Project Management

Building long-term successes for clients can pay off

Find out why it's beneficial -- monetarily and personally -- to show IT consulting clients that you're in the relationship for the long haul.

 

In his post Why Client Focus Can't Be About Profits, Charles H. Green says that "the relationship is the client." He compares the client relationship with other human relationships, concluding that if you're in it just for the money, then the relationship is dysfunctional.

Perhaps I've grown too cynical over the years, but characterizing a client relationship as a special type of human relationship doesn't remove self-interest as an ultimate motive as far as I'm concerned. I think we enter into all relationships based on what we think we'll get out of them, although what we think we'll get out of the relationships can be quite complex. In the case of a client, we would probably never form the relationship at all were it not for the money, and we probably wouldn't care to continue it without the money, either. A client relationship can have many nonmonetary benefits, not the least of which are personal friendships, but consultants often have to keep the friend status subordinate to the business status.

I'll grant a distinction, however, between a short-sighted focus on immediate monetary returns vs. the long view. The road to long-term success has many peaks and valleys, so you won't keep most clients for very long if you're only interested in them when they're generating revenue for you. On the other hand, if you take a genuine interest in their success, then you may be able to accompany them in that direction for the long haul. A relationship like that can be beneficial to both parties, monetarily and personally.

I don't think that Mr. Green and I disagree fundamentally here, especially about how you should act in the relationship. Let's explore two scenarios that illustrate my point.

Scenario #1 Your key contact with the client has already committed herself to a particular course of action, but you think it's a bad idea. You know you'll face major resistance if you try to convince her of your opinion. Even if you're successful, you will have created a face-saving challenge for her, which could strain your relationship. Nevertheless, you're convinced that in the long run, it would be better to change plans.

If you take the short-sighted path, you just humor her and go along with the program. She's the client, after all, so you should do what she wants and collect your fee. Suck all the blood you can out of this corporate corpse before you toss it aside to hunt for another one.

But if you really care about having a successful, long-term relationship with this client, then you must speak up. You can begin the discussion privately with your contact, and even help her find ways to change course gracefully. It might be awkward for you, but your willingness to go through some difficulty on your client's behalf demonstrates that you sincerely desire her success -- even if your motives are initially misunderstood.

Scenario #2 Your client expresses a need for some new technical capability. The short-sighted consultant thinks, "I could use my newfound skills in Framework X to do this. That job should keep me busy for several months." Several months later, the consultant's conception of the solution is still being slowly bent into the shape that the client really needs.

Instead, you should ask "How could we best solve this problem?" Imagine that you own the company instead of consulting for them and ask: What course of action would you choose? What resources would you employ? Would you hire yourself as the consultant for the particular job?

The point is that you start from the perspective of how the client can best achieve their goals, rather than how you can fill your pipeline. In most cases, being able to do the work is not nearly as valuable to your client as helping them figure out what to do. So even though you might not get a bunch of billable hours out of this gig, you can solidify your relationship with the client as someone on whom they can rely for clear-sighted input.

So, why are you taking a genuine concern in building long-term successes for your clients? It isn't because you don't care about your business, or that you're altruistic, or that the relationship with your client is so valuable in itself; it's because you care about your interests over the long haul.

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About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

6 comments
jimamily
jimamily

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reisen55
reisen55

I have supported a medical office in NYState for over 10 years and for the past 4 or 5 they have occasionally asked me if their office systems required an upgrade, i.e. new computers. As their network was functional without issue and the age of the systems not all that far down the road in years, I honestly never had a business reason to justify the work. Told them so. This year they decided to change their patient management system and again asked about an upgrade. Product specs were still in-line but I offered the suggestion to eliminate 1 system badly needed and two others because they were large tower systems and in the way of staff - i.e. feet. Only 3. Nope. I got the whole ball of wax, 12 systems out and 12 new systems in, did it in one weekend too. Whew.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

... but grabbing only the short returns is stupid. At least, that's how I see it. How about you?

sean
sean

Hi reisen55 Your initial integrity and honesty was obviously appreciated and ultinately rewarded. We, as consultants, need to have that level of trust with our customers - they run their business, and we are there to help them along. After all, our business depends entirely on their success - if they fail, we fail (or at least end up with unpaid debts) Very well done (and I agree with the initial article 100%)

PMPsicle
PMPsicle

As technicians Chip I have to agree with you. We always want to do the best thing for our clients ... the best thing being defined as the long term best thing. But as business people, we need to remember that we're not our client. We need to do the best thing for us. Fortunately, that usually means recommending the best long-term solution. After all our best interest lies in long term relationships. However, ultimately, we need to remember that the client is going to live with their decision ... and it IS their decision. While we may want to ensure they are aware of all the ramifications and all the exposures of their decisions, ultimately it is their decision and we are there to help support them. And sometimes that means that supporting them while they make a mistake. And quietly pulling their rears out of the fire afterwards. After all is said and done, being right doesn't pay the bills. Building long term relationships does. (BTW you have no idea how much it hurts to have to say that.)

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Agree. Doing the right thing by the client to make their life easier is in the long run making your life easier and you get to keep that New Client. I've seen way too many places get carried away with some [b]New technology[/b] which is better than sliced bread or so they think and it is completely wrong for that clients needs. From my limited experience Consulting in any form is getting a suitable solution for the client that works better than what they currently have for them. Doesn't matter if there are different Technologies out there if they are not right for that particular client. Besides because I'm Lazy it's far easier keeping an existing client by keeping them happy than it is to find new clients to bleed dry. That is probably the difference between a Consultant and someone Selling their companies Products. You are there for the Long Run and not for what you can get out of them [b]Now.[/b] ;) Col