It’s such an easy thing for creative entrepreneurs and solo professionals to fall victim to–placing more value on the deliverable and not the manner in which the value is delivered.
Being brilliant at solving problems and creatively expressing solutions that satisfy client’s is the name of the game. But doing great work is not enough to give your business a competitive advantage. You (and your team) must be equally skilled in the art of consultmanship. Let me ask you a few basic questions:
Do you (and your team) deliver on everything you promise?
Do you (and your team) initiate difficult conversations that keep your client fully informed and prepared on important details of the project’s progress or challenges?
Do you (and your team) bring new or additional insight, advice and ideas to support and elevate your client’s role within their organization?
If your answers aren’t an emphatic yes, then you might want to consider putting more focus on your consultmanship–the manner in which you (and your team) behave and treat your clients while you are engaged in creating solutions for them.
The manner in which you deliver solutions determines your competitive advantage–not just the quality or usefulness of the solution.
Clients have many alternatives to you when seeking a solution. Solutions are a given. Clients care about something more important–being recognized within their organizations for having the good sense to hire you in the first place. Clients pay for trust and security, not just deliverables.
To gain a competitive advantage with your client, you (and your team) have to deliver in spades on the trust component. You earn their trust, and when you have their trust, you’ll also have their respect for the value you are providing them. Your client would never think about considering anyone else but you because it would not be in their own personal interest to do so. To get this going for you in your business development, you (and your team) must be expert at consultmanship.
Here are some practical suggestions for improving your level of consultmanship skills:
At the beginning of the project conversation, never ask “what’s your budget?”. Rather you need to be asking your client questions about their pain or need first. When you listen carefully, the client will always reveal to you the value of the solution to them.You're there to provide insight, advice and guidance, building a rapport that builds the client’s trust in you (and your team). You're not there to simply take an order.
Anybody can do that!
Naturally, you have to determine early in the conversation if the client has the minimum money you require to solve their problem. But if your client believes and trusts in you to ease their pain and deliver the desired outcome, they’ll come up with all the money necessary to hire you. Remember the client determines the value of the solution, not you. When you get this down, your fees will rarely be considered “too high”, and chances are, you’ll command a premium too.
Managing expectation is your responsibility. Never over-promise, always over-deliver. You've heard that a million times. Before you begin any project, it’s critical you and your client have a shared vision and expectation about what success will look like at the other end. When you (and your team) say you will do something, you better do it and put some sugar on it too. It’s easy to find yourself saying “sure, no problem, we can throw that in the deal” over-committing yourself (and your team) to curry favor to win business. Remember the old expression “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”.
You disappoint your client on any level just once, and you will secure the fate you deserve. Rarely will you get a second chance to be trusted. Say no early and often! Use discernment and careful judgement about what you say yes to.
Everything you do must be of the highest professional standard. This means the quality of your presence, the quality of your materials, your communications and delivery systems. Your client needs continued reinforcement in their decision to hire you. Your actions and behavior is how you reassure them along the way of their good judgment to hire you (and your team). Your behavior will also influence and elevate the quality of your client’s presence and stature within their organization. It’s all about them not you!
Provide more use value than you are paid in cash value. At the end of the day, your client must have the perception your solution has provided them more use value (benefit) than the money they have paid you. This is a fundamental principal of competitive advantage, prosperity and wealth. When you (and your team), by the nature of your talent and contribution to your client’s desired outcome, are valued more than money, you will command premium pricing and favored status.
Never send a bill that’s a surprise to your client. You must never under any circumstances place your client in a position to question your bill. When a client receives your invoice, it will always reflect the agreement you have previously made. Nothing will kill a business relationship faster than a surprise invoice–nothing is more deadly to your future.
Consultmanship is the critical skill you (and your team) must master in every level of the client engagement. How you deliver is as important (arguably more) than what you deliver.
Consultmanship is more than good customer service. It’s a heightened awareness of what’s important to the client over the course of completing the project. It requires a method of delivery without the client ever having to ask. You’re there to lead. And leadership is service in disguise. The process of working with you (and your team) must rock your client’s world.