Anyone’s definition of a good consultant probably includes doing reliable, quality work for clients and having an in-depth understanding of technology—but those qualities alone aren’t enough to help you retain clients and build a successful career.

Studies have shown that more than 50 percent of executives who switch consultants or other service providers say they were “satisfied” with the provider’s services before they switched. According to management advisors Jagdish Sheth and Andrew Sobel, “You have to do far more than ‘satisfy’ your clients and do a ‘good job’ if you want to create long-term loyalty and enter into the collaborative relationships that allow you to have a major impact on your clients and their decisions.”

Drawing on interviews with CEOs and leading consultants, Sheth and Sobel wrote Clients for Life to provide “a roadmap of the specific characteristics that underlie extraordinary performance with clients.” Although the book doesn’t directly address the specific needs of IT consultants, it does provide valuable general advice on managing and maintaining effective client relationships.

By Jagdish Sheth and Andrew SobelPublished by Simon & Schuster, August 2000Hardcover, 255 pp. plus appendix, notes, and indexISBN: 0-684-87029-0
Price: $20.80 at
Seven attributes that facilitate long-term client relationships
“Most professionals are on a journey—defined by the role they play with their clients—and few have finished it,” the authors note. When that journey begins, they say, consultants are simply experts for hire who offer information and expertise to clients on a transaction basis. Further along, they may earn the right to be a steady supplier, and the client will ask them back repeatedly. When the consultant has reached the final and most rewarding stage of the relationship, he or she will become a trusted advisor who consistently develops collaborative relationships with clients and provides insight rather than just information.

The keys to completing the journey are seven attributes that, “when blended together in the right quantities and in the right manner, facilitate the development of insight and the formation of deep, trusting relationships,” they write. Those attributes are:

  1. Selfless independence. You have “an attitude of complete financial, intellectual, and emotional independence” that is balanced by a focus on clients’ agendas instead of your own.
  2. Empathy. This attribute “fuels your ability to discern a client’s emotions and thoughts and to appreciate the context within which that client operates.”
  3. Deep generalist. You have both depth and breadth of knowledge.
  4. Synthesis. This is “the ability to see the big picture, to draw out the themes or patterns inherent in masses of data and information.”
  5. Judgment. You develop judgment by drawing on all the synthesis and learning you have undertaken.
  6. Conviction. You build your opinions and recommendations based on “a set of compelling, explicit personal beliefs and values.”
  7. Integrity. This includes “a constellation of skills and behaviors that build trust, including discretion, consistency, reliability, and the ability to discern right from wrong.”

These seven characteristics are “the ones that truly stand out and make a difference in a professional’s effectiveness,” according to Sheth and Sobel. Their book includes a separate chapter for each attribute. The authors also provide a section on how to avoid common pitfalls and dilemmas that can ruin client relationships.

The final chapter focuses on “The Soul of the Great Professional” and describes the “certain outlooks” that frame and inform the work of successful advisors (a focus on the opportunities inherent in every situation, for example).

The recommendation
In terms of the goals the book is designed to help you reach, Clients for Life is similar to The Trusted Advisor, which I reviewed recently. That book contains more step-by-step processes, checklists, and practical tips for developing rewarding professional relationships, but Clients for Life also offers an abundance of sound suggestions based on the power of knowledge, insight, and both personal and professional integrity.

“It’s not enough simply to do good work for your clients,” the authors emphasize. “You have to act boldly and decisively on their behalf. To stand out—to be seen as an extraordinary professional—you need to demonstrate a strong sense of purpose and mission and allow the attributes we’ve been discussing to infuse your words and actions.”

Thomas Pack is a freelance technology reporter.

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