Ask any business development consultant and they will tell you that ‘excellence comes as standard’ when discussing the benefits of engaging with them rather than anyone else. We all passionately seek to offer the very best, however, sometimes we may not be perceived by our client as being an expert in a particular area. That said, our relationship is strong enough for the client to ask our advice.
I was recently asked the question ‘do you happen to know someone who could…?’ I was very aware of the issues facing my client, as I have been working closely with them for some months. This inside knowledge was useful when briefing potential providers. The real challenge was to clarify the need and then identify potential providers who are experts in the area in question. These potential providers will also help to close the deal by showing their expertise when we meet with the client and recognise the opportunity I am offering. The client will see me as a trusted adviser and appreciate my help in addressing an immediate need.
Here are some tips that I found helpful.
1. Create a clear specification with outputs and outcomes that are agreed with the client
This requires probing and clarity. This freedom helps us explore what is really going on and may result in a different conclusion. Sometimes the client is too close to the issue or problem and my contribution was to objectively identify a way forward. In this instance there was an HR consultant in place, however, they were not delivering despite being a helpful individual. In reality, the goalposts had moved and the requirement had changed through no fault of the consultant. The client recognised that they did not fit the new requirement. For me, this is where knowing about your recent projects and experiences is vital as this will bring you to mind more quickly!
2. Have an initial conversation with the potential provider(s) using this specification
Getting providers to play back what they believe the requirements to be will help you decide if they are the best fit for your client and whether you should introduce them. In effect, you are the ‘honest broker’ and your priority is your client. For me, this was vital and helped confirm that the person I had identified would be highly suitable. This is about our mutual credibility after all.
3. Set up an initial meeting between the client and potential provider
For most projects, a face-to-face meeting works best. You can observe the chemistry as well as guide the conversation correctly. At the same time, the person you are introducing should be an advocate for you. It is so much more powerful if I am championing YOU, and vice versa. During our 1:1 we should both make clear the ONE THING that makes each of us the best candidate for our respective client.
4. After the meeting, get some immediate feedback from both parties
As you will not be involved in the delivery, you are ideally placed to ensure that the specification remains accurate and that the potential provider(s) will provide what is required in the most cost-effective way. For me, this was the slightly frustrating part and yet this is quite common: client recognises the suitability yet defers the decision for a few months! Sound familiar? It is also important to ensure that if the client has modified their requirements (in their mind at least) these are articulated now rather than later. One way we can help each other to speed up this process is to find out from the client what they did find of greatest value (if anything!) and what this would be worth to them. Apart from providing an insight into their thinking, it might also help them work out what they need to do next.
5. Facilitate the decision-making
It is ultimately the client’s decision as to who they engage. As the ‘honest broker’ you have guided them to cover the original specification and only offered providers that you are confident will deliver. The latter is important for your professional reputation. My approach here was to let the client mull things over and in time the decision was taken.
Being an Honest Broker helps to cement the relationship with your client. Your loyalty is with them and by linking your success with theirs this bond is further strengthened. At the same time, it also enhances the relationship with the external provider you have introduced and creates a sense of reciprocity going forward. This is not about a referral; this is about collaboration to create a long term relationship between you, your client and the expert.
Hilda Stearn Chartered Fellow CIPD
Hilda heads up the AppliedHR team at Ministry for Growth. This award-winning consultant works with a diverse range of organisations across the public, private and Third sectors bringing innovation and creativity to her work. She is a passionate advocate of collaboration as an effective tool blending HR and business to create a winning combination.
For an informal conversation call Hilda on 01494 565206 or 07808 229476 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.