Every time you reach a consulting project’s milestone you’d like your client to be so delighted with your deliverable that they leap with joy, slather you with praise and immediately investigate whether your results can be immortalized in a Taylor Swift song. How do you craft a consulting deliverable that compels such love?
The outputs of consulting projects vary widely. From simple advice, to plans, findings, recommendations, or complex implementation reports, just to name a few examples.
Regardless of the form your consulting product takes, you want your clients to prize your work.
Are there characteristics common to all consulting firm deliverables that invoke a positive reaction from your clients? Undoubtedly.
Let’s specify the attributes of the perfect consulting deliverable. We’ll create a checklist, of sorts, that will allow you to review your own deliverables before they grace your clients’ desks and dial up your consulting firm’s impact a notch or two.
The handful of suggestions below will get us started. Other consultants have supplemented my original list, but this article needs your recommendations too. (I’ve purposely left off one of the most obvious attributes so that you can mention it when you submit your suggestions. At the moment, no one has yet suggested it.)
Attributes of Perfect Consulting Deliverables
Right-Side Up – Your deliverable is about your client, not you. It gives the information they need, the way they need it. As Anne says in the comments (below), Right-Side Up deliverables also take into account any cultural issues or requirements.
Is your deliverable highlighting your work or your client’s results?
Told as a Story – Every consulting deliverable is a story. It articulates the ultimate point, message, or thesis, and includes an easily-followed path from where the client was to where you’ve taken the client. Note, I’m not suggesting your deliverables read like a novel—rather, your consulting outputs should lead your clients logically to a conclusion. Susan and Robert pointed out that deliverable stories are best when they’re practical, not theoretical, there’s a clear, summary and road map at the beginning and, if necessary, mile markers along the way.
What’s your deliverable’s story?
Clearly Communicated – Your story will only resonate with the client if your telling is understandable, unambiguous and compelling. Eschew ponderous , stilted, pretentious language. That’s for professors, not consultants. Make generous use of metaphors, frameworks and graphics. Below, Catrin gives a few more tips for clear deliverables.
Is your story plainly stated and illustrated so that it’s crystal clear to your client?
Reassuring – Your clients risk their money, time, and reputation when they hired you. Your deliverables should relieve any doubt about investing in your consulting firm’s work.
What will buoy your client’s confidence in the deliverable?
New-Balanced – The best consulting outputs perfectly combine information that is new (a.k.a. “Aha!”) and confirmatory (a.k.a. “I knew that.”). They simultaneously tell clients, “It’s a good thing you hired us” and “You’re smart too”.
Do you have the right new-balance in your deliverable?
Reputation Enhancing – As Simon points out (in the comments), clients take on reputation risk when they hire you. Your deliverable should reward them by making them look good to their colleagues and, especially, those above them.
Will your client be proud to show off your deliverable?
Collaborative – Joyce astutely noted that clients care about how deliverables are created and that partnering with them in the creation of your output adds value. Susan added that the delivery should also be open and engaging. Collaborative from end to end.
Are you building your deliverable with your client?
Forward Looking – Carole suggests (below) that your deliverables always suggest the clients next steps. Importantly, those next steps should be what’s best for the client, which may or may not involve further work with you.
Does your deliverable recommend the client’s post-project actions?
What else? There are more attributes to the perfect consulting deliverable. Contribute your suggestions as a comment, and I’ll add them to the list (like I did with Simon’s idea).
What else makes a perfect deliverable?
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