easy to reach.
If these seem like no-brainers, great! Unfortunately, too many consultants believe they can get by on their expertise alone.
2. Not asking enough questions
Peter Drucker, a major contributor to the foundation of the modern corporation said, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” This is advice that Riehl said more consultants should follow.
As a consultant, you are presumably being hired for your expertise. You should be confident in the skill set that you bring to the table. Just keep in mind that expertise is not the same as understanding. You carry your expertise with you wherever you go. You only gain understanding by asking questions:
- What has been done to try and solve this problem before?
- Who will be responsible for the outcome of this project?
- What is currently the biggest point of frustration?
- What are some roadblocks you anticipate?
- How is this issue impacting the business?
- What are the best possible outcomes?
“Your expertise in combination with your understanding of your client’s needs will allow you to provide the best service,” Riehl said.
3. Failing to understand the culture of the client’s organization
As a consultant, you may find yourself in some touchy situations. Consultants are frequently brought in after project failures. They’re sometimes brought in to replace employees or teams who have been relocated or separated from employment entirely. Existing employees may feel fearful, territorial, or resentful.
Even when those challenges are not present, Riehl believes there’s still a potential for cultural issues. Before your first day, do some research. Speak to your direct report, read reviews on sites like GlassDoor, and otherwise get to know your client. Then, be prepared to adjust your work and communication style accordingly.
4. Not getting ahead of communication
You would never fail to tell a client if a project wasn’t going to be completed on time. You would certainly tell them if you had hit a significant snag that nothing but money could fix. Are you being communicative enough about the little stuff?
“When clients don’t feel as if they are kept within the loop, they get nervous,” said Riehl. “This is especially true when your team knows more than they do. Their prickliness on this issue is understandable as 55% of project managers believe that poor communication is the major factor in project failure.”
Keep in mind also that people are rarely tight-lipped. The small details that are coming out may be making it to your client. The issue is that you have no control over what is being said or how. Unless your client indicates that they want to be hands off, keep them looped in. Copy them in emails, send them meeting notes, and offer to meet for weekly updates.
5. Starting a project without establishing scope
This is a mistake that new consultants make frequently, according to Riehl. They’re eager to get business, and to show that they can get the job done. So, they take on work without establishing project scope. Unfortunately, instead of establishing themselves as go-getters they frequently find themselves at the helm of directionless and disorganized projects.
If any of the mistakes above seem uncomfortably familiar, you can apply the strategies here to avoid them. You are likely to find that you are gaining and retaining clients like never before.