Are You a Consultant or a Vendor?

Put another way, do you give your clients what they ask for, or, do you offer your best judgment even when it’s not what they want to hear?

Now before you dismiss this as a question meant for someone else, let me say this: No number of design awards, glowing articles, or Fortune 100 clients grants you exemption from this question.

Design consultancies lead a precarious life. They rely on the good graces of their clients. Of course, a big part of doing business is nurturing relationships, but just because you have a relationship with a client doesn’t mean it’s a healthy one. An upset middle managers at one Client Company or another can ruin a quarter for a design firm - big or small.

When people ask questions, they often have an idea of what they want to hear in response. The desired answer is telegraphed along with the question - the business equivalent of fishing for a compliment.

It’s a whole lot easier to acquiesce than to go out on a limb. But remember, you told that client that you could do great things for their products, brand and bottom line. You said, "Sign here and 'Poof' you get a whole team, a whole studio full of change agents. What a bargain!"

The problem is that good ideas, even great ones, are not always welcome. They are inconvenient. They may step on toes. They may require new methods in manufacturing, marketing, or sales. They may force changes in a business model that you already know works. They may do none of the above, but demand that things taken for granted be reconsidered.

It may be better to hold your tongue, put your judgment (about the project anyway) on hold and give them what they asked for. Who would blame you?

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  • Dan Coe

    Great post and thought provoking.

    We go by the mantra, "the best idea wins but not ever time". We always present what we feel is in out clients' best interest and back it up with sound rationale. Sometimes thats not enough but the most positive path is to move forward and make the best of it - without losing your sense of optimism and belief that the process works.

    Clients don't always want to be challenged. As consultants, we always have to stay hungry and push.

    We've had clients come back, up to a year later, to kick of initiatives fueled by ideas that were just too challenging when they were pitched.

    At the end of the day, great ideas (usually) win and cut through all the mess.