November 28, 2007

Is Your Client Smarter Than You?

No – they hired you!

In today’s outsourced world we are often in a situation where you are either the hired help or are doing the hiring. Anyway you look at it – being savvy about managing the client/consultant relationship can go a long way in setting up a productive partnership.

The client is always right: It’s not a question of right or wrong but more of understanding the context in which the client is operating. The client has an agenda, an objective and also a set of constraints or limitations. Understanding the environment in which your client is operating and why he/she is asking for what he/she is asking – makes you more effective in responding to their needs.

Listen: Either you wait to talk or you listen! To understand what you client wants and why – listen. Sure, the client is paying for your services but before you can provide solutions – you need to understand the problem and it's associated history. You will be much more effective and persuasive if you on the same page as your client.

Ask the right question: There are many ways to ask the same question. With experience and practice you will realize how to elicit information. This skill is obvious when conducting requirements gathering. Don’t fall in the ‘don’t ask – don’t tell’ trap. Be creative and exploratory in your interviews and information gathering sessions. Piece the data together and ask questions to fill in the blanks.

Delivery matters: Sales and delivery so hand in hand. To build a lasting relationship you have to deliver on your promises. Delivering what you committed to builds trust, which is the cornerstone of any lasting relationship.

Be smart: You have to prove that you are smarter than your client. In other words you have to excel in your area of expertise. If you don’t bring the skills and competencies to the table – there is no relationship. Continuous investment in your skills and competencies keeps you marketable and supports a lasting relationship.

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Vaughan said...

Yes, but... You say "The client is always right" then negate the statement by saying "It's not a question of right or wrong". You can't have it both ways! I agree with your post, but find statements such as "The client is always right" very misleading. It's in bold - a quick scan of your post might leave the reader with the bold paragraph lead as the take away, rather than the more subtle and important underlying text. "Always right" leads to order-taking behavior - which has done imeasurable harm to IT shops around the world. Elevating the business-IT relationship from "order taker" to a consultative or even business partnership status is often uncomfortable and can be confrontational. You are correct - context, as Alan Kay famously said, is worth 80 IQ points. But your bold paragraph lead could be taken as very bad advice!

Mark Runta said...

Vaughan - Good point. Instead of being an assertion, the intention was to ask a question.

A more appropriate heading would have been :Is the client always right?