Having worked with more than 200 organizations in a consultant-client relationship, I am well qualified to identify the different types of clients. So, I am calling this post "Client Taxonomy." I present it as a form of entertainment rather than a point of reference. Here are my classifications:
- THE SHEEP: This client has been told she needs to initiate a complete rebranding project and has the budget for it but leaves it to the chosen consultant to structure the project, lead the project and make all of the recommendations. Her understanding and confidence levels in this subject area are quit low. She accepts and implements whatever the consultant proposes without question.
- THE CONROL FREAK: This client hires the consultant but then micromanages the consultant. She changes the process, reorders the project steps, asks for different deliverables, reanalyzes the research herself and tells the client what to put on each PowerPoint slide. Sometimes she is knowledgeable enough to make improvements and better tailor the project to her organization's specific needs. But most of the time, she just complicates the process, slows it down, creates gaps in the information and ends up with unusable deliverables. But she is happy because she has been in complete control of the project for its duration.
- THE DENIER: This client hires to the consultant to discover what the brand's customers think. When he finds out that the customers are not happy and the organization's strategy is not working, he terminates the consultant-client relationship and destroys all copies of the research, which, by design, he had not shared with anyone else in the organization.
- THE EMPEROR: This client hires a well-known consultant to add credibility to changes he wants to make. He holds up that the new brand and business direction are the output of a rigorous process. However, he knows where he wants to take the brand and the business before the consultant is hired. If the process leads to alternative conclusions, he artfully steers everything back to what he wants to see happen. Often, this is quite obvious to everyone involved, which is quite enervating.
- THE POLITICAL WARRIOR: This client hires a consultant to prove a rival wrong. She is in a political battle with another marketing executive to assume the role of the organization's CMO. Throughout the process, the consultant witnesses secret meetings, altered documents, the formation of alliances, destroyed data and other acts of aggression. This is war and now the consultant is a part of it.
- THE PROFESSIONAL: This client is the ultimate professional. He is deeply experienced, highly knowledgeable and quite confident. He knows exactly what he wants and hires the consultant with the perfect skill set to help him get it. He is collaborative with the consultant, adds value where he can and knows exactly how to make the best use of the project's deliverables.
- THE HOPEFUL ONE: This client knows what he wants but does not have the time or budget to get it. He hires the consultant anyway hoping that the budget might become available and that people in the organization might have time for the project. Neither of these turns out to be true. The project drags on because there is no internal support for it. It dies a very slow death of malnutrition.
- THE LONELY ONE: This person hires a consultant because she wants a confidant, someone to talk to. She confides in the consultant about her love life, her latest purchases, the dinner party she just threw and her personal assessment of each of her colleagues.
- THE STUDENT: While this person has a real project that would benefit from a consultant's input, the person's real motivation is to learn as much as he can from that consultant for his own personal development. He has read the consultant's books and blog posts but now wants intensive one-on-one time with the consultant focused on a real-world problem to become increasingly proficient in the consultant's area of expertise.
- THE CONSULTANT'S BENEFACTOR: This client has hired several different consultants and marketing agencies, each of which is working on a separate strategic project for her. But none of the consultants are talking with one another or sharing information with each other. One is working on mission/vision/values, another corporate culture, another brand positioning, another business model refinement, another on an upcoming acquisition and another on the latest marketing campaign. I hope the client is highly skilled at weaving the output of all of these projects together in a seamless fashion.
Luckily, the vast majority of clients that I have worked with fall under the label, "THE PROFESSIONAL." However, I am sure some of you might recognize a person or two you encountered in your professional career that might have fallen under one or more of the other categories.