Not all client experiences are the same. Some are exceptional and make you feel (almost) superhuman. Some are so disgusting that they make you want to quit and do just about anything else you can imagine. Neither experience is a completely accurate reflection of reality.

A mentor once told me, “It is never as good as it seems nor is it as bad as it seems.” I believe this to be true.

I’ll never forget what he said. I believe it to be true.

I’m sure he wasn’t the first person to say that. But I’ll never forget it. I remind myself of his advice often and have even passed it on to a few others along the way.

As I reflect over what makes a great client experience, I can’t help but think about the things that I expect from clients. It sounds strange to project such a level of responsibility on someone who has contracted with me to get a particular job done, but these are realities, based on my experience, that will either accelerate or inhibit a great consulting experience.

If I could find these qualities in every client engagement, I would be a happy man (and surely living in a dream world). That being said, I’ll settle for a finding a majority of these in any given business relationships.

1. I expect access to you.

I can’t help you if I can’t get in touch with you. There is a reason you have layers of protection and professionals around you. I respect that. But you’ve hired me to help you get past a roadblock. I can’t do that through an intermediary.

2. I expect direct communication.

Don’t worry about hurting my feelings. The goal is to achieve a previously established outcome. We won’t get there without direct and honest communication. I’m a big boy and can handle difficult and awkward conversations.

3. I expect a timely response.

You’ve hired me to help you accelerate your work without inhibiting your workflow. The best way for me to be able to do that is for you to respond to me in a timely manner. I will do that same. When you don’t, you risk turning a molehill into a mountain based on external realities such as sales cycles, publishing schedules, etc.

4. I expect “push and pull.”

All of my ideas are not good ones. In fact, some of them are terrible. The same is true for you. The magic happens when there is a balance between our efforts.

5. I expect all parties involved to be openly identified.

Nothing is more frustrating that working through a client relationship where unidentified parties are involved. It’s an easy thing to spot. When new ideas are injected into a conversation or project that don’t fit the paradigm, context, or assumptions of a project, it is a good sign that someone else is involved and has yet to be identified.

I’ve fired clients over this. It is, in my humble opinion, the greatest form of disrespect, and borders on being an “unforgivable sin” in my book.

If you hire me, trust me. If you can’t do that, then don’t hire me.

6. I expect you to not like me at least once during our engagement.

I can promise you this: I am going to do everything in my power to ensure you don’t miss your target or deadlines on my watch. There may be some external realities that neither of us can control, but that will be abundantly clear to everyone involved.

In order to do that, I must ensure the project is moving forward as planned and all milestones are met. Accountability is part of the consulting package. Sometimes that means I will have to push you along, and that might irritate you.

I’m going to take you places that are new to you. This is why you hired me. New things are uncomfortable and can create anxiety. You may be a leader, but you’re still human.

Nevertheless, I’m not graded on the “moment of experience.” Rather, I’m graded on the total outcome that results from our engagement. My reputation hangs on the results I get for you. There is a good chance you won’t like me very much at least once during our work together.

However, when we reach the goal, you’re going to like me a whole lot. I can endure the bumps along the way because I know what crossing the finish line feels like.

7. I expect breakthroughs, not perfection.

Yes, I’m a perfectionist. That “gene” is what makes me great at managing the details of any complex project. But the real breakthrough comes in the ideas that are translated into a systematic action plan that an be measured and managed.

The execution of every idea will not be perfect, but perfection without breakthrough thinking is simply busy work.

A consultant is a catalyst. A specialist is a perfectionist. Know the difference and know which person to hold accountable for what.

Consultants are necessary evils.

The truth is consultants are necessary evils. I am one, and I’m OK with that. No one gets hired to write contracts for consultants. Leaders are hired to achieve a certain outcome for an organization or cause. Consultant help leaders achieve those outcomes when necessary.

If I can connect the dots between the why and the what of any given project and help you translate those two things into something external and measurable, then I’ve played the part I was designed to play. When applied in the appropriate context, a consulting engagement can be very profitable for everyone involved.

We are in pursuit of the same thing—actionable ideas that get results.

I suppose it could be said that consultants and their clients are ultimately designed to do the same thing … live in pursuit of actionable ideas that get results. It’s a smarter way to do business, and a faster, more efficient way to achieve something positive, memorable, and maybe even … if we’re lucky … remarkable.

I’m curious: What do you think makes a great client engagement?

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