By Justin Yanta
Most technical consultants start as developers, which can be a pretty isolated working environment. Dedicated to writing code that accomplishes project specifications and meeting deadlines, developers have a laser-like focus on quality and on-time delivery, but rarely do they interact directly with the client. Here are six secrets that will help you make a successful transition from developer to superior technical consultant.
- Appearance counts. First, you want to positively represent your company, and second, you want the client to respect you and listen to you. Dress the part. The t-shirt and tennis shoes that were standard when you cranked out code are no longer acceptable as a consultant. Observe the client’s office culture and reflect it. If their guidelines are business casual, dress in business casual. However, if they tend toward ultra casual, represent yourself as a professional and wear nice jeans and a polo or short-sleeve button-down.
- Ask questions. Questions can open up new avenues to get more information and a better picture of the environment. The client is coming to you for guidance. Don’t just take their word for things. Dig deeper. Often, developers-turned-consultants don’t ask questions even if they have questions. Yet sometimes what may seem obvious to you is something the client has never thought of. Get comfortable asking questions, even if you doubt yourself. Asking questions also lets the client know that you are trying to understand their challenges, which will endear you to them and gain their trust.
- Listen. In order to help, you need to know what the problem is. Most of the time the client will have a perceived issue and may even have a solution in mind. However, I have experienced many situations where, in truth, there was a deeper issue that was their main pain point, and that changed the solution entirely. Your job is to listen to the client and work with them to create not just a working solution, but the best solution to meet their needs.
- Be resourceful. When you go to the client site they may not have a space for you or even a login to access your accounts. You need to show them you can work around issues and be productive without needing hand-holding. After all, they’re paying for you to provide a solution, not present them with additional tasks. If you see some space, ask if you can use it. If you see equipment, ask if you can borrow it. I have built an entire docking station with multiple monitors using equipment that’s just lying around.
- Draw them a picture. I have worked with many clients and very few of them have a “view” of what actually goes on in their system. Get Visio (it comes with a subscription to Office 365) or some other diagramming program—there is even freeware available—and draw them a picture. Not only does it help confirm that what you are hearing is what they intended, it also allows them to see the full picture of their environment and make changes to it. Many times, an important detail is forgotten because it is an outlier but when the client has a picture they can clearly see what is missing. Drawing a picture will not only help you evaluate the project and solution but also provide the client with a valuable diagram of their system that they can refer to and reuse.
- Use your network. Sometimes you might not have all the answers you need. Remember, as part of a consultancy, you have an entire network of brilliant individuals with a broad spectrum of skills at your disposal. You also have a lot of knowledgeable peers who you exchanged ideas with in your developer days. The truth is, people like to share their expertise and help others be successful. Use your network to help you deliver client success.