8 Traits of a Great Consultant

Most consultants are eager to turn their short-term contracts into long-term advising relationships. After all, they’ll gain trust from clients, longer contracts, and, most importantly, bigger paychecks.

Achieving this is by no means a cakewalk.

Let’s use my consultant friend—we’ll call him “Bill”—as an example. Bill was brought in to help a client negotiate a contract. His compensation was based on the savings he earned for the client through those very negotiations — not an uncommon practice in the financial technology world.

While other firms told this company it was being overcharged and offered deep discounts with competitive vendors, Bill offered opposite advice: “You’re happy with the vendor; stay with it,” he said. “Just let your vendor know the discounts you need in order to maintain the relationship. There’s no need to switch vendors to get great discounts.”

After following Bill’s advice, the company ended up earning the savings it needed without having to renegotiate with new, unknown vendors. Recognizing the neutrality Bill brought to the table, the company put him on retainer. Today, he continues to advise the business.

Bill’s work and creative thinking helped establish a reputation that built his career for years to come. So how can a real-world consultant like you follow in his footsteps?

The answer lies in eight distinct traits:

1. Flexibility: Rarely, if ever, will you be faced with the same scenario twice, even if you’re consulting exclusively within one industry. Learn to adapt to a wide variety of organizational cultures, workplace dynamics, and business relationships — not to mention respective missions, visions, and values. On day one, it’s essential to assess the problem, assimilate into the workforce, and do the job, no matter how unusual it is.

2. Discipline: Working hard is just as important as working smart. It takes a great deal of discipline to deliver the best results in the shortest amount of time. This means relying on your problem-solving skills to identify any obstacles in your client’s path, then providing the necessary insights to help overcome them.

3. Confidence: Consulting isn’t for the faint of heart. You need to feel secure in your skills and expertise when walking through a new client’s doors. Further, you need the confidence to acknowledge when you can’t handle a problem presented to you. The company’s objective rests on your shoulders; taking on something outside your expertise could be damaging to the client and to your reputation.

4. Tenacity: A can-do attitude is essential in this career. As a consultant, you need to accept frictions, unforeseen circumstances, and mixed feedback — then learn from them before moving on. With every setback, have the tenacity to persevere so old mistakes don’t haunt you when facing future clients.

5. Studiousness: Learning needs to drive you. Strive to stay informed about recent events, developments, and technological advancements in your field. It’s your job to bring the latest knowledge and skills to your client’s situation. If you don’t know an answer right away, have the resources available to find it.

6. Adaptability: Learn to become the MacGyver of consulting: Solve any problem by rifling through the intellectual tools you’ve sharpened over the years. Always remember that yesterday’s projects hold a bevy of solutions to today’s challenges.

7. Insightfulness: You should be able to see the big picture without ever losing sight of the details. Applying these two viewpoints at once helps bring fresh perspectives to situations. As such, you should offer surprising insights that not only solve a client’s problems, but also improve a client’s business.

8. Receptivity: Great consultants listen first and speak second. When you allow yourself to truly listen to clients, you can find the best solutions to their hardships while building long-term trust.

Not everyone is born with all eight traits. Like any skill, however, the traits can be developed with time and effort. With practice, you’ll position yourself as a master consultant — just like Bill — and establish lifelong relationships with not only your current clients, but also those awaiting your expertise.

Sona Jepsen is the Vice President of Consultant Relations at Fidelity National Information Services (FIS). Her department drives solutions for sales teams in consultant-led opportunities.


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