Success in consulting is all about relationships. Delivery of service and exceeding customers’ expectations are certainly big success factors, but for your consulting business to thrive, strong relationships play a huge part in future success.
The truth is that many consultants too often get caught up in the details of the services they are selling to notice how critical it is to build relationships with their customers, vendors, employees, and even their competition.
Michael Denisoff, CEO of Denisoff Consulting Group, says it well: “You need to have long-term relationships that will carry you through challenging times or tight deadlines, as well as relationships with other business owners to share struggles, resources, and best practices that can really give you an edge. The reality is that business relationships are just like any other relationships. They require some effort to maintain and they must be mutually beneficial. As in any relationship, you must be willing to give, share, and support, not just take or receive.”
We have the privilege of working with a number of professionals who are looking to learn how to start consulting businesses. Based on our experience, the following two keys have made a significant difference in the relationships we have forged with customers over the years.
- Create a “connection” system.
Use a database/CRM system to track your conversations with customers. You want to ensure that you speak to your customers on a regular basis consistent with the relationship. Never let too much time pass as time can be a relationship killer. Social media also allows you many ways to connect, share information, and touch base. Include personal information in your database/CRM such as spouse and children’s names, birthdays, or other important insights. Our customer database includes the customer’s spouse or significant other’s name as well as all children. We also capture customers’ birthday information and send them an electronic card every year wishing them a great day and thanking them for their business. Often times the extra personal touch can make all the difference. Your “connection” will most likely vary from customer to customer, as it should. Make your customer experiences unique and it will most certainly strengthen the relationship.
- Always listen.
Customers want to be heard which requires you to always be listening. Customers will tell you what they need, what they want to buy, how they want to be treated, and what they expect from the relationship if you take time to listen … really listen. Listen to what your customer is telling you but also ‘listen’ to what his or her behavior and responses are telling you. Words are important but behaviors often speak louder. An extremely effective consultant listens to the words and tracks behavior with great concentration. The combination of both is powerful. A critical component to effective listening is the ability to ask quality follow up and clarification questions. Again, the questions need to be focused on the customer. By probing for more detail you communicate interest and understanding. It is great to know what a customer’s spouse’s name is but it is even more powerful if you probed to learn that he or she is a physician specializing in oncology. It is great to know your customer has an only child starting college in August. However, if you probed to learn what school the child is attending and major he or she plans to study, it would clearly show your customer a higher level of interest and a desire for deeper understanding.
So, instead of focusing on asking your customers to buy consulting services from you, invest a little more time to find out about them. Focus some time on their lives, hopes, dreams, and even their concerns. You will find it makes a world of difference. Focus on building relationships and business will come!