Every client has expectations. They’re paying you a lot more than an employee because they view your service as an investment into their business. Because of these high expectations and the associated price tag, your clients need to feel that the value added to them in every interaction is worth the fee. Because of this dynamic, you must strive to go above and beyond the expectations that have been established. One easy and repeatable tactic to exceed their expectations is through the gathering of necessary internal data and information. Though this may be difficult and time consuming, the process shows the client that you are organized, have a clear goal, and are acting deliberately and concisely. It also proves that you are willing to get your hands dirty, doing something the client does not want to do on their own, to understand their needs and challenges. If this activity is conducted early in a project, it often exceeds client expectations and allows you to concisely organize your thoughts and findings in a manner that can be reported back to the client.
Gathering the Data
As you might know, consultants tend to over-explain or over-analyze concepts, which can bog down a project. The gathering of data and information is the first step in developing a concise report-out that will exceed client expectations. Gathering data and organizing it into digestible excerpts is appreciated by clients because it saves them time and proves the value that you are adding. No client wants to waste time going through data and they certainly do not want to waste time trying to make decisions from the data that you gathered for them. They want an “easy button”, which is what is provided by pulling key data out and representing it in a variety of ways.
Building Supporting Documents
This leads to the second step in exceeding expectations via data gathering; building supporting documents for the report out. Admittedly, this is where the bulk of your work as a consultant is conducted. At this point you have gathered and organized client data, but you still need to develop a way to represent your findings back to the client. In most cases, it’s best to receive input from others in your firm when you begin to build these deliverables. Even for the experienced consultant, receiving input during the planning process is valuable because you can begin to develop consensus around what is most important to the client.
Now you can begin to develop a detailed deliverable that will act as a supporting document or reference guide for the client. It is in these deliverables where all findings and recommendations are recorded and organized. It should be noted that this is not what is to be directly shared with the client in the report-out, it has way too much detail. Rather, it is to be used as a supporting document that clients can look at following the report out, and is a means to exceeding client expectations. From here, you can begin to pull key, high-level takeaways that will be shared with the client in the report-out.
Reporting Out Your Findings
The final step in this process is the report out. This is the point where you meet with clients and provide the information that they need to know. While preparing for this client interaction, you should start by asking, “What are the key takeaways from the supporting documents that need to be conveyed?” The report-out should provide the client with this level of detail while leaving room to provide more context as needed. The value added here is giving them a space to ask questions about concepts that are most important to them. In situations where the report-out takes the form of a presentation, a storyboard should be prepared and rehearsed in advance of the meeting. This allows you tell a story about the work that you have saved the client from doing (exceeding expectations) while also getting straight into the information that is most important to them (report-out). The presentation, or story, should be concise, only providing the highest-level information that needs to be discussed in the meeting while alluding to the supporting materials that have been developed.
By following these three steps, you will find yourself exceeding client expectations, while also engaging in successful and efficient client interactions.
Written by: Dean McMann
About the Author: Dean McMann is a Founding Partner at McMann & Ransford with 35+ years of experience in consulting and professional services. He is a sought-after expert and speaker on topics of: B2B differentiation, professional services best practices, and overcoming commoditization. In addition to his extensive experience in the Professional Services space, Dean also serves on the board of various non-profit organizations.