We all understand that consultants come in every shape, size and flavor. Consultants, to be effective, take the “lessons learned” from decades of experience and couple those experiences with strong investigative skills and tools to define a path forward that will result in the outcome that the client is anticipating. We consult on business processes, management approach, specialized applications and we even apply our ability to uncover need such that it results in consultative selling. Regardless of the client’s mission, the desired outcome, or the impetus for the consultation, there is one overriding truth (a singularity) that must always be maintained. Consultants, to be true to their calling, must always be the client’s advocate.
I define an advocate as someone who supports and defends a particular group or cause. To be a client advocate, the consultant must be willing to forego any personal bias or preconceived notions to become a proponent and promoter of the client’s intellectual capital (and by intellectual capital we mean “everything that goes out the door at the end of the day”). Some synonyms for a good consultant might be Champion, Supporter, Campaigner or Crusader. To be effective, the consultant must be able to assume the role of a dedicated defender against anything that detracts from the client’s mission.
Client advocacy may seem contrary to those in a consultative selling role but without this singularity the consultant can never achieve the credibility that is crucial to a successful consultancy. Even in consultative selling, acting in the client’s best interest has to be the foundation of every action. Each consultant in a selling role must ask themselves “Are you first a consultant, or a salesman? ” If your answer is Salesman, this article isn’t for you. But, if you are promoting an effective solution, and if you truly believe in that solution, resolving the need for promoting the sale and the paramount need for acting in the client’s best interest can be complimentary. Just be aware that there will be times when your solution may not be in the client’s best interest, and in those cases you must suggest that the client take an alternative path. The credibility you gain by staying true to the role of an advocate may be of more value than that single sale.
Client Advocacy may seem easier for those consultants who are engaged purely to improve the client’s operation or processes. But it does have its pitfalls. Rarely is the consultant an expert in the client’s business. Each client has their own differentiators (that’s why they can compete), and their own corporate culture. To be a functioning advocate, these are the elements of the client’s business that the consultant must learn quickly or suffer the consequences. We’ve all heard the jokes about consulting… I especially like this one. A consultant is one who knows more and more about less and less, until he knows absolutely everything about nothing. This outcome is the result of a consultant attempting a solution based solely on data and documentation. To be an advocate, the consultant must assume an integrated role in the client’s culture and buy into their corporate vision. This can be accomplished in short order if the consultant understands the definition of SONDER.