Monday, 28 December 2009

Great clients? Maybe - or maybe you just need a great consultant....

I was going through my feeds on Google Reader in some well-deserved downtime this Christmas. I've neglected my blog reading over the last months, so it's been a bit of a catch-up. One of my favourite authors is Seth Godin, who's a very smart guy, and I often make a note of some of his posts as things I want to re-read.

However, one particular post - How to be a great client - doesn't quite ring true for me. Perhaps because of the industry that I work in, but then again, I'm not convinced that this should be a major factor.

Basically Seth's argument is that clients have a responsibility to help to "foster innovation". I can understand where he is coming from. Too often in our line of work, we walk into a client site and they expect us to bring the "magic pill" that will cure all of our problems. Oh, and they don't want to pay too much for it. And can it work by Friday? We have deadlines don't you know.....

So yes, there is an element of truth in Seth's statements. Clients do need to be open to ideas, they do need to be truthful with us. Otherwise this is going to be a difficult partnership. However, I firmly believe that this could just have easily be turned around. 

The consultant is equally responsible for this relationship working. A client can be as open to innovation as possible, but the consultant still has to be able to see things from the client's point of view. There will always be differences of opinion. There will be issues that will annoy both sides. This is normal (and probably healthy in many cases) but too often I think that consultants become blinded by the little annoyances. "They'll never do that - they don't have the vision" or "it's too difficult to get xxx to do anything", etc.

We, as consultants, are paid to help the client to get into a position where they are open to innovation. If you've got a client who is already in that position your job is easy. You do the research, you identify opportunities and you help them on the journey they choose. It's when the client isn't sure why they got you in, or are overly protective of their business model that the consultant has to earn their bacon. This isn't selling ice to eskimos. It's helping someone who wants to make a change, but is scared of doing so and taking them on the journey towards making that change as part of a partnership.

Great clients do exist. They're awesome to work with. But for a consultant, the time when you really get to make a difference and affect change is when you get an awkward client. And let's face it, that challenge is why we all got into this industry in the first place. Isn't it?

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