10 ways to become a business consultant

10 ways to become a business consultant

Why it's vital to build better relationships with your internal customers

Do your internal customers view you as a long-term partner? It’s an important question because your ability to gain their trust, and build rapport with people may decide your success as an IT professional.

Think about it for a moment: if you have a major decision to make in your life –personal or professional – what are the characteristics that you would like to see in the person you engage with for advice?

Of course, you want them to have the expertise required, but don’t you also need someone who takes the time to understand your wishes, concerns, goals, and desired outcomes?

This is what a true consultant does; they employ the skills necessary to build trusted partnerships.

In fact, everyone in the IT organisation from the CIO down to entry-level staff can expand their level of influence by being a consultant, someone who has no direct authority or power over the people he or she works with but who instead uses influence to guide their decisions and actions.

People want to see consultants who are enthusiastic, accessible, responsive, and have confidence in their own abilities without being arrogant. Consultants also need to have knowledge of their customer’s business and a willingness to learn more.

When looking at these characteristics how would you score yourself and your team? If I asked your customers, how would they score you and your team? Would the scores match?

A business exec at one of my organisation’s major clients announced to a new group of employees: “I get really nervous when someone from IT comes in and says, ‘I have a great idea’ because I get the feeling they’re probably excited about some new technology advancement.

“But when they come in and say they have an idea on how we can accomplish some business goal or objective, I’m all ears. I need people who are committed to helping me drive the business goals, not the latest and greatest technology.”

So how do you develop these characteristics? Here’s my top ten tips for evolving into the role of a consultant.

10. Stop making assumptions

Consultants take the time to truly listen, without jumping to conclusions. Pay attention to what the client has to say before you assume you know what is going on. Ensure the client feels heard and understood.

9. If you call a meeting, make it a good one

Have a clear communicated purpose, agenda and intention. Unproductive meetings are motivation and morale killers.

8. Bring enthusiasm

Don’t wait for others to be enthusiastic; you bring the enthusiasm and it will become contagious.

7. Ask good questions

Ask questions to uncover the issue; don’t rush in with a fix too soon.

6. Be diplomatic

Learn to be respectful even if you disagree. No one likes to be made to feel wrong.

5. Target your message to your audience

Speak to their level of expertise and in their language. Avoid appearing arrogant and condescending.

4. Talk about what you can do

People want assistance in solving problems; they don’t want reasons, justifications or excuses. Focus on finding solutions to problems and stop talking about what you can’t do. This is a sure-fire way to close down a conversation.

3. Build trust

When they're making technology decisions, your customers need to work with someone they trust – a partner who will help them reach their desired outcomes. It takes time to build and can be lost in a moment. If trust breaks down, don’t ignore it. Ask the client what they need to rebuild it.

2. Educate

Lead through teaching. Educate your clients to be better consumers. The more you teach them, the more their confidence in you will increase.

1. Get in their world first

Avoid taking the position of “being right”; understand their perspective first.

Like a good financial planner, doctor or contractor, the IT professional needs to become that kind of partner – someone with the required expertise and also the ability to apply it in a way that makes them an invaluable asset to the business.

IT is such a large part of what makes modern organisations tick, so you really have no other choice but to develop the business acumen and human interaction skills that will make you a trusted partner.

Lou Markstrom is the co-author of “Unleashing The Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together”, published by Wiley as part of its CIO series. He is also a professional development specialist at DDLS.

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