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#138: Buyers Want More than Just Knowledge from Consultants

Posted By Mark Haas CMC FIMC, Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Updated: Wednesday, September 23, 2009
I ran across a recent survey about why clients buy consulting services that I think Daily Tips subscribers would find interesting

The Productivity Institute recently surveyed buyers of consulting services to find out what characteristics were most important in selecting a particular consultant. Unlike the 1970s through 1990s, when technical expertise was the key selection determinant, it seems that some other criteria are moving to the front. Given that 20-30 years ago performance improvement tended to be more about process and today it is more about human capital, it makes sense that consultant selection priorities may have changed

Survey respondents were asked to name the three characteristics they considered most important when hiring consultants. Over half selected as the most important criterion a consultant's communication skills, beating out what we have come to consider most important: being smart and honest. This may cause a bit of disbelief in many of us who pride ourselves on being, above all else, smart and ethical consultants.

The second most important characteristic was the ability to work with others. Having heard from many clients about consultants who came across as aloof or even arrogant, this makes sense. The third characteristic was experience. For over a decade, we have seen the increasing importance of interpersonal skills in helping diagnose, facilitate, discuss, cajole and exhort client staff to improve performance. Knowing the answer does no good if you can't get information from clients and stakeholders, explain your findings, or encourage staff to embrace your recommendations.

Tip: The assessment of your interpersonal skills starts with your first interaction with the client organization. This means being genuinely respectful to staff, learning all you can about the culture (not just digesting the annual report for data), and listening more than you talk when you meet with a prospect. Talk to current or past staff to get a sense of the place. If the prospect did his or her due diligence, you are probably qualified technically to perform. The initial interview is to see if you are in sync with the culture and the client. And this is just the first part. Future tips will address the nuances of consultant communication and how to engage with the culture of the client’s environment.

© 2009 Institute of Management Consultants USA

Tags:  client development  client relations  communication  customer understanding  proposals  prospect  trends 

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