In the first two installments of my “Great Consulting Project” blog series, I highlighted the importance of having the tough discussions and following the golden rule. Now I will put the lens on understanding client expectations, aligning solutions accordingly, and then meeting (and exceeding) those expectations throughout a project.
Understanding expectations starts with the first conversation between a consultant and a client
From the first interaction, consultants must show a genuine interest in understanding the client and what they value. So many times, we approach the first conversation with an intention to tell them all about us. It’s like going to a cocktail party, meeting people for the first time, and they tell you everything about themselves—but never ask one thing about you. Cocktail parties are typically a lot more interesting when you start asking questions and learning about other people versus focusing on yourself. The same is true of consulting projects—be curious.
In initial conversations with clients, I like to spend time asking open-ended questions that help me better understand them. Questions I like to ask include:
Learn about culture, workstyle, and roles
In subsequent conversations, usually the ones where we start to get into the details of the program, I like to ask clients questions like:
By gathering this kind of information, consultants can develop a solution (which includes the scope, methodology, delivery locations, resourcing model, and assets) that better aligns to their client’s expectation.
Clients, what does this mean for you? Be candid and honest in your responses. Don’t be afraid to:
Set clear expectations and align solutions to meet them
Once a project is confirmed, it is critical to transition the agreed upon expectations from the consulting sales team to the delivery team, who will continue to establish and share expectations with the entire project team. Said simply, all parties need to collectively agree on what the client expects of the consultant, and what the consultant expects of the client.
Everyone on the project team should agree, confirm, and begin delivering against the expectations. Expectations should be realistic, transparent, and easy to navigate. The project expectations should be documented in the Project Charter and then enabled through governance processes (i.e., who will make decisions, what decisions will be made at various levels, how will you escalate risks and issues, etc.) and the project plan (i.e., what work needs to be performed, when, and by whom). On a regular basis, expectations should be checked and course corrections made when challenges arise.
How does a consultant exceed expectations?
By listening. By adapting. By thinking out of the box. By tackling challenges head on. By being proactive. By being authentic and genuine. In the consulting business, your differentiator is your people. At Oracle Consulting, we are challenging our consultants to raise the bar. We emphasize: Do more. Be curious. Catapult success.
Remember, the questions you can ask are endless. Start a conversation knowing that what you get out of it will be proportional to the effort you put into it. This will naturally lead to deeper relationships with your clients. The right questions will lead to the right insights—allowing you to better understand the culture of the company and how your clients will evaluate what success is. Ultimately, asking questions will help you set appropriate, realistic expectations and become a better advisor to your clients—success times two.
Consultants and clients, how do you set expectations for your projects? Share your best practices in the comments below!