VERY! Whenever I hire new people to be consultants whose previous experience is only in industry, I try and educate them on what consulting skills are and how being a consultant is different than being a product expert. I find many people focus on depth of product knowledge more so than any other aspect of a consultant’s skillset, however whenever I get negative feedback it is almost always related to the consultant’s “consulting skills” rather than product knowledge. I believe you can teach someone product knowledge but it is much harder to teach someone consulting skills. To me, some of the most important consulting skills are:
- Be prepared – understand what is you will need to know at various stages of the project and have a plan to be prepared.
- Truly know the client – make an extra effort to understand their business. Prepare/research and ask questions.
- Give the client your advice/opinion, don’t just sit quietly in meetings.
- Lead client thinking – tell them what they should be doing since that’s what they are paying you for.
- Be professional – this includes being presentable, competent, reliable, honest, considerate, respectful, positive, supportive, etc.
- Build relationships – really try and understand the people you are working for, treat them with the same respect as a good friend.
- Have excellent listening skills, ensure you really understand the client’s issues and their point of view before making any recommendations.
- Ask lots of questions!
- Understand the client’s internal office politics and what is motivating them to do this project and who the influencers are.
- Have excellent communication skills, including verbal, non-verbal, and written.
- Document everything – this proves to the client you’ve been listening and understand them and allows the client to better support themselves after you leave.
Those are just some of the skills that will make a consultant successful, but unfortunately without them it is difficult to fully succeed. What does fully succeed even mean? They may be able to finish the job the client hired them to do, but nothing more. Let’s say a client hired a consultant to write four reports and the consultant comes in and listens to the client about what is needed, writes reports then delivers reports on time. But perhaps the consultant didn’t ask lots of questions before writing the reports and there may have been a better or more efficient way to meet the same goal. In addition, the consultant may not have asked how those reports fit in to an overall business process which could have been done differently and the consultant may have been able to provide a lot more value to the client. The client in turn may have requested that the consultant do more work for them. To me, a successful client engagement is one where the consultant went above what was initially asked for and delivered more value to the client. As a manager, I typically know if one of my consultants has done this if they are asked to stay on and frequently asked back. I believe that consulting skills are even more important in supply chain projects. Some people may argue that it’s all about domain expertise, and while domain expertise is important, it is nothing if the consultant does not share their expertise with the client in a way that benefits the client. I sometimes hear from clients that they came into an engagement with a consultant with a solid plan of what they wanted to accomplish, but after the consultant listened, shared with them their other experiences, the consultant then laid out a proposal for a different/better way to accomplish the client’s goal and the client was greatly appreciative. On the flipside, a solution may be very well done, but the consultant didn’t properly document the solution and transfer knowledge to the client, then the client is upset with their lack of ability to support the solution. So, consulting skills are really important. With my own team we try and regularly reinforce these skills so we can provide the best service to our clients. What types of skills do you find most important when working with clients?