One Question To Change Your Consulting Business

If clients are not loyal, something's wrong.

Imagine you and I have a similar specialization as independent consultants. I visit your website, go through your list of clients, and start calling one after the other saying: "I know you hired {Your Name} to help you with {Your Expertise}, but I think there are many things you could do better. Worth a conversation?"

Do you think I'd have a chance of stealing any of your clients?

If the answer is yes, it's time for you to improve your delivery and/or stance with current clients.

Poor Delivery

If you don't deliver on your marketing promises, your client has every right to feel frustrated and let down. Consciously or not, they made a value judgment when hiring your services - this is what I'm getting, and this is how much I'm paying for it.

When you fail to generate the outcomes they were seeking, they can't help but think they overpaid for the work. When this happens, your expertise and reputation are downgraded.

A couple of weeks ago, I met a consultant who was struggling with this problem. His confidence was plummeting, and he couldn't understand the reason why some projects were seen as a failure: "I deliver very similar services for similar clients. Most of our clients are as happy as they could be, but there are 3 who said the work was a disaster. How is my experience or expertise to blame?"

The consultant was starting to believe his mistake was not being selective enough. Those unsatisfied clients had a "difficult personality", something he should have spotted.

It turns out that this was not the case. Blaming their personality was a typical fundamental attribution error - the best way to damage your people skills.

When asked about the success metrics, the consultant realized that he was establishing different indicators for different clients. And in those 3 projects labeled as failures, he had agreed with indicators that were mostly outside his control. He had allowed those clients to pick high-level KPIs.

The problem was not in the project delivery per se but in the marketing promise. If the consultant had shown the need of picking relevant metrics to measure progress, all of the clients would have seen it as a success. What needed to be improved was his sales skills, not technical expertise or operational structure.

Very often, poor deliveries are a side-effect of poor conversations.  

Order-Taker Attitude

Sometimes the problem is not delivering on your marketing promises, but failing to prove to your client you put them first, and have their best interests in mind.

Let's say a company published a RFP for the implementation of a project, which you won. They gave you the list with the deliverables, deadlines, and requirements. You did everything as requested, with no delays and satisfactory quality.

Now imagine I'm a consultant with a similar specialization, and similar target audience, as you. I made some contacts in the company and called them saying: "I think there are many things you could do better. Worth a conversation?"

Do you think I'd have a chance of stealing your client?

The answer is, of course, a big yes.

You never proposed new ideas, or even challenged the client's assumptions about the project before starting. When your engagements are that transactional and commoditized, the client will see you like a pair of hands. An order-taker, who can be easily replaced.

The best way for you to earn trust and loyalty is by taking a consultative approach. You need to take initiative and offer insights in every conversation. This can be by helping the client with problem-definition, or by sharing stories that directly affect their world.

And it doesn't end when the deliverables are ready and a project is over. Retention and growth come from identifying new risks or sources of value for your clients. A trusted advisor will point out what those opportunities are, even if they can't deliver the work themselves.

When a client has a competent, reliable, and honest person advising them on present and future risks, it gets very difficult to justify investing time to talk to competitors. I would need much more than a call to steal business from you.

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