By: Austin Gainey
The last nine years of my professional career has been in the role as a business intelligence consultant. Over the course of that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of clients in several different industries and have amassed some personal perspective and insight throughout my career thus far that I hope can be of value to others.
As consultants we have a unique job compared to some professions. Our expertise has to encompass several facets of business in order to offer the best possible experience and service to our clients. Ultimately, our role is to provide a service to our clients in an efficient and professional manner.
For me personally, keeping that realization as the framework for every new project and client has served me well. Do I have everything figured out? Of course not! That’s one thing I love about being a consultant is the constant room for improvement and growth; it keeps both me on my toes and my skills sharp.
I’m always trying to learn from my colleagues and experiences. Here are 5 ways that I try to offer great service as a consultant, and how you can to.
1. Listening to Your Client’s Needs
I know what you’re thinking (“thank you captain obvious”) but listening to your clients’ needs truly is the first important aspect of a consultant’s job. Our clients have hired us for our expertise and regardless of skill level we have to effectively listen to what our client needs from us. This is usually achieved in early discovery and scope meetings with a client and it’s a key part of setting expectations for the rest of the project.
I was taught early in my career at Key2 Consulting to listen first and really contemplate what your next question would be to the client and I think that is the best approach for both parties. I’ve seen the opposite unfold on bigger projects where consultants from other companies are involved and in meetings they seem too preoccupied with talking and pitching an idea rather than sitting back and grasping the full picture of what the client actually needs.
2. Establishing Transparent Communication
We all hate the dreaded email or Skype call where something got lost in translation or communication was poor with a client. Those are never fun to be on the receiving end of.
Keeping a steady and open line of communication as a project progresses helps build solid rapport with a client. This is equally as important as listening to your client’s issues and needs.
The key to transparent communication is to always to be as honest and upfront about the current state of affairs as possible and yes, do this even when you’re delivering bad news about a project. You aren’t always going to have good news to deliver to your client throughout the lifecycle of a project. Trying to either keep them in the dark until you can deliver good news or adding fluff to make things not seem as bad are never smart solutions and will only hurt client relations or even worse, lose a client.
All clients I’ve worked with have appreciated open and honest communication whether good or bad. Good communication helps both parties make solid decisions on a project moving forward.
3. Learning How Your Clients Business/Industry Operates
Have you passed the first two steps? Great! You are on your way to becoming a rockstar consultant! In all seriousness, the first two points are great stepping stones to accomplishing this next idea, and that is understanding what things actually make your client’s business or industry run effectively.
What does your client care about on a day to day from a data perspective? What sort of visual representations of data do they find valuable to make important decisions? These are the types of questions I ask myself when working with a new client.
I remember my first client (when I joined Key2 Consulting fresh out of college) was in the mineral mining industry (awesomely random industry). The client could have very easily just given us the parameters for what they wanted in a data warehouse and shoved us in a back office until we had a solution for them, but what I really appreciated was the fact that they understood we didn’t have firsthand knowledge of how the mining industry worked.
To help us understand the flow of data points better, they actually took my colleague and I down to the mining operation and had us meet with project foreman and other key points of contact to understand the process of what they do and what data is important to them. That was an eye opening experience for me and made me understand that not all consulting projects fit into a certain template.
While I don’t expect every client you work with to give you that type of access to their business operations or industry, the point is to make it a priority to try and do that digging and research yourself for each client.
4. Don’t Buy a Ferrari if the Honda Does the Job
As business intelligence consultants or (IT consultants in general) we sometimes day dream of that perfect client that will let us flex our technical skills while at the same time possess an unlimited budget to spend on the most cutting edge technologies for us to work with. You quickly come back down to earth once you start doing actual work for clients.
More often than not the reality is there has to be a balance between utilizing technology that the client already has in place and, if it makes sense, recommending the purchase of additional software or licenses if it’s absolutely necessary to accomplish what the client wants out of the project.
One of my biggest pet peeves in the IT consulting industry I’ve seen over the last 9 years of my career is when consultants from other firms are clearly motivated to push additional products and services on a client. Yes, the Ferrari is always cool and sometimes is the best solution for a client but more often than not you are going to win repeat business from a client by getting more EFFICIENT use out of the Honda they already own.
Lame car analogy aside, clients really appreciate when you can deliver a data driven solution with technology they already have in place. Doing so almost always leaves room for you to then bring up the idea of upgrading for the future and what benefits that can bring.
5. In-House IT Department is not Your Competition
If you work in IT consulting long enough you quickly learn that a client’s in-house IT department is sometimes initially not your biggest fan. I totally get their perspective too; we are being hired to either fix something or create something that the IT department cannot do themselves.
Those employees sometimes are not privy to the reasons WHY we are hired. It is not always because of a lack talent or skillset from those employees but more often than not they have been left with a legacy system of bad IT decisions.
It’s critical as consultants to quickly dispel that air of “us vs them” when starting a new project because those IT employees are the gate keepers to a lot of valuable information, processes, and the success of a project.
I learned early in my career from my senior level colleagues to not take this personally or to let it affect the project. If you treat people with respect and empathy to their current situation, they almost always come around to seeing that you are there to help and not replace or get them fired. Often I end up learning from those experiences because tons of business and industry knowledge reside in the minds of those employees. Always invite your client’s IT department to the happy hour!
This is in no way an exhaustive list of things that will make someone be a great consultant but just lessons and trials that I’ve learned along my career journey so far. I would love to hear additional feedback from you on what helps you connect and provide better service for your clients!
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