Running a consultancy is not easy. You need to establish a name, be capable of influencing and selling, and also maintain a great image as you are constantly being watched by your clients. Here are some tips from Sandeep Krishnan to ace consulting.
Learning 1: Customise
In a consulting company, you are running a business. Business development in consulting entails solution sales. You need to have the depth of knowledge coupled with the skills to provide a solution to the clients’ problems, for which they are willing to pay you. Do not just try to force-fit your product or standard solutions to your clients’ issues. Instead, co-create and customise the solution that will serve the client best.
Learning 2: Impact
The most critical element for success in consulting is the impact you make on your clients. They should see you actually bringing in value and new insights. There should be visible change for them to witness and believe that change is taking place. Consultants have to empathise with the clients and understand their business and business drivers. The more you are able to establish that partner relationship, the closer you will be to achieving successful client engagement. Always appreciate the knowledge of the clients or their ability to provide you insights into the problem at hand.
Learning 3: Learning agility
You need to be not just research oriented, but also learn constantly about different industries, businesses, organisational contexts and new solutions. There are no readymade solutions in many cases.
Learning 4: Networking and influencing
Consultancy gives you the opportunity to work with a variety of professionals. You also get a chance to constantly influence your clients and other stakeholders. A strong ability to network and influence is critical to ensuring consulting success.
Learning 5: Leadership
Consulting is hectic and your team is your biggest support. As their coach and competent leader, you have to engage them and keep them on a path of excellence and learning. It is important to understand the strength(s) of each of the team members and leverage it. While one team member may be an excellent conceptualiser, another may be good at delivery, and yet another may possess good facilitation skills. Some members may have commendable project-management skills, while some may excel at solution sales. You will see that most often, not more than two to three skills are found in any consultant.
Learning 6: Executive presence and facilitation
At the end of the day, a consultant carries a certain image and presence. As a consultant your actions are carefully watched by clients. So, remember to always stick to your commitment. Say ‘No’ to what you cannot do. Use your words wisely, and be impeccable in your actions.
Learning 7: Relationship with your clients
Your relationships with your current, past, and prospective clients are critical. Never have a short-term orientation in building these relationships. Remember that they are your professional friends and will often be of the greatest help. Business is always incidental in building these relationships.
Learning 8: Pragmatic solutions
Irrespective of the many concepts and tools that are trending, a good consultant should provide a solution that actually meets the client’s needs. It is always better to underpromise and overdeliver. Create solutions that will solve the customer’s issues, and show business results. Simply put, a well-implemented pragmatic solution is far better than an ideal solution on the shelf.
Learning 9: Sales skills
All said and done, you are selling your ideas, knowledge and solutions. Therefore, it is important that you establish your credibility as somebody who can add value. Ability to strike a conversation with the client, as an equal, is critical in solution selling. In my experience, consulting sales is about knowledge sharing and a lot of patience.
Learning 10: Managing tasks and optimism
At any point of time, you will be juggling with more than six to eight assignments. It is important to manage time judiciously to ensure that all projects are in control. A good consultant should be able to visualise the best scenario and work towards making it happen.
You may be working on a dozen projects at the same time, prospecting with another dozen, doing research and thought leadership, and also developing your team. Anybody who chooses this profession should be willing to work hard, learn constantly, develop the skill to influence and sell, and be comfortable overall in dealing with ambiguity and change. I believe the biggest reward in this profession is when the client says – “We have made a difference. Glad to have chosen you as the partner!”
(The author has penned the book Making of a CEO)