As a consultant, you surely know why the job you do is important: a great consultant can be a huge benefit for an organization, offering deep expertise, unbiased feedback, and new ideas that may not have sprung up internally. But you’ve also surely met potential clients who have been burnt by poor consulting in the past, receiving ineffective guidance or poor advice that’s only cost them money.
So what can you do to be the best consultant you can be and give clients the positive and beneficial experience that they’re always hoping for? Here are seven traits of the most effective consultants and why they’re so important for you to personally practice.
Become an Industry Thought Leader
“Jack of all trades”-type skill sets have their place in the world, but when it comes to consulting, it’s always better to be an expert in your field. As a consultant, you’re being hired to fix specific problems in specific industries, so the more you tailor your experience and your skills to one industry and solution set, the more you can become the “go-to” for anybody that needs that particular experience. It’s tempting to have a broad range of knowledge, but in the world of consulting, you want to go deep to build your reputation.
No matter how deep your expertise, every client is different, and the last thing you want is to come in locked into a particular idea or mindset. Always be asking questions, and whenever possible, asking the right open-ended questions can give you more information than you’d likely receive otherwise. The “5 Whys” interrogative technique is a great place to start, giving you a framework of open-ended questions that will help guide your client from giving those broad, not-particularly-helpful answers we’re all so familiar with to giving specific responses that can help you target exactly what needs to be fixed.
The goal in asking all your questions, of course, is to get to the root of the problem an organization needs solving. This sounds simple, but many consultancy projects fail because the right problem is never truly identified–a client may misidentify the cause of a particular frustration, or a consultant may fail to probe far enough to find the real source of the issue. By asking questions and digging deeply, a great consultant will be able to determine exactly what the pain point is for a client, the root cause of that pain, and how far a client or an organization is willing to go (and how much they’re willing to spend) to resolve the problem.
While you may be working “for” a client, remember that they’re paying you to be more than an order taker. Don’t be afraid to push back (professionally, of course)–if a client had all the answers, they wouldn’t have asked for your help. Your job is to offer solutions the client may not have considered and to disrupt the status quo at any given organization. A truly great consultant will also always have a keen eye to when a client is falling back into their old ways: it can be tricky to pick up on when a client is just dressing up old, failed solutions in new clothing, and being able to push against that is a skill that can lead you to great success.
Of course, part of being a good consultant is displaying the type of professionalism and reliability that serves you well in any career path. Gaining the all-important buy-in from your client means they need to know for sure that you’ll do what you say you’ll do when you say you’ll do it–after all, they’re leaving the well-being and success of their organization in your hands. Disruption should come from your ideas, not your demeanor, and building that trust and dependability is key in maintaining great client relationships and growing your professional reputation as a consultant.
Paying attention to every detail is one of the most important tools in your arsenal to build that reputation for trustworthiness and dependability as a consultant. Document every meeting and every task, and make sure that these notes are as detailed as possible: document not only who you spoke to and what they said, but how you interpreted what they said and what conclusions you came to. And on the back end, always make sure you’re documenting the results of every project–you’re in the business of offering solutions, and you need to make sure you can show that your solutions are tried and tested.
As a consultant, you’ve been brought in for your expertise. But no matter how long you’ve been in the business, it’s inevitable that you won’t have every answer. It’s tempting to hide when you don’t know something, but it’s hugely important to be confident in saying “I don’t know; let me find out” or “it depends” and knowing what resources to turn to, what people to talk to, and what further questions to ask to find your answers. This transparency (if met with proper follow-through) will further cement the trust you’re trying to build with your clients and helps you ensure you’re providing the best possible solutions.
These seven characteristics of a great consultant should help you identify what your consultancy does well at and where you could be doing even better. Not a consultant, but looking for some help for your organization? Redpath Consulting Group has had the privilege of working with more than 300 organizations to deliver customized Salesforce solutions built with the success and longevity of our clients in mind, and we’d love to help you.
Contact us here to start a conversation and find out what works best for you.