One of the critical keys to success for consulting is for a consultant to become familiar with their client’s business. This can be a somewhat ambiguous concept that many consultants – both young and old – have trouble grasping and performing with any efficiency. This week we will discuss the importance of knowing the client’s business and the best way for a consultant to go about it.
What do you mean when you say that the consultant should know the client’s business?
It’s much like hiring someone with experience. When a company hires a new employee, they want someone with experience in that industry that might have some different perspectives and so that they can hopefully have a shorter period of time that they’ll have to train the new employee.
When a firm brings in a team of consultants, they don’t want to pay the high hourly rates to teach them about their business. They want the firm to be able to start providing value right away.
Also, if a consulting firm has experience in the client’s industry, they can provide value by sharing the industry’s best practices with the client. It allows the firm to give the client some new perspectives on their industry that they might not have had.
Now, not every consultant may have a lot of deep experience in every client’s business, but by studying up on it and becoming what I call a “quick study” on their business, they can ramp up and become knowledgeable enough to satisfy the client.
Let me give you an example. I once had a client that was in the insurance industry. If you’ve ever done any work in that industry, you know that it’s a very complex business, with all of the different lines of business, exception processing and government regulations.
The company I worked for at the time had a consultant in a lead role that didn’t know much about the client’s business and didn’t make much effort to come up on it. In fact, this person showed no interest in the way our client did their business.
The client was a bit offended – and rightfully so – they eventually asked the firm to remove this person from the project. We replaced the person with another person who immediately showed interest in the company.
The client liked this and was happy again. One thing to point out is that the client wasn’t necessarily demanding that we staff our project with people deep in their industry. But they did want people who showed an interest in their industry and wanted to learn about it.
You also might be knowledgeable in the client’s industry, but still not know the unique way that that client works in the industry. You don’t want to go in acting like you know everything hoping to impress them with your industry knowledge. If you know their industry well enough, they’ll realize that without you going out of your way to show them.
If you’re an expert in a certain area like information technology, why is it important to know a client’s business?
Being an expert in an area like IT is a good thing. But if you also have some deep knowledge in an industry, you have valuable knowledge on how to apply your IT knowledge in that industry.
As a consultant, you can be good if you have a lot of experience in an area like IT or marketing. You can also be good if you know a specific industry like retail or insurance.
But you can be a great consultant if you have deep experience in one or more of those areas with one or more industries.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you want to hire an accountant to do your taxes. You could just do an internet search and select the first CPA you find in your area.
You could end up with one that does taxes mostly for very high income people that are close to retirement.
But let’s say you’re middle class with a mortgage and kids that you want to send to college someday.
The CPA that focuses on high-income people may do a fine job for you. But he may not be as familiar with the tax laws that can benefit you the most.