Consulting Your Competency – Part 2

This is the second part of the consulting your competency article series. So our topic for today will dwell further into understanding competencies sought after in consulting and how they maybe effectively used in consulting. While in our first post we saw a consultant’s role in understanding client problems, diagnostic tools and the competencies that a consultant requires to perform these activities, today we will focus in understanding how communication acts as a primary tool to interact with the client and helping closing a consulting deal or win your client’s professional liking. We will also stray on a few pointers to understand tips and tricks in communicating with your consulting client.
Why is communication important?
I know… I know!! The question seems simple and dumb. I know what you are thinking. Duh… Consulting involves talking to clients. So why won’t communication be important? Now that your mind is filled with the “why of things”, it would be perfect for you to understand some of the areas where communications plays a vital role in consulting.
In continuation to part 1, one of the core areas of communication in consulting prior to getting to delivering a project is communicating to the client your findings and proposed solution / recommendation. Delivery comes as a product of this communication. So for you to convey your findings accurately to the client and take the consulting deal to the next step, communication is extremely important.
It is important to precisely establish purpose of communication with the client prior to actual communication with the client. If you are thinking why, don’t. The client’s time is always more important than yours. When we say communication, the first thing that comes to your mind is talking. I caution you again, in consulting, communication = listening + talking.
While communicating with your client it is important to speak your mind concisely yet be extremely cautious about what you share. While it sounds simple, I think it is one of the hardest part in consulting or in any other walk of life. Speaking your mind and saying precisely what you wish to say is an art. No beating around the bush. No straying away from the topic, but speaking exactly what is in your mind. Try it and if you succeed, let me know.
A few quick pointers to keep in mind Productivity Consultants while communicating with a client –
a) Identify your key audience or stakeholders – More often in Hard Skills For Consulting, you deal with so many people, it becomes practically challenging for a consultant to keep track of who does what. So it is important to plan your communication with your key consulting stakeholders. One school of thought is that it is always good to over communicate than to under communicate.
My own consulting school of thought is simple. If you over communicate and unnecessarily absorb client’s time, the client wouldn’t perceive any value add in your role. Exhaust all your local available resources prior to reaching to the client with a question.
It is important to know that when you interact with multiple stake holders not everyone would want all the information you are sharing. Identify who your stakeholder is, what they need and how your information would help them. This could be a key to being a great communicator in consulting industry. Sharing exclusively what is vital to the selected group of target audience helps build credibility in consulting.
b) Set clear agenda – It has always proved effective in consulting to have a set agenda prior to communicating with a client. This ensures that the client understands you mean business and also appreciates the fact that you value your client’s time. Setting a clear agenda and sticking on to it will also ensure that you get all the information you need from your stakeholder.
I’m sure most of you are thinking about the times when you were interacting with the consulting client and the conversations always tends to move away from the topic or the agenda. It is practically impossible to always stay on track during conversations. But as a consultant, it is vital to ensure that you bring the stakeholders back into the primary agenda and conversation when they derail
c) Define time, place and mode of communication prior to event – I have noticed from my experience in consulting that good professional consultants always tend to book a meeting room in advance to meet up with their consulting clients. I find it exceptionally hard to find meeting rooms in my client’s office, but if you can manage it, try to have a meeting room blocked always for all client meetings
All of us in consulting would know that it is exceptionally hard to get a client’s time for the simple reason that they have a full-time job to do and yet make time for us as consultants to support the project. So ensure you block your client’s calendar ahead of time in anticipation of meetings. I’m sure this proactive approach would be well perceived by your consulting client. Worst case, you could cancel them and help free time for the client. Ensure you don’t over do this and block your client’s calendar completely. That would not make you a smart consultant.
It is also imperative that you as a consultant clearly defines time and place of meetings. Remember there couldn’t be a greater embarrassment, if your client shows up first for your meeting and you are late. It could turn to an escalation if he/she is a nasty client.
d) Documentation – Once in the meeting room, ensure that you document your conversations with your client. While it is fascinating to think you client trusts you 100% and you trust your client 200%, most of the scope creeps and project management issues come up for lack of documentation. If you have trouble documenting notes while talking to your client, ensure you leverage technology for it. Microsoft One Note could be a potential savior in consulting. Microsoft One note has an option of recording conversation if you have a good mic in place. Either this or using a recording device would help.
If you are a fan of Microsoft Office Communicator (popularly called “OC”), it would help to change your setting to save conversations in your email conversation folder for future reference and notes.
Note- While I recommend recording as a tool, please note that you need your client and stakeholder’s permission prior to doing this. Do ensure you take explicit permissions to record your conversations with your client and use them exclusively only for documentation purpose and nothing else. And of course, try not to blame me if your client doesn’t take this recording idea very well
e) Provide for multiple modes of communication – It is most recommended to have face to face meetings with your stakeholders. But more often even if your client and stakeholders wish to meet in person they may be constrained. So, it would help for you to keep multiple modes of communication open for the client. For instance, if you have a face to face meeting set up with stakeholders and there are multiple participants, it may not be wise to assume everyone can make it for a face to face interview even if they accepted your meeting invite. So it would advisable to always open a phone bridge for remote participants or participants who cannot make it to the meeting.
With the world, moving towards virtual environment and management and less face to face meeting times, I wonder how we would survive if we did not have phone bridge’s available.
What I have mentioned above are few limited techniques you can use to demonstrate professionalism with your clients. Remember, your client’s perception of your work is everything in the end. Of course I would not dare to say that this list is exclusive. It includes a few items and misses many. These coupled with your strong communication and presentation skills could go a along way in winning your client’s credibility.

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