How to be a Better Consultant

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Recently, I was asked to give a presentation to a group of brand-new software consultants about what to focus on with your customer. Here are the highlights.

First impressions are important!
You never get a second chance to do this. It's important to hit the ground running on every project. A win on day 1 is much more impressive to the customer than a loss on day 1 and a win on day 5.

Think about privacy
Lock your unattended workstation. Think twice before forwarding an internal e-mail to an external person. Be conscious of your customer's intellectual capital - be cautious about what you reveal when having casual hallway conversations.

Delight your customer!
As a consultant, this is the single best thing you can do to increase sales. It is far easier to sell more services to a happy customer than to find a new customer.

Listen to your customer
As we gain more experience, we tend to think we know the answer more quickly. Resist the temptation to tell the customer what they want before allowing them to explain the problem. Interrupting and answering questions before they are asked can come across as arrogant.

Be professional
If this is your first "real world" job, there are some adjustments. Know the dress code (if you don't know, ask); be punctual; stay focused during work hours

Communicate early; Communicate often.
I have made many mistakes in my career. The ones for which I payed the heaviest price are those that went unnoticed for weeks or months. Keep your customer and/or supervisor informed about what you are working on and any potential roadblocks. I often send a weekly status report to accomplish this.

Stay Positive
There will be times in your career when you don't feel motivated. Don't take this out on your team. Don't be the guy who constantly complains about management or the project status. Every project has positive and negative things. You'll be happier if you accentuate the positive.

Look for opportunities
Keep your ears open for pain points expressed by the customer - even if they don't relate directly to your project. If this is something your company can help with, communicate to your manager or sales rep. If a consulting company can solve a customer's business problem, both parties win.

Know the strengths of your company
Be aware of what your company does well. This will help you to look for opportunities and know who to call when you have a technical question.

Learn the technology stack
There is a lot to learn in this business, so you better get started. Take the time to learn the basics of your job and dive deep into 1 or 2 other areas. Read books and blogs, attend conferences and user groups, and listen to podcasts. There is plenty of information available.

Focus on teamwork
If your team succeeds, you succeed. Share the credit with others and you will find that you will generally share in the team's successes.

Learn names
This is something I'm not very good at but it can make a big difference in how you are perceived. The first day of a project, I always create a folder under "My Documents" for the customer and I add a text file to store the names of the people I meet. Whatever method works for you, remembering the names of those with whom you interact can make a big difference in the impression you create.

Bring passion to each project
Software consulting is an exciting way to earn a living. We get paid to play with toys all day and we are constantly learning. Embrace that. Your passion will tend to be reflected in your work.