Clients Aren’t Always Rational

Mar 02, 1998

“The client will hire us because we have a long-standing relationship.” Don’t get too comfortable. Many firms take existing clients for granted. And when this happens, the deterioration in service quality is almost imperceptible (in the short haul). But long-term clients know what the consultants were like at their best and can compare it to their performance now. ‘You are only as good as your last project’ is the rule in many client-consultant relationships today. “The client will hire us because they like us the best.” The person you are dealing with may like you, but others you have forgotten about may be involved in the process. Another problem consultants face is when their relationship with the client is so cozy, the client feels obligated to hire another firm just because they don’t want to appear as if they have done anything improper. I have actually had clients tell me they couldn’t hire the firm I worked for because of this very fact! Once again, it pays to have relationships with more than one individual in the client organization and to make sure everyone involved in the consultant selection process— not just the ultimate decision maker— thinks well of your firm. “The client will hire us because we can do the job faster (or better) than anyone else.” Some clients are more concerned with quality than speed. Conversely, some clients are more concerned about speed than quality. All clients will probably say they want both, but one or the other is always more important to them after some minimum expectation is met. As a consultant trying to get work from these clients, it is imperative that you know the difference. “The client will hire us because we are the biggest (or the smallest).” While a lot of clients (particularly larger ones) like using large consulting firms (many times they think it’s less risky), some clients prefer dealing with smaller organizations where their work will be seen as a bigger deal. Conversely, there are consultants who play up the ‘we’re smaller and more involved personally’ angle when clients have absolutely no interest in it. As consultants trying to get work from these people, you must know your clients’ preferences on this issue. Because selling your size (either way) can backfire! The bottom line is that clients don’t always hire consultants for what you may think are the most rational reasons. We each have a unique perspective based on our own experiences. Don’t assume you know how the other guy thinks or what he wants. Get out there and probe. Ask questions. Talk with everyone in the client organization— not just those who sign the contract, but their bosses and the junior staffers as well. Talk to the facility users (they may not be the same people who hire you). Conduct research on client needs through formal interview or questionnaire processes. Work for the same types of clients repeatedly, and learn from that. But never get complacent. Keep going through the questioning process or you could end up being the firm with no chair to sit in when the music stops! Originally published 3/02/1998

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