Before we see what the key attributes of a good consultant are, it is important to know what is involved in a consulting job.
First and foremost, the consultant has to interact with the individuals or a group of individuals representing the customer. This interaction will result in the consultant understanding the nuances of the customer’s business. Often, these are either the business owners or the key decision makers.
What role does the consultant play here? The consultant’s role is to give the persons involved, guidance on business strategy, or new ways of doing the same tasks; which leads to some improvement in either one or more business parameters for the company. It could be the company’s operations, company’s image in the market, its product quality or its service quality.
In order to be highly effective in this role, consultant must possess following attributes:
- Ability to strike a rapport with the customer
- Relationship building and people skills
- Being a good listener
- Being truthful
- Projecting a winning image
- Building customer trust
- Projecting an image that matches the company’s image
- Business etiquette and social etiquette
- Developing a unique personal style
- Being knowledgeable
Let us closely elaborate these attributes and understand finer nuances of each.
Ability to Strike a Rapport with the Customer
The most important quality a consultant must have is the ability to strike a rapport. Consulting engagement involves an interaction between two individuals who are mature, professional, and accomplished.
The basic premise of this interaction is that each individual is different. Everybody comes with an ego. They have past credibility, track record, self-respect and self-confidence. Hence, the consultant’s role is very challenging. He is required to establish an engagement model or a relationship wherein, he is looked at as an expert and the customer takes his suggestions and guidelines, seriously.
Relationship Building and People Skills
It is essential for the consultant to build a relationship with the customer, and hence his soft skills are of prime importance. How he connects with people from different backgrounds is very important. As the consultant progresses in the consulting assignment, he needs to subtly highlight his knowledge, expertise and past experience in the similar field. This will ensure that the engagement proceeds in a smooth manner.
Being a Good Listener
Consulting is a two-way process where the consultant has to learn about the business and the business issues of the customer. Only then he will be able to suggest changes or improvements in the business parameters. Hence, it is important that the consultant is patient, and listens to the customer’s issues, his point of view and business need. Only if the consultant appears to be in the know-how of the customer’s business, is sensitive towards their business parameters and the current scenarios; he will be able to impress upon them that he can make a difference!
“Unless you know where you are, you will not be able to tell them where to go and how to go there”.
A good consultant is always willing to learn, do the thorough research, fact-finding, gather knowledge and always be well-prepared.
Having an inquisitive nature, asking questions politely so that you don’t offend the customer becomes a very critical aspect. Another aspect which is very important in the consulting assignment is the ability to do a very good documentation and establishing written communications. Either through emails or any other means of written communication, the consultant must be able to establish the overall tempo of the project.
The communication skills of the consultant are important. Email etiquette should be followed by the consultant while sending information over the email, sending request, or setting up meetings over the email. There must be a clear undertone of being polite. At the same time, he has to be very assertive and affirmative so that the project moves fast.
Another critical aspect of being a good consultant is being truthful. Unless and until he makes the customer aware of what the realities are by telling the truth, he will not be able to give the kind of consulting that entices the customers to make the necessary changes in the business process, business parameters and their business environment. Hence, it is very important to be truthful.
Projecting a Winning Image
The consultant must project an image that is professional, appropriate and authentic. The consultant needs to come across as a person who is polished, polite, confident and assertive at the same time. He needs to project a certain authority as it is an important quality for a consultant to be successful in his job.
Most of the consulting engagements involve influencing some change in the organization. There is always resistance to change. Hence, it is imperative that the consultant is authoritative, influential and assertive.
The consultant will look influential by dressing appropriately, by displaying strong communication skills, a pleasant appearance, and at the same time he needs to project a strong body language. Apart from this, a very thorough knowledge of the subject in which he is providing consulting is crucial.
Building Customer Trust
The consultant needs to create a winning impression through his personality, behavior so that the customers start believing in him and start trusting him. So building customer trust is another extremely important parameter. His personality plays a big role in creating the first impression in the mind of the customer and building mutual trust and confidence.
The consulting engagement or assignment may not be too long. So in a very short span of time, in the early few communications itself the consultant has to create the first impression in such a way that the customer starts believing in him as an expert. This builds trust and the customer understands the consultant’s way of working, his discipline, professionalism, and then automatically starts cooperating with him towards the change.
Projecting an Image That Matches with the Company’s Image
Depending on the level of seniority, the consulting role may involve business development as well as some pre-sales activities. In this case, the consultant ends up interacting with very senior people in the industry, the decision makers, owners, or the promoters of different businesses to whom his organization is offering consulting. The consultant must know how to represent his organization at the highest level. He should project an image that matches with the company’s image.
Business and Social Etiquette
As a part of the job, the consultant may have to entertain some of these customers or potential customers off-site in fine dining scenarios. The social engagements and meetings with the customer could be in five star hotels, or they could end up meeting in conferences.
Hence, the consultant must be well versed in the concept of power dressing and must be comfortable in entertaining the guests in a very boutique restaurant. This is where his dining and drinking etiquette plays an important role in creating the perfect impression. Apart from this, skills like how to order food, how to order wine, how to taste wine are very critical and help build the consultant’s image.
Developing a Unique Personal Style
At the social scenarios where the consultant meets the customer or interacts with him, he needs to be extremely comfortable in introducing himself, or establishing a rapport. He may not necessarily give his business card in a very office style old fashioned manner. The consultant needs to develop his own style of introducing himself and using that as a mechanism to break the ice.
If the consultant is entertaining a very senior lady, who belongs to the top management of the customer, how the consultant entertains her in outside scenarios is also going to be very critical. These are certain attributes which will make a very good and successful consultant.
At the end of the day, there is no substitute for the genuine knowledge in the field in which the consultant is consulting. There is no substitute for keeping up-to-date with the latest happenings in his field; whether it is reading news, new management books, technology updates or whatever is happening in the market. Understanding market trends is another very important aspect.
Finally, the consultant must make sure that he closes the loop on all communications. It is a good practice that after attending the meetings, he sends a courtesy email thanking the customer for the meeting. He can send short text messages if the customer prefers it. So the consultant must follow the etiquette of closing loop on all the interactions so that the record of every transactions and interactions in maintained. By doing so, his business will get more and more opportunities to get a repeat customer.
These are some of the key attributes which will help you succeed as a consultant!