Last time, I mentioned how I’d adapted my client management strategies for networks. It might be useful to set out what some of those client strategies are. I’ve learned a lot over the years about working with client organisations, both as a funder and as a consultant. The way I’ve worked with organisations has evolved over a period of almost twenty years. So the list I have provided below is likely to change. This is less a rigid set of must do’s and rather more of a list of ‘these work for me, try them and see whether they work for you’ type approaches. NOTE: I am assuming that you already have the basic technical client management stuff down, like a CRM database, a project management approach (software-based or not). These approaches are beyond the basic tools that anyone should be using.
- Listen: clients will have gone to a great deal of trouble to specify a terms of reference for the consultancy that they have commissioned from you. But that doesn’t mean that they have always told you what they need or really want from a consultancy. So be sure to listen to what is said and what is not said. Being able to take account of client needs that go beyond the terms of reference is often interpreted as providing value for money in a consultancy.
- Be flexible, but within reason: Similar to the point above, being able to adapt and change the planned work you are undertaking is important, but within limits. Evaluations tend to have key delivereables done in a particular way in order to ensure independence and limited bias for them to have any value to the client. Whereas other types of consultancies can be more flexible, you should still agree the boundaries of the piece of work you’re doing with the client, for both your sake and theirs.
- Be clear on what they can expect and when, and then over-deliver: Yes, this is about managing expectations and you would be surprised to learn how many clients and consultants fail to appropriately manage what they expect from each other. Always be sure the meet the needs of the consultancy within a reasonable time frame, but don’t promise the world. Do have at least one or two additional deliverables that you can provide to the client. This builds a deeper relationship with the client and can lead to repeat work over time.
- Retain your independence and impartiality: remember that no matter how long you work with a client and under what conditions, you are a consultant and you are not part of the official structure of the organisation. This distance is crucial, it is why you were hired and is what gives you credibility. Don’t lose it because you’re enjoying the work, getting on really well with individuals, etc. Do make sure you work well with everyone that is part of the consultancy. If you do, when you speak and provide your opinion (which is often why you’ve been contracted) they will listen more and respect what you say.
Like I said before, these four approaches aren’t absolute gospel and I have evolved them over years to work for me right now. Things change and clients change, so being open adaptive in the way that you work with clients is possibly the most important guiding principle to follow.
Do you use any of these approaches? What client management techniques do you use?