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.