Five Ways to Leave Clients Dancing in the Streets

All of us serve clients. They may be an external business group or a consulting client that our firm depends upon to keep the lights on. Either way, satisfying clients is a major part of our job.

 Research by a leading training organization showed that clients would not necessarily give their repeat business to firms they are satisfied with. They will only automatically contract with organizations that leave them “dancing in the streets.”

Let that phrase sink in. If you expect to be able to show your face in your clients’ offices again, that is how you have to leave them feeling.

1. Never Forget that you are Working With People.
You may think you are working with the FCA Company, but not really. You are working with Tina, Jim, and Joan. People who have hopes, wishes, and dreams. People who have families, and good days and bad days. Sure, they expect to get what they contracted for out of this project, but they also expect to get something else. Maybe it is a promotion, recognition, or a new set of skills.

No matter who you are working with on a project—it may even be the janitor—there is one thing you need to remember: They are employees of your client’s organization and you are not. You can never afford to forget that. I don’t care how important you think you are. I don’t care if you have a doctorate, 20 years of experience, and can weave a magic carpet with your toes. Clients are much closer to their own staff than they are to you. It is also far easier to eliminate you than to fire them. Unless you never intend to work in this town again, you need to treat every client employee like gold. And of course, no griping, complaining, gossiping, or speaking ill of people you are working with. It is unprofessional and will always come back to bite you.

2. Set Reasonable Expectations.

Peter Block in his book FlawlessConsulting,(1981), talks about the importance of being up front with your clients about what they can expect of you and what you can expect from them. He also discusses a consultant’s natural inclination to avoid talking about his or her expectations and needs for fear that it may blow the project.

Yes, there are clients who would like consultants to be able to complete projects without any involvement on their part. There may be some clients who expect consultants to know nothing, and rely on them to direct even the smallest of activities. However, the truth lies in the middle. Completing a successful project typically involves a collaborative effort. Good clients already know this. It is no secret. Getting this out up front is a good way of planning for success instead of avoiding failure.

3. Be Flexible. 

Stuff happens! Stuff that you and the client could not have foreseen. The consultants of those clients who are “dancing in the streets” know that a good relationship requires flexibility. 

4. Give Just a Little Bit More. 

Getting the job done is no longer enough. For clients to be “dancing in the streets delighted,” you have to give them a little bit more—and I cannot tell you what that is. It could be being flexible about their need to slip the schedule for a couple of weeks or it could be revising that module after it was set in concrete. Folks these days expect a little bit more, and they will get it from you or someone else.

5. Do a Darn Good Job. 

I don’t care how smooth you are. I don’t care if butter melts when you walk in the room. To retain clients and be invited to do other projects with them, you have to do a good job. Whenever you can, quantify the success of your project by its return on investment. The bottom line is that cream rises, garbage does not.

Block, Peter. Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used. San Diego; Pfeiffer & Company, 1981.

This is an except from “Consulting Basics”, published by ASTD Press, and available from ASTD,, and other fine booksellers.