Mythbusting management consulting: How we get our clients

Friend: “How do you get new assignments?”
Me: “The same way we get all our assignments.”
Friend: “What do you mean?”
Me: “By doing a good job.”

I have almost come to hate how often people like to state how consulting is a trust business and how good relationships is the key. All true, but the only way to earn deep level trust is great results. So actually in order to succeed in the management consulting business there are in my opinion five key things that you need to nail.

#1: Quality
Never allow yourself or your team to get away with “good enough” when it comes to project execution; analysis, presentations, workshops etc. Let people do it once, and it will be so much easier to lower the bar the next time. Focus should be on exceeding the customer’s expectations every single time. “Good enough” simply won’t get you there – not even close.

#2: Trust
Establish a bond of trust so that it’s possible discuss matters openly. It’s also easier to do your work, when the customer trusts you enough, not to be constantly looking over your shoulder. Once established, you need to earn the trust through great results, over and over again. Otherwise you get lazy. And finally: never ever misuse the trust you’ve earned. This really should go without saying, but I’ve seen these kinds of cases, and it’s not pretty. And in no way good business for anyone.

#3: Results
This is what counts in the long run. Surprised? I hope not. But there are different dimensions of results. First is what actually happens. No results? You’re out. The second dimension is the way your client is perceived in her organization. Good result, but client looks bad? That person is not likely to hire you again. To gain repeat business and references, you have to succeed in both dimensions.

#4: Positive challenging
There are two stereotypical approaches to consulting that are both useless to the customer. The first is being arrogant and thinking you know it all. The other is asking a lot of questions, but never really having an opinion on anything. I believe that in order to be a good consultant, you need to bring out your own expertise and not be afraid to have an opinion. If you’re just telling the client what she already knows, there is no reason for you to be there in the first place. Show your expertise, but stay humble.

#5: Make it easy
Don’t use overly complicated terms and conditions. Don’t try to negotiate every little detail during the project. If you fail to deliver what is asked of you, it doesn’t matter what the contract papers says. You need to focus your own and the client’s time on getting the job done. Not on yourself getting a big pay check through hidden costs and complicated billing practices. Of course, contracts are just one part. In general, you should develop ways of working that are smooth and fit the client all around.

Which brings me back to the original question. How do we get our assignments? Usually, a client who was happy with our work recommended us.