As a professional consultant, your clients are paying for you to perform a specific function or purpose for them. It may be a onetime project or an ongoing effort; either way, you are being hired and paid to provide high quality professional services.
It’s tempting sometimes, then, to really speak your mind to a client. After all, they’ve hired you to produce positive results, right? To a certain extent yes, but this does not mean you are free to say absolutely anything you want to a client. As with most things, you need to carefully craft your message and your communication in order to produce the desired results without offending or otherwise alienating the client.
With this in mind, here are the seven worst things you can say to your consulting clients:
1. Your web site is terrible. It might very well be terrible, but you should never communicate it in this way. It’s much better to offer constructive feedback such as, “I have three specific recommendations for improving the performance of your web site”.
2. I can fix all of your problems. No way. It doesn’t matter how good you are at consulting, there is no such thing as being able to fix all of your client’s problems. Making a statement like this simply sets you up for not being able to deliver on expectations.
3. You can’t afford my services. Of course you will come across some clients who truly can’t afford to pay your going rates for consulting services, but saying it this way only serves to offend them and belittle them unnecessarily. It’s much better to offer constructive alternatives, such as a limited scope project or a recommendation to another consultant whose rates and services are more in line with their needs and financial capacity.
4. Your employees are not good enough. Again, while it may be the case that an employee group doesn’t have the skills or abilities necessary to do what a client wants, putting it in these terms is almost always counter-productive. Instead, offer up constructive examples of where some skill development is in order along with some specific information about how you can help the client achieve the necessary employee development.
5. Your (web site/newsletter/employees/or the like) is fantastic. Be careful about offering this kind of expansive praise about anything, especially if it is something you’re likely to be working on as a consultant for the client. There’s nothing wrong with pointing out specific aspects that are very good, but always leave yourself a bit of “wiggle room” for offering constructive feedback later on down the road.
6. Stay away from (insert the name of a competing consultant). The only thing you accomplish by criticizing or cutting down a competitor is to make yourself look small and bitter. The more you criticize a competitor, the worse you look to the client, so don’t do it. At all. Ever. A better approach is to emphasize what you can offer the client and highlight the advantages you would bring to their project, activity, or need.
7. I can’t help you. This type of statement is like permanently burning a bridge behind you; once it’s gone, getting back across it is difficult at best. There may be plenty of reasons why you can’t help a particular client at that time, but putting it in these blunt terms will make it nearly impossible for you to ever be considered by them in the future. It’s much better to offer alternatives for the client to consider, whether it’s modification of a project, delaying the start of a project, or recommending they work with another consultant whose expertise best matches their needs.