As an independent consultant, you work with clients who may not even realize your value. They just see you as another resource trying to solve their business problems.
Whether working with small businesses or Fortune 500 companies, every client needs help from time to time. But most consultants fail to wow their clients because they don’t understand how to handle them effectively.
With every interaction, you gradually build your relationship with your client. You must offer excellent customer service and communicate well to create positive experiences for success in your field.
In this article, I’ll share ten steps for interacting with your clients so that you can become indispensable to them. Following these simple rules will quickly build trust and earn respect.
1. Know Your Customer
Knowing them is the most critical step in creating a successful relationship between you and your client. What does this mean? It means understanding who they are, what they’re looking for, and how they expect to be treated.
This knowledge allows you to create a custom solution that meets their needs and expectations.
To begin, ask yourself these questions: Who am I talking to? What do they care about? What do they value? What do they believe? What makes them tick? Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll be able to design a customized solution that will meet their needs and exceed their expectations.
Once you know your customer, you’ll be able to build a strong relationship with them. They’ll trust you because you listened to them and understood their needs. And when they realize you genuinely care about them, they’ll feel valued and appreciated.
Once you know your customer and their culture well, you are ready for step 2.
2. Actively listen before you speak
When you meet a client for the first time, you want to make a good impression. This means listening closely to what they say and learning as much as possible about them.
Try to listen to them and let them do most of the speaking.
While listening, you should ask questions to gather additional information. For example, you might ask:
- What was your biggest challenge?
- How did you overcome it?
- Where else have you worked?
- What were your favorite projects?
These questions give you insight into why they chose you over other consultants. They also show that you care enough to understand their challenges and successes.
Asking questions shows interest in the client and makes them feel valued. In turn, this builds trust and rapport.
Remember always to maintain eye contact while you’re listening. Maintaining eye contact shows respect and confidence. This gives the impression that you’re paying attention and engaged in the conversation.
Next time you meet someone for the first time, remember to listen before speaking!
3. Speak the Client’s Language
Speaking the client’s language means adapting to their preferences, methods, needs and expectations.
Some clients prefer to communicate through emails, while others prefer phone calls and face-to-face meetings. Some clients appreciate being told exactly what to do; others appreciate having their questions answered. So, when speaking with clients, try to understand their communication styles and accommodate them accordingly.
Also, some clients may not know very much about their businesses. They may need facts, figures, and data to help them decide what to do next. Others may need only a conversation where you share ideas and opinions. Whatever information you give them, ensure it’s relevant to their situation. And remember that every client is different, so tailor your communications to suit each client.
It’s easy to fall into bad habits when communicating with clients. But if you want to wow your clients, it’s crucial to understand the terms they use. And, if you’re unfamiliar with specific business lingo, you might end up saying something that sounds awkward or off-putting.
To avoid this, start by identifying the business jargon used by your clients. For example, terms like:
A/B testing, ASAP, BAdl, BAPI, BOR, CDS, CRM, Dynpro, ERP, FiFo, Fiori, JAM, RFC, SCM, and TADIR.
After identifying what your clients need, it’s time to learn about the jargon that exists within the industry. Many terms could apply to your clients, including project management, branding, design, development, and more. Learn about each term and how it relates to your clients. Then, use these terms whenever possible to impress your clients.
4. Negotiate to create win-win solutions
When working with a customer, it’s often helpful to negotiate. In fact, negotiating is part of being a professional consultant.
I want you to use a technique called ‘Getting to Yes.’ Read the book of the same title. The goal of getting to yes is to find common ground where both sides can agree on something.
This allows the client and consultant to work towards a solution that satisfies both parties. The technique works best when the consultant and client share common goals.
5. Understand Your Client’s Context & Objectives
It’s easy to assume that every client wants precisely the same thing. But while clients indeed share common goals, each person has his or her own unique needs and preferences.
To understand your client’s context, you need to learn about who he or she is and what motivates him or her. Once you know the context, you can tailor your services accordingly. Here are four questions that will help you figure out what your client needs:
- What problem does your business face today?
- Why is your business struggling?
- How much time & money would you ideally like to spend?
- What type of return do you expect?
Once you understand your client’s context and goals, you can create a strategy that aligns with their objectives.
A significant portion of your success as a consultant depends upon your understanding of your client’s objectives. It means knowing exactly what they need and where they need help.
If you don’t understand your client’s needs, you won’t be able to provide them with the right solution. So ask yourself questions like:
- What does the client need/want?
- Where does he/she experience problems?
- Do they use specific tools or methods to solve these issues?
- Are there any cultural factors that affect problem-solving?
- Is there anything specific that makes this client different from others?
Once you’ve answered those questions, you’re ready to move on to the next step.
6. Remember to stay humble
As an independent consultant, you’re often the expert in your field. So defer to your client as the authority on their business.
Your job is to listen, observe, analyze, and offer solutions based on your expertise. That means you shouldn’t try to solve problems for them. Instead, you should ask questions to understand their situation better. Then you can suggest solutions that will benefit both parties.
Don’t forget that you’re working for them, not against them. They’re paying you to give them advice, not to compete with them.
So always remember to remain humble and respectful of your client’s business experience. This will go a long way towards helping you build trust with your clients.
7. Stay Open-Minded
When working with a client, it’s important to remember that we’ve been through the same thing before. We’ve had our failures and successes.
We’ve made mistakes and learned from them. So why wouldn’t we expect the same from our clients?
Don’t think, ‘I have been there, done that.’ Shift your mindset to think about applying lessons learned to future projects.
This means thinking about scenarios where something went wrong and finding solutions to prevent those problems from happening again.
Think about situations where you were successful and develop strategies to repeat that success.
There’s always room for improvement. And even though you’ve already tried something once, there’s always another way to do it.
So don’t close your mind. Be open to new ideas and approaches.
8. Set Realistic Expectations
Clients expect you to deliver results. They expect you to be professional, timely, and thorough. They wish you to give them value for their investment.
Sometimes, though, clients aren’t aware of what they want. Or they think they want something else.
When you set realistic expectations with your clients, you can avoid disappointments later.
For example, let’s say you’re working with a client who wants to implement a business rule in the enterprise engine. He tells you he wants everything done within two weeks. That’s unrealistic.
What happens if you try to rush through the job and end up missing deadlines? Your client will likely be upset and disappointed.
So, set realistic expectations instead of rushing into a project without first meeting with the client. Ask questions to understand exactly what the client wants. Then, come back to him with a proposal that meets his expectations.
And remember, even if you’ve already started a project, you can always add additional features or change the project’s scope.
9. Be easy to work with
As an independent consultant, you may not always be able to wow your client with “wow” moments and big wins. However, you can control your attitude and use those soft skills to your advantage.
When working with clients, you need to remain cheerful and polite. Clients hire consultants because they trust them. They expect you to treat them respectfully and act politely.
Clients appreciate your willingness to listen to their concerns and problems. They understand your ability to empathize with them. They respect your professionalism and courtesy.
Your clients will notice your attitude and demeanor. They’ll remember how you treated them during the interview. They’ll remember how respectful you were. Your clients will choose you over other candidates because they value your professional manner.
So, even though you may not always be successful, you can control your attitude and use your soft skills to your advantage!
10. Feedback is the breakfast of the champion
Asking for feedback is one of the easiest ways to improve yourself. It gives you insight into what works and what doesn’t.
When you ask for feedback, you allow your clients to share their thoughts and opinions directly with you. This will enable them to express themselves without fear of repercussions.
This interaction can lead to better relationships with your clients, which means happier clients and higher conversion rates.
Clients appreciate hearing what you think about their products and services. They also appreciate knowing that you care enough to ask for feedback.
So ask for feedback whenever possible. Your clients will thank you for it!
In conclusion, independent consultants often struggle to stand out from the crowd. They’re usually working alone, which means they don’t have the benefit of a team behind them. This can lead to a lack of confidence and isolation. However, to succeed as an independent consultant, you must change these negative feelings into positive ones.
To impress your clientele, you need to show them that you care. This means taking the extra step to ensure you’re doing everything possible to help them succeed. By following the steps I have outlined in this article, you’ll be able to create a winning relationship with your clients and leave them wanting more from you.
Let me know if you have any secret tips to wow your clients.