Transitioning from a System Administrator to a Consultant provided a bit of a learning curve, but I’ve learned so much over the last few years. With so many folks looking to leap, or have recently made the leap from customer to partner, I wanted to share some of my thoughts, and some tips that have helped me.
This list is not comprehensive in any way, but I believe it will provide you with some food for thought from a real-life Consultant!
Be Confident (Even When You Aren’t)
Clients need to know that you can take care of them and that you’ll be able to provide the promised service. Sometimes, clients can be scared about the process of deploying Salesforce. They have spent a lot of money on the product, they may be pushing some organizational changes with Salesforce, and there is a lot at stake.
For the client’s sake, communicating confidence is a vital part of being a consultant. You’re a trusted advisor and should be able to help the client feel encouraged, confident, and assured. You do this by being confident yourself.
One area that I was extremely unconfident about for a long while was my knowledge of Salesforce and ability to provide a solution that I felt was worthy. I was afraid that the client would be unhappy with the answer, or question my recommendations. But, I had to remember and soon realized, that the client hired me because they needed an expert. I am that expert. Once I realized that I started strutting my stuff, and communicating my solutions with confidence.
When you’re confident about yourself and your solutions, the client will be convinced that they chose the right partner to assist them, and they will want to continue working with you or your company long term.
It’s Okay To Not Know
Salesforce is such a large product it’s impossible to be an expert in the entire platform. There will likely be something that you don’t know, and that will require further research. That’s okay.
Communicate with confidence to the client, and if you don’t know the answer (or what is possible), say so! The client will not care that you don’t know – they appreciate that you’re honest. What they also appreciate is a quick response.
So, while you may not know, take note of the request or question, and immediately do your research and follow-up with an answer. Again, this is why clients hire experts. Even when experts don’t know the answer right away, they know how and where to find the solution quickly.
However, if you can’t answer a bulk of the questions (even generally or hypothetically) with the client, you may need to do some additional learning. The client will forgive you for not knowing some things, but they expect you to know something!
When it comes to reassuring your client and making the project a success, you cannot communicate enough. Literally. Some clients need more communication than others, so be sure to read your client and understand what works best, but don’t be afraid to send another email or schedule another call with the client on a topic.
Clients left in the dark assume that nothing is happening; that there is no progress. It doesn’t give the client the warm fuzzy feelings, and it can cause extra work because the client is the one that starts trying to over-communicate with you.
Make every effort to reach out through whatever means the client prefers. I’ve been on projects where communication was limited, and the success of the project was limited. There is a direct correlation in my experience. If you want your project to be successful, communicate regularly with your clients.
Clients are people too and sometimes; things come up. Deadlines get pushed, and people turn flakey. It’s okay.
For those type A personalities out there, this can be incredibly frustrating, and not a whole lot of fun. Take a few moments to cool yourself down, and realize that you can’t control everything! Our best approach to client success is flexibility.
Allow room in your project planning and estimations for the unplanned and flex when flexing is needed.
Just be careful that you aren’t a pushover either. Sometimes clients need you to push them and force them into a corner to get work done or to meet deadlines. Get to know your client and provide flexibility where it’s merited and be more rigid when appropriate.
Do Right by the Client
Consultants are in a unique position in that we are the product. My expertise and my time are what the client is purchasing. This means that there has to be a level of accountability when it comes to how I operate in business, the way I treat my clients, and how I deliver my solutions.
The goal of any Consultant is (or should be) to do right by the client. It means that you’re acting like a fiduciary – always looking out for the clients best interest and covers a myriad of topics. Are you cutting corners with configuration or developer work, knowing that it’s not your best? Are you following best practices? Do you point the Client to product or services that they don’t need?
When you do right by the client and act in their best interest, you’re more likely to have happy Clients who offer repeat business and act as fantastic referrals. There are many Consulting firms out there that take advantage of their clients. Be the refreshing Consultant that doesn’t treat the client like dirt.
This one is important! You need to remember that most Clients don’t know Salesforce, they probably don’t know Project Management, and they for sure don’t know what they don’t know. The Client doesn’t know your workload and schedule until you tell them. They don’t know the proper expectations for getting documentation put together unless you tell them. They don’t know a reasonable timeline until you tell them.
Expectation setting is one of the most critical soft skills you can learn as a Consultant because it helps the client to understand what to expect from you and your engagement. This is an ongoing process that requires constant communication. So for example, if a Client asks to move quickly and you don’t dig into how “quickly” is defined, you’re likely working from two different timetables. Likewise, if you tell a Client that you’ll have a deliverable over to them ASAP, you need to define that with a timeline.
If you don’t correctly set expectations on your side, and clarify the Client’s expectations, you’ll find yourself with a ton of work on an unreasonable timeline and frustrated clients.
This one hurts. It’s never fun to admit that you are wrong; that you messed up. For some of you, this is a general life muscle that you don’t often flex (but you should). As soon as fingers start getting pointed at someone else, tempers begin to stew.
Depending on the size of your firm, some projects will require you work with multiple individuals. As the Consultant, you’re the face of the engagement regardless of who else is involved. When someone on your team messes up or doesn’t deliver, you’re going to have to be the one to take the fault.
I’m not saying that you roll over and take a beating, but be upfront with the Client, and if you or your team was in the wrong, admit it and tell the client how you have fixed it and what to expect going forward. Open, transparent, and honest communication goes a long way.
Every client wants to have a killer Salesforce Org. One that’s usable and produces efficient and effective users. But, as Consultants, we don’t always have the time in our engagements to provide everything that a client is hoping for. But the solutions that we do deliver should be killer good.
While engagements are typically pretty well defined, and the work you’re doing is well thought out, sometimes going just one extra mile for a client goes a long way and a lot of times, going the extra mile isn’t much of an additional lift on your part.
Regularly, I’ll be working with a client to gather requirements, and as I’m talking to them, I have some thoughts on ways that we could design the solution. The goal is to provide that extra bit of value to the Client – value that they were not expecting or asked for. I’m not talking about configuring a whole new solution for free, but take some time to understand the client, and bake value into your solution.
When you over-deliver in all of your engagements by providing additional value to the client (which applies to every touch point with the client – not just configuration), you’ve made their investment in Salesforce and your firm that much more palatable and pleasant.
Starting a project is always fun. You’re excited to work with new people, to learn something new, and execute well. But with some clients, the projects can drag on, and on, and on, and on. What started with excitement and optimism can turn to dread and frustration.
Regardless of how the project progresses, the client should not expect a different level of effort or work ethic from you. Your job is to provide your time, talent, and expertise to the project regardless of how the project has gone. I’ve been in these shoes. You’ll likely have at least one project a year that you wish would wrap up so you can move onto the next thing.
Even if the project has gone well, it’s easy to get sloppy at the end of a project. Things get missed, promises get broken, and the client hand-off can be messy. Don’t let the light at the end of the project tunnel trip you up. Be present. Actively engage, and finish strong.