Tough Talks Made Easy: Consultants and Clients: What to Say and How to Listen
A strong relationship with a consultancy can help MOPs teams to optimize day-to-day processes and tasks, address issues that have built up over the years, and unearth opportunities to improve the strategic contributions that MOPs makes to the business. For consultants and clients to enjoy a successful working dynamic, however, both sides must empathize with the needs of the other and be considerate and transparent around scope and project expectations.
If your MOPs team is beginning to work with consultants to deliver projects, or you’re a consultant in the MOPs space looking to build successful client relationships, this Tough Talks Made Easy will help you to communicate your needs within the partnership and better understand those on the other side. Whether you’re in a MOPs team or consulting in the industry, we’ll discuss mutually effective methods of managing processes, projects, and expectations that you can bring to light and strengthen the relationship.
When MOPs teams and consultants begin to collaborate, there’s a groove to find between the established ways of doing things internally and new recommendations that consultancies bring to the table. At this early stage, reciprocity and active listening are perhaps the most important qualities to get the relationship off to a strong start.
Before your MOPs team approaches an agency or consultancy, know they need to do so with a certain disposition; clear goals for the relationship, ready to communicate with the consultancy, and an openness to take external expertise on board, even if that creates changes to your rhythm of work. Consultants first look to understand exactly where your business is at and what you want to achieve, so they can suggest ideas to help you get there.
If you’re consulting with a MOPs team, responsiveness is equally essential. Spotting early opportunities to optimize your client’s workflows and tech stack can quickly prove value and create rapport, but your vision should respect your client’s priorities. Your recommendations and suggestions need buy-in from the decision-makers and day-to-day contacts in the team—and you’re most likely to get that if you show awareness of what your client needs and how they’ll be impacted by deeper changes.
Whether you’re on the client or consultant side, approach these early discussions with a receptive attitude. Take on board the rationale your consultant has for certain changes or what motivates your client’s organizational choices and methods—regardless of how early decisions go, if the other party feels understood and appreciated, you’re creating a solid basis of trust.
Expectations vs. reality
As your projects continue, transparency and open lines of communication are like oxygen to the relationship. Whether you’re client-side or consulting, encourage systems of working that put you on the same page. Suggest task management software (be it a dedicated tool or a spreadsheet) to assign tasks and monitor progress, and establish weekly status calls to discuss the status of day-to-day projects, longer-term plans, and any issues or roadblocks impeding progress.
If you’re in a MOPs team, these sessions give you a window of opportunity to proactively surface everything you need from a consultant and communicate clearly around expected deliverables and timelines. As a consultant, these mechanisms also help you to keep on top of requirements and requests. What both parties should know: without a regular channel of communication to decisively set the course, the train can go off the track.
If your MOPs team lacks experience working with consultancies, they might not understand that consultants have many different deliverables, clients, and other relationships to manage. What might seem like a fair request in-house can be unviable for consultants to fulfil. For that reason, encourage your team to consider the demands your partners are under and prepare to be flexible. Some urgent turnarounds just aren’t possible for your consultant; others can be done but require adapting project scope.
For consultants, a common pitfall is to view the content of a project in isolation and underestimate the amount of time it’ll take to complete. To avoid building up client expectations beyond what’s realistic, socialize the reality of how you work in a team environment. Vacations, competing projects (that email campaign you need to get out the door…), multiple rounds of reviews in testing, gathering consensus from multiple stakeholders in the discovery phase—these are all factors that contribute to projects taking longer to complete than initially thought. As a consultant, you want to reflect on all these dependencies and share them proactively with clients when setting a turnaround date.
The consultant-client relationship is one of mutual participation. From both parties, it requires an openness and respect towards the other’s expertise, needs, and demands. Transparent communication around timelines and deliverables, and an enthusiastic approach towards your shared purpose, is the backbone of a rewarding relationship that gets results.