How to manage client expectations as a consultant

Managing clients’ expectations for consultants

According to a recent survey looking at priorities facing product marketing leaders within global B2B technology enterprises:

  • 46% say that hiring product marketing talent can take four to six months or more 
  • Nearly 90% will use external expertise to execute their product marketing initiatives

If you are looking for guidance on how to maximize returns on your consulting investments, please check out Top 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Consultants.

But what about guidance for the consultants out there, helping to “manage” client expectations, drive value quickly, and ensure your client is getting the biggest bang for their buck? Having worked as an Aventi Consultant for over a year now, and consulted for numerous startups and F100 companies for over a decade, I’ve summarized key learnings that will help you succeed and get the most out of your work together, despite high expectations and workloads that often exceed contracted hours or project scope.

1. Communication 

Ensure clear and open communication to understand their needs and expectations. Discuss what methods of exchange work best: one-on-one meetings, email, Slack, Asana, Kanban, etc.

2. Set boundaries

Set realistic expectations and boundaries for what you can and can’t do for them. We are not superhuman.

3. Prioritization

Hyper-prioritization is your friend. I have found that, when overwhelmed with deliverables ––which is often the case, due to competing priorities––listen to what your hiring manager brings up in meetings frequently. This is what he or she cares about the most, not something they asked you for once then never brought up again. 

Also, consider that some items are more important than others. Do you have a big launch upcoming with hard deadlines (i.e. press release, pitch deck, sales & partner enablement, etc.)? Everything else is a lower priority. While all the items on your plate may seem important, if everything is important, nothing is important. Missing a tier 1 GA (general availability) launch is unacceptable. Not delivering a few slides on a marketing plan or a two-page datasheet update is less of a priority. 

To succeed, prioritize your hiring manager’s requests and provide regular updates to keep them informed.

gray mountain on blue background with route to the top mapped out in red for managing client expectations

4. Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG)

Prioritize quick, visible, and impactful wins, especially when you’re in a new engagement (although I think this is always a good strategy). Do not fear attaching yourself to complex, cross-functional projects––great visibility!

The First 90 Days: Proven Strategies for Getting Up to Speed Faster and Smarter 

5. Accountability and results

Own the projects you are driving and define clear and concise KPIs ahead of time, with a real-time progress dashboard that key stakeholders can review.

6. Assertiveness

Pushing back, saying no, and having a strong point of view are welcomed more than you think. But it is important to back up your POV with data so you can make a persuasive case for prioritizing something you believe is a higher priority and more impactful to the client. Basically, make clear what you are saying “yes” to and why that’s a higher ROI of your time.

7. Act independently

Your hiring manager will likely be super busy, so you need to be able to act and make decisions on your own, even going as far as to direct internal teams on what to do. Consultants are oftentimes more seasoned than the internal PMM teams, with more knowledge and street smarts. 

For the big bucks a client is paying, consultants are more than executioners. You need to bring your strategic game and help guide internal teams on the best course of action. Act as an expert consultant laser-focused on deliverables. I have found the best consultants blend in with the culture and internal teams, oftentimes not being treated any differently.

8. Build cross-functional relationships

I cannot overemphasize how important this is for success––with your product manager, campaign manager, and sales leaders. Do people know what you are working on and how you are driving impact to the organization?

9. Problem solving

Offer solutions to their problems and actively listen to their concerns.

10. Data is your friend

Being able to synthesize data across the org to inform your decisions on the best path forward. Be data driven! AB test hypothesis. Back up your opinions with data. 

11. Situational awareness

I used to work for a former Navy Seal officer who would say, “Nothing is more important than situational awareness.” When you are dropped into a warzone, no matter how good a detailed plan you have going in, things often change when you are on the ground. You need to quickly re-assess and adjust your plan or you will not make it home. 

Net-net: see the forest through the trees. It is critical to discern an overall pattern from the mass of detail you are likely in the middle of; to see the big picture, or the broader, more general, situation that aligns with corporate objectives. 

12. Empathy

Show empathy and understanding of the client’s situation to build trust and rapport. Trust is extremely important if you want to be the person people come to when they need help––and if you are hoping to extend your contract at the end.  

13. Documentation

Take copious notes during meetings. Typing notes into a Word doc is great for organization and searching later on, but I have found pen and paper work best for recollection, which will serve you well in follow-up meetings. Also, keep a record of all your interactions and agreements to avoid confusion and misunderstandings.

14. Flexibility

Be flexible and adapt to changing circumstances to meet their needs.

15. Professionalism

Maintain a professional demeanor even in difficult situations to maintain a positive relationship.

Remember, the key is to maintain open and effective communication while balancing the needs of the client with your own limitations. Success takes time, preparation, and a clear understanding of exactly what you’re trying to create with your client.

To discuss engaging an Aventi Group consultant, please click here to set up a free 30-minute consultation. You can also learn more about product marketing’s shift to external expertise by reading our free survey report.

Written By

Mark Bloom

Mark Bloom has over 20 years of sales, marketing, and business development experience in a variety of financial services and high-technology markets. In the course of his experience, Mr. Bloom has helped F100 organizations develop technology infrastructures, build global strategies and execute sales and marketing programs with strategic partners. Mr. Bloom has been a senior consultant at Aventi since early 2022, and his past clients/employers have included Ford, Motorola, United Technologies, Cisco, Chrysler, SonicWall, Qualys, Trend Micro, and Compuware. Mr. Bloom holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree in Management Information Systems and an MBA in International Business.