Consultants have much to learn from the words of a Harvard medical professor who was addressing his students in 1926. In fact, you might even call if the first rule of successful consulting.
Dr. Francis W. Peabody taught before doctors had antibiotics to combat bacterial illnesses (and give rise to superbugs), before hospitals bristled with technology (and a three-day stay cost more than a small house), and before chocolate was known to stave off depression (I have nothing bad to say about chocolate).
Anyway, Dr. Peabody saw that the aim of medicine isn’t to cure the disease or repair the wound; rather it is to provide the person suffering from the ailment with the best quality of life possible. He revealed the essence of successful healthcare:
“…the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”
Too many consultants approach consulting as if the business is about themselves and their firms. About earning money and building a big practice. I’ve even heard consultants talk about clients with derision or disdain.
But the first rule of success is understanding that consulting isn’t about you. It’s about them–the clients. In my vernacular, that’s called Right-Side Up thinking. Dr. Peabody’s admonition could be translated to us as:
“The secret of delivering value to a client is in valuing the client.”
Projects, revenue, testimonials and referrals will flow into your firm when you take a genuine interest in the executives who seek your help.
It’s also easier to win business when your empathetic ear trumps your calculating self-interest. As noted political consultant and tireless pince-nez advocate Theodore Roosevelt observed in the early 1900s, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
What does it mean to care for your client?
This isn’t a question most consultants spend time pondering, and I’d like your help translating the grand concept into actions. Let’s create a list together.
In terms of practical activities, what does caring look like; how do you show clients you value them?
Below are a few thought starters. I hope you’ll also chip in an idea or two.
How to Show Clients You Care
- Take the extra time to listen.
- Ask for the story behind the story, the motive behind the motive, the personal gain behind the professional request.
- Call when you’re not looking for work.
- Give (some) time and advice even when there’s no project on the line.
- Avoid actions that could cause your client harm, including causing them to lose face.
- Turn down a project that’s not in the best interest of the client.
- Bring in/recommend a different consultant when you’re not the best resource for a project.
- Give the right answer, even if that costs you future work.
- Think through the impact of your work on the people involved—all the people, not just your decision-maker.
Please add your thoughts too. What does it mean to value your clients? I’ll update the article to include your suggestions.
- Susan reminds us that being authentic is critical, and that sharing about yourself personally (i.e., being vulnerable) is another way to demonstrate you care for your client.
- DJ gave an example of an annual check-in with his client as an action that shows he cares.
- Dan added that we should demonstrate that we’re fair when it comes to finances and even give money back if that’s appropriate. (Shocking, but true.) Check out his case study in the comments.
- Tom brought up interrelated points that all show your care about your client: act with integrity, own up to your mistakes and make amends when you do err.
Text and images are © 2020 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.