A lot has been said and written on the successes of individuals in their sales careers. The character of the relationship between a client and a consultant is a great optics issue.
Many define this relationship as ‘interdependent’. Ideally, the consultant collaborates with client in delivering his expertise. They focus on working together for the mutual satisfaction of the client.
But in the real world, a lot of trust has been broken. The corporate and accounting scandals like Satyam, Lehman, Enron etc; have tarnished consultants, bankers, and top executives alike. As a result, client relationships with consultants are no longer as they could ideally be. Hence they have to work harder to maintain their relationships and promises on ROI.
By the early twenties, many consulting firms moved away from their traditional pyramid approach. Instead of matching the level of their consultant with the corresponding level in the client organization, they now deploy salespeople to go out and close business with clients. Most of these salespeople are from different organizations and are yet to fully imbibe the firms’ culture and values. This creates disconnect between the relationship definitions of the BD person, the consultant and the client because relationships were being handed off to closers who were hired off the street. This has increased the trust deficit between the consulting firm and the client.
Also in areas like technology or bio engineering, the sales force turnover is over 30% each year. Thus the interfacing force with the client undergoes a rapid change, creating a larger disconnect with the consulting firm.
When these business development people go into client organizations instead of the partner or senior manager, clients see them as pure salespeople rather than problem solvers. They may have the inclination to be problem solvers or problem finders, but they don’t have the history with the firm and knowledge of its processes to do that. So they are not able to execute.
All they can do is make an appointment and hope they can bring in someone else. The first appointment is critical. But they use it to set the second appointment and so they are perceived as wasting their time.
Customer loyalty is based on the consultant’s focus on their relationship. The relationship fizzles if the partner or senior manager expresses less interest or shows up less frequently.
Besides having an interdependent client relationship and delivering work as promised, there are other factors that drive client loyalty.
Small; but critical things like showing up at the right time and that too consistently have a huge impact. Too often, once a consultant starts a project, the partner or senior manager fades into the background. The consultant has to continue to deliver it through the lips of the people who got it started. That way, the client sees that there’s consistency in the handling of the relationship and knows that person is always going to be there which leads to the promise of more work in the future.
After having learned this lesson the hard way, many consulting firms are trying to figure out how to get back to the relationships they had before they transitioned into the business development model.
Many continue to use the pyramid approach and keep all the different levels covered in the client’s organization. Consultants are encouraged to meet their client on neutral ground like in community organizations and events. They are encouraged to push the referral mechanism for consulting work. This is quite different from strategies employed by their corporate counterparts.
Corporate salespeople do not exploit community activities for their sales because they know that they would not be around very long. Business uncertainties and the pressure on them to sell do not allow them to make long term strategic moves within the same organization. If they’re not making sales calls or sitting at their computers entering data into their sales information systems, they’re perceived as being time wasters.
Whereas, consultants by their very nature are involved in community work most of the time. In many firms, consultants are incentivized to participate in such events. The idea is to meet more people and build their own network. This is worthwhile even if it does not deliver immediate results.
However, consultants tend to focus selfishly on themselves. They lack the ability of focusing on the client who needs help. They need to research abundantly on the pain areas of the client, understanding the client’s customers, suppliers, and issues and probing to find out if there’s mutual ground to collaborate to solve the problems.
Consultants ignore this focus and feel that the client has given him time because he is highly recommended. This is sheer arrogance. Consulting organizations need to work with people immediately around that perception of arrogance. They should hammer hard on research.
It is a fact that clients look forward for different levels of engagement because of the quality of the questions that the consultants ask.
In my earlier topic, I had covered the challenges which any leadership faces while dealing with their ‘talented’ employees. Consultants with deep domain knowledge definitely fall in this slot and therefore need to be given their independence. Independence on one hand is very difficult to balance with guided structured approach to consulting.
Leaders of the modern world….this is just the beginning!…