Building credibility with Clients in Professional Services

Jessica SasportasFrom left to right: Jodie Frenkiel at the 20th Annual Business & Professionals Cocktail with event speakers Jonathan Goodman of Knight Therapeutics & Morris Goodman of Pharmascience.

By Jodie Frenkiel, Vice President of the Jewish Chamber of Commerce

Over the past 14 years as a management consultant with The Boston Consulting Group I have had many opportunities to interact with senior clients in an advisory capacity. One challenge I often face is building credibility with clients who have decades more experience in their company and industry. Over the years, I have experimented with different approaches to earning my client’s respect early-on in a relationship.  Below are some learnings that may be helpful to those in professional services:

1. Emphasize breadth of experiences over depth in your client’s sector/business

You’ve likely seen a wider variety of business issues across industries than your client. Share learnings from other companies/industries that could be applicable to your client. This can help your clients view their businesses in a new light and “think outside the box”. For example, I helped a pharmaceutical client develop an innovative key account management selling approach which was inspired by my experience working with consumer products clients. This new pharmaceutical go-to-market approach was then used to inspire a new selling model at a group insurance company.

2. Over-invest in developing insight and impact early in the relationship

A benefit of not being too deep in a company is not being blinded by the status quo. As such, management consultants often look at company data in a new way to uncover insights about the business.  Overinvest in the early weeks of an engagement to dissect the company (quantitatively or qualitatively) to show the management team something they didn’t realize could drive value.  For example, benchmarking the product portfolio of a dairy company revealed that their creamers had more cream per unit than the competition for the same price. By reducing the amount of cream in the container they were able to quickly grow profits without compromising volumes.

3. Develop a relationship beyond the transaction or mandate

Climbing up the management ranks in a large corporation can often feel lonely, especially for a CEO or Senior Executive. By listening to your clients’ challenges, goals and frustrations, and being a friend, you can often build bonds beyond the mandate at hand. Ask your clients about their career goals, what keeps them up at night and what they enjoy doing outside of work.  I first came to realize the power of a relationship when leading a reorganization of a pharmaceutical company. The President of the business was new to Canada and had a lot on his mind. I offered up my ear and incorporated his goals and concerns into the reorganization I was leading. My relationship with the President also helped me earn the respect of his management team, despite being 20 years younger and less experienced.