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5 Notes to Ensure Your Consulting Firm’s Recommendations Resonate

When your consulting firm delivers recommendations well, your clients appreciate your work and compliment you. When your recommendations are delivered with the nuance and power of a John Williams score (e.g., Star Wars, ET, Harry Potter, Jaws, etc.), your clients love your work, their trust in your consulting firm blossoms, they find more ways to work with you and they shower you with Grammys cookies.

Virtually every consulting project contains recommendations. In some cases, the entire project leads to a recommendation; other times, the recommendations are buried inside the path of implementation

Wherever recommendations occur in your consulting firm’s engagements, convey your counsel in a fashion that solidifies your relationship, promotes trust, and highlights your value.

The five factors listed below will elevate your consulting firm’s guidance from B-movie soundtrack to blockbuster orchestration.

5 Notes to Ensure Your Consulting Firm’s Recommendations Resonate

Bring the Goods

Of course, your first obligation is to ensure you’re offering a sound recommendation that will improve your client’s position.

You don’t have to be right 100% of the time, but you do have to develop suggestions based on deep experience, sound data and/or robust analysis with your client’s best interests in mind.

Highlight Anecdotes

Personalize and humanize your recommendations by tying them into a story, an anecdote, or an example that emphasizes the impact on individuals.

Start on Common Ground

Introduce your advice with tunes your clients will hum along with before moving to discordant ideas that could challenge their thinking. If your clients’ heads are already nodding in agreement, they’re less likely to distrust uncomfortable or unexpected advice.

Admit Knowledge Gaps

When prescribing a course of action, it’s just as important to spotlight your consulting firm’s lack of understanding, knowledge or expertise as it is to bolster your experience and competence.

Rather than sweeping knowledge gaps under the carpet, boldly state aspects of your recommendation for which you don’t have 100% confidence. Doing so builds your clients’ trust in the remainder of your recommendation and in your consulting firm overall.

Advise Collaboratively

Involve your clients in shaping your recommendations. Offer a framework for identifying the optimal path forward, present useful evidence and experience, then empower your clients to reach their own conclusions.

Add to the list based on your experience.

How else do you ensure the delivery of your recommendations is compelling, trust-enhancing and reputation-building for your consulting firm?

  1. Lisa Carlin
    October 11, 2023 at 6:12 am Reply

    David you always offer excellent advice and write great articles. The best gem in here is involving clients in shaping recommendations. Co design. Co create.

    • David A. Fields
      October 11, 2023 at 6:21 am Reply

      Yep, involving clients in their own experience is generally a good idea. (See my articles that reference the Ikea effect.)

      I appreciate your kind feedback, Lisa, and that you underscored the importance of collaboration.

  2. Tim
    October 11, 2023 at 6:24 am Reply

    Agree with Lisa – co-design is key. Impact requires our recommendations be implemented. For them to be implemented the exec team needs to take ownership. To take ownership they have to see themselves reflected in the recommendations. To see themselves reflected they have to be deeply involved in their design. It’s a fine line between borrowing their watch and co-design but getting it right is like 90% of our profession I think (made up number ).

    • David A. Fields
      October 11, 2023 at 6:31 am Reply

      As you’ve eloquently laid out, Tim, there’s a direct connection between involving a client in their own experience and the eventual success of the project. The amount of collaboration depends on the type of project and the particular individuals involved–always stay Right-Side Up rather than walking into every project with a predefined notion of the right balance.

      I’m glad you added your voice to the conversation, Tim!

  3. Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D.
    October 11, 2023 at 6:28 am Reply

    Hi David,
    I have 3 main goals when presenting recommendations. 1) State them succinctly in the beginning so folks don’t get lost in the words, and then explain in more detail later according to their follow up questions. 2) Be honest and authentic in the most caring way possible. 3) Present my recommendations as “opportunities to have more fun and make more money” rather than “weaknesses to be corrected.”

    • David A. Fields
      October 11, 2023 at 6:33 am Reply

      Those are three good rules to live by, Doc. My interpretation based on your rules is that your work and recommendations are already deeply personal to the client, so you don’t have to add the personalization element. In this case, the empathy you’re bringing to your delivery approach is powerful and I’m sure you built tons of Trust and goodwill with your clients.

      Well done, Doc. Thank you for sharing an excellent example!

  4. Julie
    October 11, 2023 at 6:42 am Reply

    Really helpful, David!

    We have increasingly found gaining agreement from our clients on a set of principles that will guide our (eventual) recommendations goes along way to acceptance of them at the appropriate time.

    We often draft the principles based on the initial requirements we’re responding to in our client’s RFx (we include them in the proposal), and further develop them after our first stakeholder conversations and/or interviews.

    When it comes to developing the recos, we then use the principles to guide and sense check what we think will help propel our client forward. And of course they have an important place in our written reports to support the arguments presented.

    The principles are also one key way to keep within scope!

    • David A. Fields
      October 11, 2023 at 9:21 am Reply

      Excellent advice, Julie! (You’ll probably like this article on Design Principles.) Adding Design Principles to the five notes above will absolutely improve clients’ receptivity to your recommendations.

      I’m glad you added your two cents, Julie–you’ve made this list of recommendations much better.

      • Laurie Foster
        October 12, 2023 at 9:12 am Reply

        I cannot tell you how much I love your responses to all of *our* questions, David. You are amazing. A client recently launched their own firm. I had shared your work and they are constantly remarking on how it is helping them shape their business. Many, many thanks! -Laurie

        • David A. Fields
          October 12, 2023 at 9:40 am

          Aww, you’re very kind, Laurie. You and other leaders of small consulting firms comprise a community that is warm, fun, and intellectually stimulating. I feel grateful to have the opportunity to interact with so many smart people, to collect your stories, learn from you and, in partnership with my amazing team, to support your continued growth.

          Thank you for the lovely feedback, Laurie!

  5. William J. Ryan
    October 11, 2023 at 7:37 am Reply

    As Lisa noted, involving the client is key and I like to involve them from the initial analysis, I’ve found using employee’s words in the recommendations tends to resonate with leaders. By accident, I’ve also framed my work as Terry “Doc” noted, a positive and growth choice to move forward rather than a negative. Keeps the energy up!

    • David A. Fields
      October 11, 2023 at 9:23 am Reply

      Bill, your smart choices are no accident. You’ve used your experience and insight to recognize that opportunities are better received than problems.

      Thank you for joining the conversation, Bill, and sharing your experience with me and other readers!

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