If you’ve read my column, you know that I write a lot about marketing efforts from a consultant’s point of view. Whether it’s the importance of a marketing plan, to the necessity of monitoring that plan, to recommendations on new tactics and even being prepared in a crisis. If it’s not immediately clear, no matter the topic, there is always a recurring theme woven in – communication. In fact, one of my previous columns included suggestions for consultants to easily strengthen communication with clients and other stakeholders. This time, I want to offer the yang to that yin approach and provide some suggestions to clients on ways they can truly benefit from the expertise that the consultant provides, as well as ways to easily communicate with their consultant(s).
There is no doubt that everyone understands how important marketing is to the success of a business. In fact, many of my firm’s clients rely on us to support them not only when they are flush with business, but also during the ebbs of leaner times. Our clients see the value in outside representation – being able to rely on experts to provide scalable service rather than hiring a number of internal specialized staff which could be a financial liability in the future.
But what about when you are the client and you find yourself at a crossroads with your consultant? What happens if you don’t feel that what they’re providing you is what you need? First and foremost – communicate! Let them know if you have questions. Tell them if you’re unhappy with anything – even if at the time it seems negligible and minor. Even the little things that don’t quite seem to matter in that moment can become a sizable issue in hindsight. Your consultant has your best interest in mind, so be open to their strategic recommendations and let them offer solutions before it becomes a bigger problem. If they don’t know you have a problem, they can’t help resolve it.
You’ve hired an expert for a reason – let them offer necessary modifications to take your efforts to the next level. Sometimes the issue may not be with them, maybe it’s cash flow issues or an unexpected shift in your business. Being upfront and honest allows them to provide suggestions and assess the situation from an outside point of view and offer recommendations. Remember, your consultant is your partner and they want success for you.
However, there may come a time where you need to determine if you should “break-up” with your consultant. Things happen and even the most successful relationships can run their course. Maybe it’s a budget shortfall or the economy wreaking havoc on necessities, or perhaps you just need some time to reevaluate your business plan and reprioritize. Or maybe the relationship is just no longer in the best interest of either party. These are all natural scenarios, but make sure you’re being honest with yourself and your consultant. Be forward and straight-up and don’t lead them on – especially if you’re certain the relationship is irreparable. While not required, sometimes it’s even helpful to provide logical reasons – people often need tangible reasons to not only justify what happened, but to be reassured that it isn’t them (if it’s not), and to help them improve future efforts. Let them know what you’ve valued about the relationship, and if appropriate, share with them what positive services they’ve provided that you feel are important to note. Be professional, and maintain your relationships with business partners, because there’s a pretty good chance you’ll cross paths in one way or another down the line.
The best consultant and client relationships are two-way, even if they don’t work out in the long-term. Clients rely on the consultants to provide a service, while consultants count on the clients to provide feedback – what’s working, what isn’t, questions about the process and their overall satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Whether personal or professional, every relationship can benefit from a tune-up every now and then and sometimes that includes realizing when the relationship isn’t working. Remember, regardless of the amount of time you’ve worked with a consultant or a lack of critical issues, you’re not beholden to continuing the relationship for the sake of loyalty. Just be honest, respectful and courteous and everyone will appreciate the outcome.