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What does it mean to be a client-ready consultant?
At a high level, this is a simple answer - it means that someone is ready to be put in front of a client and, ideally, entrusted to work with them on their own..
McKinsey and other client service firms get paid a lot of money to serve their clients. Although it might sometimes feel like it, clients aren't just paying for PowerPoint decks (see also the related post on client-ready decks). They expect a firm to bring their best thinking, problem-solving, knowledge, and people to the engagement. As a result, every consultant and interaction with them either builds or erodes the firm's and team's credibility with the client. Therefore, even the most junior or least experienced member of the team must be client ready, make the right impression on the client, and represent the team and Firm well.
Six traits of client-ready consultants
Client-ready consultants inspire confidence in their capabilities and build credibility with clients. Even the most junior consultants are expected to build strong working relationships with clients and are prepared to present to senior client executives. They do this by consistently exhibiting the following traits:
Always conduct yourself in a manner that is appropriate for a business environment, particularly at the executive level. Examples include always being punctual for meetings, being unfailingly polite (especially Executive Assistants!), and prepared for meetings. Sometimes what's considered appropriate will vary from client to client - or even within the client's organization - so tailor your approach accordingly
Even though clients are paying for our best thinking and professionalism, that doesn't mean they want to work with dispassionate automatons. There are all sorts of benefits that come with establishing personal connections with clients of all levels, including making the engagement a lot more fun for everyone. It's a lot easier to do that if you're friendly, personable, interesting, and take a genuine interest in your clients. In addition to making your consulting job easier - clients are more likely to go out of their way to help someone they like - you might make some great friendships that will continue long after the engagement is over.
Because of the tremendous amount of work to be done, high expectations for quality, and limited time, consultants are always under pressure. Client-ready consultants need to be unflappable under all that stress, especially in front of clients. Whether scrambling to meet a deadline, late for a meeting when the printer runs out of toner, or meeting with the CEO for the first time, a consultant must come across as composed and self-assured.
As much as we'd like to be judged purely on the merits of the work we do, the reality is that how we present ourselves matters - especially when making first impressions. This includes always being appropriately dressed and well groomed. Note that it doesn't always mean being well-dressed, but making sure your appearance is appropriate for the client and situation. What is appropriate will differ depending on whether you're working with line employees at a mining client, middle management at a software client, and senior executives at a private equity firm.
All of the previous items are about the sizzle, but problem-solving is the steak. Ultimately, none of the rest matters if you can't deliver on this dimension. Here are some ways you can demonstrate your intelligence to clients - the first ones are easier because they can be prepared in advance, edited, and fine-tuned prior to the client seeing them:
- Generate insightful analyses
- Send crisp, well-written, thoughtful emails
- Prepare for meetings so you can contribute perceptive answers (or questions) to problem-solving sessions
- Be articulate and choose your words carefully