No one likes to be thought of in a negative fashion. This is especially true in the world of IT consulting. I like to think that most consultants care what others think of them and how they bring value to the work environment. From a client’s point of view, perception of the consultant is essential in successful relationships – yes, perception is reality. Having the skills that meet the demand of clients does not necessarily mean that the client values your relationship, nor does it mean that the client enjoys doing business with you. The bottom line is if the client does not like you it will overshadow everything else and there is a good chance you will be replaced by someone more likeable who can get the job done. Consultants must collaboratively engage with others to get things done. Most often, this will require engaging with client’s staff to understand business requirements, developing new solutions, or even understanding desired outcomes of your consulting engagement. No matter what the consultant’s task, it is very important to find avenues that help position themselves in good standing with the client. Getting the client to like you should be thought of as a small goal that brings huge benefits for you and your client. By implementing a few behaviors consultants can find ways to engage their client and begin the process of getting the client to like you.
Know the Client’s Culture
One of the main keys in getting the client to like you is knowing their culture. Culture is a fundamental element that will set the tone for the entire engagement. Understanding what makes the client “tick” will go a long way to a successful relationship. Nothing will anger or cause resentment from the client quicker than if the consultant fails to follow protocol where beliefs, values, and attitude are compromised. To help illustrate this example, I used to work for a distributor company that sold a certain brand of soda. During a major project where we needed extra IT support, we hired additional consultants. One consultant must have forgotten where he was working and brought in the competitor’s soda to the office. It was not long before the IT manager relieved him of his duties because of such disregard for the company’s culture. This consultant could have been the best resource on the project, but we never found out because of his lack of understanding of the client’s culture. Thumbing your nose at company culture is not a way to get the client to like you and sometimes is the fastest way to exit an engagement.
Know your Product
This is clearly the obvious skill and where a client expects to derive value from you. You will not last on a project team if you do not know your product. If you are brought on the project to write code and don’t know how to write code, then no matter what you do, you will not, nor should you last very long on the team. Knowing your product, small or large, is the basis that helps you engage with the client and is the primary reason why you were hired in the first place. Keeping up with the latest trends, honing existing skills, and experience will go a long way in making the consultant desirable and in high demand. When one holds great knowledge that is valued, clients will gravitate to you because of what you can do for them.
Presentation skills may be one of the most important elements that are valued by clients and are a key factor in getting the client to like you. To be clear, presentation skills do not only apply in formal settings, for example, while conducting a workshop or holding a lecture with a room full of people. The presentation skill I most find effective in getting the client to like you is the presentation you come with every day. Consultants should be mindful that they are always selling and delivering value. Selling is not just for the sales staff at the consulting firm. Consultants should always adopt the mindset of a salesman: You are always selling a product and demonstrating value. Whether the product is a piece of software, an idea, or yourself, consultants need to have good presentation skills that highlight the “product”. Just imagine how awful the client / consultant relationship would be if a consultant had an aggressive style that agitated the client to where people did not like working with them. You may be working with these types of people now. No matter how knowledgeable the consultant may be about a topic, if you are not easy to work with, the client will only reluctantly work with you. Having a positive and pleasant mindset and crafting your presentation to match the product you are selling will only help in getting the client to like you.
Honor Your Commitments
In recent weeks, I have re-learned the importance of honoring your commitments. I don’t think anything makes the client happier than when people deliver what they said they would, when they said they would do them. This may sound trivial, but is a fundamental trait that is often overlooked. I know there are countless things that occur that can disrupt the delivery of the commitment. This is especially true while working on projects where unforeseen events or issues are far more complex than originally anticipated. With that being said, it still should not take away from honoring your commitments. When events come up that disrupt delivery, one should raise the issue to the proper level so that it is visible to the client. Coming in on the day of delivery to announce that it is not done only aggravates the client, but it gives you a bad reputation and sows the seeds of distrust. This is especially true if you did not raise any issues along the way. Honoring your commitments shows the client that you care about the work and you will do what it takes to get the job done. This kind of action helps strengthens relationships far beyond than just getting the client to like you.
A Sense of Humor and Positive Attitude
I have often found that a sense of humor can go a long way in getting what you want. I’m not suggesting everyone become a comedian, but I think it is important that people do not take themselves too seriously. Having a sense of humor can soften the blow of any serious or intense topic that negatively impacts project work. Things happen all the time. If you have the right attitude that brings a softening to the sting of conflict, without insult, you can overcome almost anything. Clients will notice this trait every time. I have often found that if you have the right attitude and treat others well, clients will bend over backwards to help you. I live by these principles: People will always forget what you said, people will always forget what you did, but people will never forget how you make them feel. Making your clients feel good about what they are doing and how they are doing it is a great way in building positive relationships.
Getting the client to like you should be a fundamental part of consulting. If a client likes you, it opens the door for them to see the value you bring. I think this trait is often overlooked by consulting firms and consultants alike. Adopting the traits mentioned above are only samples of things that can be done to build positive consultant / client relationships. There are many other beneficial traits to adopt while engaging with the client that shows the consultant in a positive light. Getting the client to like you will not only make you feel better, but will help ease the burden of everyday work. And who knows, it just may help in building deeper relationships that have greater impacts, reaching further than what was first expected.