BY MICHAEL JOHNSON
Ihave spent the last 30 years of my career in the consulting business; twenty of those at KPMG and the last ten at a regional consultancy, Bridgepoint Consulting. I felt this was the perfect time to
shed some light around some of the lessons I have
learned around effective client-consultant relationships. My hope is that this information will provide
guidance to other consultants so they avoid common
mistakes, build strong relationships with their clients
and improve their overall performance.
As I reflect on my consulting career, these five key
attributes stand out in my mind as paramount to building
effective client-consultant relationships:
2. Relationship management
3. Clear communication
4. Culture fit
5. Good consultants
TRUST IS PARAMOUNT
All good relationships are based on trust. I cannot
emphasize this enough. Without trust we cannot even
start the relationship.
Your relationship as a consulting partner is a substantially different type of relationship than a commodity
purchase. In many cases, consultants are involved in the
most intimate parts of the business. If clients do not trust
us to focus on their interests, we cannot have a long-term relationship that is built on trust.
Client-consultant relationships are also based on
transformation. When you are engaged in a transformational initiative, there will be natural conflict. There
will be times when the consultant does not perform and
times when the client fails to meet expectations. Some
of the most difficult conversations that I have had with
clients concerned a lack of performance of their team.
You cannot have that type of conversation and honest
dialogue until both parties trust each other. Mutual trust
allows both parties to bring their most effective selves in
a range of situations—good or bad. Trust also helps you
to navigate through any clashes in approach or philoso-
phy, to ensure continued success.
MANAGING THE RELATIONSHIP IS A LONG-TERM
Once you’ve established that strong foundation of
trust, both parties need to manage the relationship, and
continue to evolve the relationship as needs change.
Being a great consultant is all about helping clients
achieve their business objectives. If a consultant only
calls when they are seeking additional business, or a
business leader only calls the consultant when they have
a new project, neither one is building a foundation for a
good, strong long-term relationship.
A strong client-consultant relationship enables a
business leader to feel comfortable calling the consultant when they are faced with an issue that may not be
related to a current project—simply because they trust
you as a partner.
Building Effective Client Relationships:
Reflections on a 30-Year Consulting Career