21 Oct Knowing your audience and other keys to project success
by Shannon Grzyb
As a consultant, your greatest skill is your ability to communicate well—regardless if you’re an IT, management, or financial consultant. Your job depends on your power to understand and convey information adequately and clearly. Consider the three principles below when communicating with individuals participating in your projects and tailor your style of speaking or writing to reflect their needs. I believe these three principles can significantly improve client interactions and help ensure successful project outcomes.
Know your customer’s role
You’ll first need to understand your audience and the various roles that are being played by those engaged in the project to communicate most clearly. Often, you’ll come in contact with different stakeholders who are affected by your project in varying ways. It can be helpful to categorize the roles of your stakeholders at the beginning of engagement so that you can identify their communication needs. For instance, the communication needs are likely wildly different between the CEO of a company and the architect that you’re working with on a day-to-day basis. Many consultants use the Power and Interest Grid to identify and manage their communications. This grid will help you decide the communication types each role will receive.
Recognize that some roles may need only high-level updates. These players have a lot of power, but little interest in day-to-day activities. These are the people who likely want a high-level summary to ensure things are still going as planned. Other stakeholders will be highly interested in the project on a daily basis. This group may request detailed reports, solution designs, etc., which is likely the group you’ll communicate with most often.
There are two other groups to consider: those who are not as involved but are very interested and those who aren’t involved and aren’t interested. These two groups require the least amount of effort. For those who are interested, but on the sideline, you can use one-way communication such as group e-mail updates to keep them informed of the project’s status. As for those uninterested, keep an eye on them in case their interest level shifts.
Understand communication styles
Another key piece in communicating effectively with clients is to know what kind of communication style the group(s) or division(s) prefers. Some company cultures are all about meetings, some prefer simple e-mail, while others consume information via a slide deck. Recognizing the importance of two-way versus one-way communication is important here. Simple updates are best sent via e-mail, but an in-person meeting or webinar is better if you expect to have a discussion or lots of questions and it’s best to host these meetings on their platform of choice. Present your information in a way that’s easily and readily digested.
It’s also crucial to learn an organization’s “language” and use it to sell your ideas and solutions. For instance, the high-level term for a configured item is the “bundle” in Salesforce CPQ. However, this “bundle” can be a representation of almost anything (i.e., truck, pizza, product, etc.) and should be identified as such for the customer. Put simply, speak their language and use terminology they’re familiar with. In the consulting world, this can be a challenge because you’re likely to end up with clients in many different sectors. One CPQ tool may work for many different companies, but they’ll each have different words for the same idea.
Effective communication at all levels
When speaking with your stakeholders, it’s important to recognize the level and technicality of their knowledge about the engagement. A great consultant can speak to the business partners as efficiently as the IT guy who’s been there for 18 years. They likely have different levels and types of knowledge. In other words, you’ll want to speak more technically with the IT guy who’ll maintain your product and communicate at a business process level to the people who will use your product. This is perhaps the toughest aspect to implement as consultants since we tend to either play a technical role or a business role at the bloom of our careers. Your golden ticket is being able to take the business processes of your customer, break them down into a technical solution, and then convey that to the person or group that will maintain your solution when you end the engagement.
Effective consulting is tough, but it can be easier with clear communication amongst all parties engaged in a project. It’s clear communication that helps breed trust, which is the most essential ingredient in effective communication and the glue of life, according to management expert Stephen Covey. Know who the players are and their communications styles and be proficient in multiple “languages.” It’s then that we start being seen as a trusted advisor to our customers versus just simply a consultant.
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Shannon is a Solution Architect at Simplus and a driven IT professional with a strong background in mathematics and customer service. Experienced with Java, C(++), BML, XML, Shannon is a certified implementation specialist, experienced in configuration, commerce, and document engine.