Consultants are from Mars, Clients are from Venus (part 2): Recapping the PSMJ AEC Summit

Posted by Kyle Ridley on December 28, 2015

Agency Meeting

Earlier this month, Deltek recapped a PSMJ Resources Summit session titled “Consultants are from Mars, Clients are from Venus – Why Your Public-Sector Clients Act the Way They Do,” presented by PSMJ’s Michael Ellegood. Part one of the recap offered insight into the public sector business model as well as potential business opportunities for architecture, engineering and construction consultants. Now, we cover key qualities of trusted consultants and how firms can better understand client needs.

In his presentation, Ellegood stressed the importance of understanding the differing public sector attitudes toward consultants, including:

  • Skeptic: Does not trust consultants and thinks they are all alike.
  • Naïve: Trusts a consultant too much and thinks their work must be perfect.
  • Competitor: Thinks they could do the job better, but has to hire a consultant due to strapped resources. Views consultant as a necessary evil.
  • Partner: Considers a consultant part of the staff and embraces working as a team.

Ellegood also said to beware of clients who insist on reducing design budgets as they are the most influential aspect of a project. Understanding these attitudes will help you identify strong business partners as well as red flags in companies that may not be a good fit.

Further, Ellegood discussed the hierarchy of consultants, qualities of top-notch performers, and how to avoid pitfalls of failing firms. He categorized consultants into three levels: trusted advisor, one of the many, and avoid at all cost. Consultants should always strive to be in the trusted top tier and identify potential hindrances in themselves as well as teammates.

Trusted advisors are solid performers who stand behind their work. They deliver on time, are readily available for their client, and have strong communication skills.

One of the many consultants does satisfactory work, but usually just the minimal to get by. They tend to have limited vision of projects and focus only on business aspects rather than the grand picture. They also have poor communication skills and are not as present with clients.

Avoid at all cost consultants are irresponsible project managers who do not admit mistakes; instead, they blame their client for not reviewing their work. They also tend to focus solely on money and communicate only via invoices. Qualities of poor consultants also include suing the agency, going political, giving inappropriate gifts and top loading cost proposals.

Lastly, Ellegood advised consultants to get to know their clients to ensure a successful partnership. Rather than go blindly into an agreement, consultants should do their research to better understand how a project initiated, how it fits within an agency’s strategic plan, and a client’s overall goals. It is also essential to determine your client’s main decision-makers, how you can ease any burdens they may have, and what they expect from you throughout the project.

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