You always wondered how clients know if you are the right choice or not? Here is a list of selection criteria they use. Some are more tangible, some less – which does not make them less important. We did not include critera like day rates or brand name of consultancy but rather concentrated on personal criteria.
Before your client meets you
The consultant should have relevant professional experience with the topic, e.g. SAP data migration, change management, leadership development, marketing strategy, business process reengineering, etc.
The consultant preferably should have experience in the client’s industry. It is usually a plus if you have previous experience with the client (though in rare cases that might be a disadvantage – e.g. for political or compliance reasons).
Knowledge of methods and tools
The consultant should be knowledgeable in methods or tools needed for the project, e.g. project management methodology, change management methodology, benchmarking, SWOT, balanced scorecard, core competencies, etc.
Education and diplomas
The more experience you have, the less important these become. Still, for some expert consulting jobs – e.g. in engineering consulting – the educational background of a consultant can be quite important to a client. PhDs or MBAs can be impressive; at the same time some clients fear they have to pay more for a consultant with such an advanced degree.
Convincing professional history
Have you done similar work most of the time or have you been consulting in very varying topics and industries? Even if you consider yourself more of a process than an expert consultant, clients love to see some kind of red thread in a CV. If possible, take out or re-write parts of your CV that are not related at all to the position you apply for.
Good reputation, especially in his industry
Clients often ask other companies in their industry or supply chain about their experience with a consultant. A consultant’s good reputation is usually a good indicator for decent services.
Member of a relevant association
This one is more important for small consultancies and independent consultants. With big consultancies, the clients do not look into that point.
Clients check which professional associations a consultant is part of. Often members of an association have to undergo a critical assessment by the association which has developed quality standards or certifications. If you are in an association, you should include related information in your presentation material. Here is a list of professional associations for business consultants.
Is your PR material (website, brochures, etc. ) convincing? Clients look at websites and brochures to see how professional a consultancy is. Make sure your material looks coherent and up to date.
During and after a meeting with a client
The client will only invite consultants who match his needs according to the CV. Then he usually will interview several consultants to select the right one.
Do you have practical experience in your topic and industry?
Even though you should have answered this question with your CV, the client will usually still ask questions around this topic to make sure you can perform on this role. This is especially true for the short PPT CVs a client receives from major consultancies. These are so condensed that the client will want to know more.
Did you take enough time to understand the client’s specific situation?
No client case is like another, so avoid short and superficial meetings. Make sure you take enough time to listen to the client’s specific case.
Are you interested and motivated to work on that project?
As a consultant, you should seem motivated and interested to work on the client’s project. If the client has a different impression, he will probably choose somebody else.
This topic rarely comes up, but just in case:
Are you available during nights, weekends and vacations?
Some projects – e.g. SAP projects – need the consultant to be available at night times or on weekends. Some clients want to know that they can call you in your vacation in a case of emergency. Find an understanding with your client on when you should be available.
Are you open and flexible to interventions and ideas the client mentions?
It is the client’s specific problem and he knows best about his company. As a consultant you should be open and constructive towards the client’s interventions and ideas. You should be willing to jointly discuss and decide what is best way forward for the client.
Are you able to express yourself in a way that is understandable for the client?
The client often calls consultants for complex problems that require background knowledge in diverse sectors, e.g. legal, economic or engineering. Still, as a consultant you should be able to explain your ideas and suggestions to your client in an understandable way, so that the client can take an informed decision.
Are you able to guide the client efficiently?
While you should be open to suggestions, you should be able to guide the client in important matters. As a process consultant you should know the appropriate structures and questions, as an expert consultant you should know what your client needs for a specific topic and let him know.
Are you working for the competition or have you been in the past?
If you are working on sensitive topics, the client wants to be aware of your other activities in the industry. While experience on similar topics is a plus, the client does not want to run the risk of having his industry secrets exposed.
Do your references recommend you?
Clients want to know you can perform well in the required task. For this they do not only rely on your CV, but also on your references. If they are not sure, some companies contact the references directly, others do that as part of their routine. Make sure your references are prepared.
Does the client like you?
There are some things you can do about your likeability; some things you cannot change. Still, likeability is a big factor. If a client has to choose between to consultants with the same skillset, he will prefer the one he likes more. He might even prefer the consultant he likes more even if that consultant is a little inferior in skills. While you might not see this as a fair criterion, consider this: The client will work with you intensively for the next month(s). If he does not like you from the beginning, he knows he will not enjoy his working days too much. So your personal impression matters. (Make sure you are nice to the people you meet on the way to the meeting room as well. They might be co-workers and your client might ask for their opinion afterwards!)
Is your pricing appropriate?
While a price that was not too high got you into the interview process, a price that is too low might kick you out. Clients know that a cheap offer is not necessarily always the best and the often equal a low price with lower quality work.
Even if your initial price was higher and you offered a discount during the first interview, it might be a disadvantage. The client might think that you are not worth the price you asked before or do lower quality work for that discount.
Are you discreet?
While the client wants to get viable from your website as well as from you directly, he does not want to get too much information from you. If you give out client names or even project details to openly, a client thinks that you will do the same thing with his information. The client’s know-how is crucial for him and he wants to know it will be protected. He wants to be sure that you will keep silent about anything the client considers confidential in his company.
Even though the client will make sure that confidentiality obligations are not breached (e.g. with a non-disclosure agreement) he might still not want you to work with the competition.
Are you trustworthy?
That is a difficult one to define, just like likeability. It is a mixture of “will you be able to deliver on your promise?” to “are you discreet and will not talk about confidential things with outsiders?”. One are where trustworthiness is very important is how do deal with areas you do not know about. Do you admit to your professional limits and how self-confident are you while doing so?
If you want to know more, Jeanne Weiland Herrick wrote an excellent article on trust for the Association of Professional Communication Consultants:
“Trust that the consultant knows her stuff
Trust that the consultant can make what she knows work to solve the client’s problem or meet the client’s need
Trust the consultant as a person with whom they can work and build and on-going relationship.
- Follow through
- Professional looking materials
- Professional appearance
- Support—someone they can call
- High pressure
- Materials that are too “slick”
- Claiming overly broad expertise (“I can do almost anything”)
- Talking too much and not listening
- Anything canned, not customized
- Talk mainly about themselves and what they can do
- Too much flash”
Do you plan to measure the project success?
Do you foresee to monitor the project’s progress and do have objective indicators? Clients want their projects to be as transparent as possible and to be able to follow the progress of the project. They will either ask you to provide such indicators or be happy if you suggest to make them together.
How long will you stay on the project?
Some clients are used to working with major consultancies and know that exchange some of their staff from time to time. Other clients are not so happy with that and want to keep the consultants they work with as long as possible.
As an independent consultant, you might love to stay on a project for a long time as it gives you a secure income and you do not have to do that much marketing for a new one.
As an internal consultant, you might have quotas that you have to fulfil. Do you have enough availability to accompany the project as long as the client wants you to?
As an external consultant, you usually depend on your consultancy’s decision. While the consultancy might want to keep the contract as long as the margin is high enough, they might want to send you on another project – usually because another client or project is more important than the one you are on. You might also want to leave the project after some months for career development or because you get bored with your role. Knowing all these factors, you should still appear motivated to stay on the project as long as necessary.
Are you going for sustainable solutions?
This might not be a topic for a first interview. Still, a client might read between the lines when you talk about the proposed solution. Is your solution a quick fix or will it solve the problem on the long run?
Though the client might look for sustainability, they are not always prepared to pay for the (usually higher) price. You might say that you have more than one solution available and can adapt to your client’s need and budget.
Do you offer individual solutions or a standard product?
Clients know that standard product are usually cheaper and might be time tested with other clients. On the other side, they are skeptical if the standard is suitable for them. While the standard solution may work for some cases, it might not work for them. The client will want to know if it fits their needs.
Here are some sample checklists of organizations to check out their consultants: