The Art of Fishing in Client Relations

“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll never go hungry.” Is it really that simple? This often overused adage is applicable both for our peers (federal consulting firms) and our clients (government agencies). In an era of slashed budgets and contract insourcing, how can we teach clients to fish while still maintaining a competitive edge?

More often than not, clients hire consultants to help their organization accomplish a task that they may not know how to do, may not have time to do, or are missing some critical pieces to ensure the results that their leadership expects. In our business, we have the luxury of looking from the outside in and leveraging a wide range of experience. We’re looking to partner with our clients when we begin an engagement: helping them hone their expertise and offer a roadmap to accomplishing their goals.

So how does all this relate to that fishing maxim?

Learning how to fish won’t solve every problem. As we plan and implement new ideas, clients are apt to see gaps that go beyond the initial scope and want guidance. The solution to Issue A might not be the best fit for Issue B. We have to be prepared to explain that emerging issues require different solutions, which may open up new opportunities to teach and partner with clients.

Catching fish is only the first step. We have to help organization develop more than just a few experts to meet their mission. Building in steps to communicate new knowledge and garner buy-in across the board is crucial for long-term relevance. If the whole team is unclear about the way forward, they won’t understand how to continue making progress.

Look for innovative ways to fish. Many organizations operate based on the “way that it’s always been done.” Our clients may already know how to execute a program but are they using the best tools and tactics? We owe it to our partners to identify efficiencies, understand the latest techniques and technology, and open to offering them fresh ideas.

The common thread through each of these steps is transparency and trust building. We can grow our partnerships as clients begin to see our solutions in action and understand how the needle is moving. How does your organization use these principles? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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