Consulting firms often become disconnected from the sponsor as their work revolves around lower-level personnel. A simple check-in format will keep you connected at the highest levels and position your consulting firm for follow-on projects.
Let’s say your consulting firm landed a solid, consulting engagement with the Food-as-a-Service pioneer, Nutscape. Your initial contact was the CEO, Cassandra Hews, who heard about your firm from one of your delighted clients.
Once your new project was underway, however, your consulting firm’s main point of contact switched to Shelby Gawn, VP of Virtually Nutting.
Shelby and her staff are the people your consulting firm needs to interface with to successfully execute on your project. And since the CEO made it clear that Shelby has full authority, you turn your full attention on Shelby, and don’t schedule any follow-up conversations with the CEO.
That’s a mistake.
The downsides of your consulting firm being relegated to a lower-level point of contact include:
- Being perceived as peers of the lower-level contact (VP) rather than peers of the sponsor (CEO)
- Losing visibility to other opportunities to create value and losing access to high-level strategic decisions
- Higher likelihood of being blindsided if problems or concerns about your consulting project are reported up the ranks at your client.
Fortunately, this is an easy situation for your consulting firm to avoid.
Always build a monthly or quarterly 15-minute update conversation with the project sponsor (or your highest level of contact) into your project plans.
Even if most of your project work is a level or two below the decision-maker, insist on that update meeting as part of your process.
You’ll find the vast majority of your consulting firm’s clients appreciate the update meeting when you outline a simple, four-part format.
The Four-Part, 15-Minute Sponsor Update
Update from You
Offer a very brief overview of the consulting project’s health.
This is not the time to go into detail on every step or task completed and who’s done what.
Stick with something like, “The project is going well and we’re making progress. We’ve cracked the shelling issue and next we’ll be firing up the roasting team.”
If your project is not going well, then report that observation and explain that you’ll give some suggestions in a minute or two about how to remedy the issues.
Update from Them
Ask for any feedback on the project that has bubbled up from their organization. In most cases, your client won’t have anything to report.
Follow up by asking what, in general, you and your consulting firm can do to help.
This query opens the door for topics unrelated to your current consulting project to creep into the conversation. Say hello to follow-on and expansion opportunities!
Requests from You
Indicate any support you need from the decision-maker for your consulting firm to succeed in the engagement.
For instance, ask for help if you need the CEO to shake loose some data or to curb one of her employee’s use of salty language.
If the consulting project has veered into dangerous territory or is at risk, this is the portion of the update meeting during which you suggest changes to the approach, and lock in support for your recommendations to bring the project back on track.
Raise any other topics that could be of value to your client and inquire whether there are any other ways your consulting firm can be of service.
The final section of your update meeting is your second opportunity to talk about topics unrelated to your immediate project.
This time, you can take the initiative by saying something like, “I wanted to tell you about a couple of other things we noticed while we were working on the project…”
Keep in mind that your observations should include a range of challenges, not all of which can be addressed by your consulting firm.
Position yourself as a proactive, broad-scope, strategic thinker that’s looking out for the best interests of your client.
Do you include a periodic, sponsor update meeting in your projects? If so, have you found it effective? If not, why not?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.
Excellent article David! Scheduling these regular updates should definitely be a line item of any new project checklist.
The four-part agenda is helpful as well. This doesn’t need to be an hour long presentation of everything that’s happened since the last meeting. Just a quick meeting to stay on each other’s radar, and quickly address anything that has come up.
Good reminder that these meetings establish you as a peer of the sponsor, not necessarily the groups you are working directly with.
I’m thankful the sponsor of my current project set these types of meetings up before I even suggested it. They have been very beneficial.
Great information, as always!
You’re right, Ben–15 minutes is usually plenty, and it doesn’t have to be formal. In fact, the informality of the conversation reinforces your peer relationship, while the consistent structure reinforces that you’re a buttoned-up, high-value advisor.
Good on you for choosing excellent clients, Ben. That’s the true secret to successful consulting!
Thanks for weighing in today, Ben–very much appreciated.
I give weekly updates to clients on all open projects. It is good customer service of course! And, I’ve found that when I keep in contact and a delay etc. happens, the client is more accommodating when I to ask for more time or $.
Weekly updates is an impressive cadence, Elaine! For many consultants and consulting firms, the shift is from providing weekly updates for the client’s working team to providing that plus monthly updates to the project sponsor or decision-maker.
Very good point that when you’re in constant communication, the client will be more understanding of challenges. Well said, Elaine.
Oh, and thanks for the articles every week. I really enjoy them…the info and the humor. 🙂
You’re very welcome, of course, Elaine. Sometimes the humor is just to make me laugh, but when smart readers like you join in the fun, it’s definitely better! Thank you for the feedback.
Great article David! I learned this lesson the hard way on an engagement just last year. Initially the CEO was my contact, then once the new COO was hired she became my primary contact (“with all authority”). I learned the hard way that I should have maintained regular contact with the CEO as well, as the two of them were disconnected on many topics and when she said that she (COO) would provide an update to the CEO, that was not always done.
Good (if painful) case study, Stacye. You’ve underscored an important consideration: even if we’re interacting with a senior person in the organization, don’t give up the interaction with the more senior contacts we’ve made along the way.
There’s almost no limit to this rule. For instance, if your contact on a Board introduces you to the CEO, with whom you ultimately win the project, maintaining monthly check-ins with the Board member is still a good idea.
Thank you for that important reminder, Stacye.
This article highly resonated with me, much appreciated – along with all your other content, David. Currently reading your book –
Excellent, Ben. I hope the content is useful and valuable in application, too. Thanks for the feedback, Ben–very much appreciated.