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What clients think but don't say

If you could hear clients’ expectations about your IT consulting work, what do you think you’d learn? I imagine that you would discover information that is most helpful for you to know at the beginning of the project.

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to draw on my consulting and project management experience and share three things that I’ve found clients often think but don’t convey as we head into a consulting engagement. Once you know these may be expectations, you can ask clients about these points during the project kickoff.

1: You’re the SME, not my employees.

You might go into the project thinking that you’ll have access to subject matter experts (SMEs) within the company who can help with the project. But from the client’s perspective, none of their employees were knowledgeable enough to tackle this project (even though they have institutional knowledge) without outside assistance.

Our clients are smart enough to know when they need expert help. Focus on doing the work and rely as little as possible on client staff to assist you. This will demonstrate to the client that they hired an expert, and, hopefully, it will increase your billable work.

2: You will do all of the work on the project.

Most customers want a more hands-off role than you probably expect. Clients often prefer for their role (which includes the role of their employees) to be cursory — they’ll provide necessary information, possibly help test, approve the final solution, and that’s it. They hired you to do the work, and they don’t necessarily want to be considered part of the team. This goes for their employees too. For instance, before you start assigning to-do items to several of their employees, you should check with the client to make sure they approve of their staff working on the project.

3: Your primary contact is busy with work other than this project.

Your primary contact’s boss (unless your contact is the CEO) is likely expecting at least 8-10 hours of work per week from them on tasks not related to your project. It’s critical that you keep that in mind when you feel frustrated at your inability to get much time or cooperation from them. This may mean reduced billable hours for you, or it may mean more unproductive billable hours, depending on the way your contract is set up. The bottom line is, you should be thoughtful in your demands on your client contact’s time — they will thank you for it.

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