Blog February 28, 2024

9 Questions to Help you Assess the Strength of your Consultant-Client Relationship

By Stephan Lauzon

February 28th | 2 min read

Consultant-Client Relationships: Reflections from 30+ Years in the Game

As someone who has worked on both sides of the coin myself, I know firsthand the challenges that come with navigating the client-consultant relationship. From the initial interaction to the long-term partnership, every step plays a crucial role in building a strong foundation.

From my experience, there are certain key considerations that can make or break a client-consultant relationship. It starts with trust and understanding. If your client doesn’t trust you, they won’t trust your advice. And if you don’t understand your client as a person, you might struggle to effectively communicate or find solutions that effectively meet their needs. With decades of experience in supply chain consulting field, I can vouch for this tenfold.

That’s why it’s essential to ask yourself some important questions along the way. These questions can help you assess the quality of your client-consultant relationship and identify areas that might need attention. They can serve as a reality check, allowing you to take a step back and objectively evaluate the strength of your relationship.

Supply Chain Consulting: 9 Questions to Help you Assess the Strength of your Consultant-Client Relationship

1. Is communication clear and frequent between both parties?

Remember, clear communication doesn’t equate to consent. It’s vital to ensure that information is effectively exchanged and understood.

2. Do both sides demonstrate expertise and credibility in their respective roles?

The presence of knowledge and competence on both ends can make the job easier and more fruitful.

3. Does your consultant truly understand your needs and goals?

It’s crucial to proactively express your expectations clearly and ensure that your consultant has a deep understanding of them. One rule I always go by to confirm understanding is to paraphrase the need in your own words, and then be direct in asking if you have it right.

4. Is there a mutual respect for timelines and deadlines?

Timeliness is crucial in ensuring smooth project execution and delivering results within agreed-upon timeframes. A good consultant should match the level or criticality your challenges bring, whether it’s preparing for a big board meeting or pushing a project live by Spring.

5. Is there value being exchanged between both parties?

Ensure that there is a clear understanding of the expected results, and that the client sees tangible value in the consultant’s work.

6. Are both sides open to change and criticism?

Embracing best practices and challenging the status quo can lead to significant improvements. It’s important to encourage constructive feedback and be receptive to it.

7. Is there a foundation of trust in the relationship?

Trust is the cornerstone of any successful partnership, and often starts before the engagement even begins. It is won overtime, often stemming from a credible reference or mutual connection. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a business-to-business relationship – it’s ultimately a person-to-person connection that counts, and trust forms the foundation of this.

8. Is there a cultural fit between the consultant and the client?

Sometimes, personalities and working styles simply don’t align. It’s important to choose a firm and individuals who are compatible with your organization’s culture, especially in terms of aligning core business philosophies.

  • For instance, some firms are eager to embrace new technology and stay at the forefront of innovation, while others may take a more conservative approach, being hesitant to digitize. I can think of many times in my career where this has been the case, with firms looking to implement that latest technology (such as RFID technology at the time), even in areas where its practicality was questionable. This decision-making process involves justifying the use of expensive technology and navigating the in-between phase of adoption.
  • Another takeaway from this example is that it’s important to recognize that not all technologies are suitable for every organization, akin to not all cars being suitable for every driver. Biases, preconceived notions, and entrenched working philosophies can influence decisions, leading to situations where choices may not align with the organization’s best interests.

9. Finally, do you feel that your consultant is genuinely invested in your success?

A strong consultant-client relationship goes beyond a transactional approach. It requires a genuine desire to see the client thrive and achieve their goals. This means going above and beyond, such as personally visiting the client even when it’s not explicitly required, examining implementations that may not directly concern the client or scope at the time, or addressing changes unrelated to the client’s immediate scope. It also involves sharing expertise that extends beyond the confines of the project and dedicating time, even when it’s not billable.

Looking back on my career in supply chain consulting, I’ve seen how strong client-consultant relationships have not only helped me better serve my clients, but also led to lifelong friendships. These connections have given me valuable feedback and increased my value to my clients. Nurturing these relationships has been really rewarding, both personally and professionally. If you know me, you will always catch me saying how important it is to treat these relationships with care.

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