Time. It’s a critical factor in your consulting firm’s success. However, how you think about time may hide the bigger, more important picture.
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “time”? I mean after you picture Morris Day and The Time’s unforgettable slide in the video for Jungle Love?
More importantly, how do your clients think about time?
It turns out your clients look at time in four different ways, and you’ll benefit greatly by keeping an eye on all four and prioritizing the one that matters most.
The Four Dimensions of Consulting Time
Time = Effort
Effort is the dimension of time most consulting firms obsess over. You should understand how much effort different types of projects absorb, because this affects your profitability and your capacity planning.
However, overall, effort is only relevant to your clients because consulting firms have trained clients to look at effort.
That training is unfortunate, because clients aren’t really hiring your consulting firm to “spend hours.” They’re engaging you to achieve an outcome. Clients who constantly monitor your consulting firm’s hours are working against their own best interest.
Even if you’ve entered into a time and materials contract, which is generally a poor choice, effort is ultimately unimportant to clients. (The exception is when your variable fees approach their budget limit–then effort takes center stage.)
Since effort is largely irrelevant to consulting clients, it should be largely irrelevant to you too.
Action step: De-prioritize the effort dimension in your planning, monitoring, contracts and conversations with clients.
Time = Duration
Duration comes into play when your consulting firm is being hired in an ongoing advisory capacity.
For instance, if you’re supporting the CCO (Chief Chocolate Officer), your client may ask, “How many months is this engagement?” (The correct answer is, of course, “We’ll stay until the chocolate runs out.”)
Duration is sometimes confused with speed. When clients are asking, “How long will this take?” or “How long will you be here?” it sounds like duration; however, the underlying question is about speed. The question they mean to ask is, “How quickly can you achieve the outcome?”
Action step: Consider duration when you’re scoping an advisory relationship and, in those cases, win the longest duration engagement you can (annual contracts beat the heck out of monthly renewals).
Action step: After you’ve signed the contract, duration should rarely cross your mind.
Time = Speed
How long does it take your consulting firm to deliver the phenomenal outcome your client engaged you to produce? That’s speed.
Intuitively, it’s obvious that speed creates value.
Every day you can carve off a new medicine’s launch timeline is worth a bazillion dollars. Solving an attrition problem in two weeks saves a fortnight of heartache compared to a month-long effort.
Strangely, though, your consulting clients typically don’t value speed as highly as you’d think. Or like.
If your deliverables are linked to a pivotal deadline or they’re on the critical path for your client’s top-priority, high-visibility burning initiative, then speed is paramount. That’s rare.
In most cases, your client probably doesn’t mind if the timing on your initiative slips.
A couple of extra weeks or even a month or two is fine and dandy. (As long as the fees don’t increase.)
Because your consulting firm may value speed far more than your client does, there’s a good chance you’re promising faster timelines than you need to. And that unnecessarily strains your capacity and your staff.
Action step: Before you promise an accelerated or aggressive timeline, thinking your client will be super thrilled with your amazing delivery, check in to find out how much they really care.
Time = Responsiveness
How quickly you circle back to your client after you’ve promised something or they’ve reached out to your consulting firm is your responsiveness.
In consulting, responsiveness rules.
Your clients’ perception of working with you is extraordinarily influenced by responsiveness.
They notice how quickly you return their texts, emails, phone calls and instant messages.
They pay attention when you turn around requests late at night and early in the morning.
They judge you based on how swiftly you deliver materials, introductions, data, articles and anything else you promise during a conversation.
This dimension of time, more than any other, is your ticket to delighted clients, repeat work and referrals to new consulting prospects.
Action step: Set up systems and processes that enable you to be over-the-top responsive to your clients.
Looking at hours, days, weeks and months from your clients’ perspective and focusing on responsiveness is your road to a healthier, happier consulting firm.
How do you think about time when dealing with your clients?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.