The Human in the Center

What constitutes a good consultant-client relationship? And how to react in times of a crisis? Diana Brix, client partner at MetaDesign Berlin, discusses these and other topics in a conversation with Linus Lütcke.

LL: Diana, you often preach the importance of sincere relationship management. Why is that?

DB: I strongly believe that what matters most in any business is the people behind the projects. How you work together as a team and with your client is absolutely critical to success. Relationship management means identifying the specific need of your client and finding out what really concerns the different parties that are involved in the project. ‘Cause it’s most often not the obvious. This requires an honest interest and a certain empathy for your counterpart. As a good consultant, you simply need to be curious and interested in people per se. If you’re missing this, you’ll fail sooner or later.

LL: It’s a people’s business, they say.

DB: Absolutely! When I think about my own career and the directions I took on the way, I’ve never opted for the big name, the coolest city, or the ever-so-exciting project, but for the people I could work with. In general, but also in respect of my function as a consultant, the aspects community and to get know and understand one another for me turned out to be most important when it comes to leading a project to success. These are the factors that build and reinforce trust, which in turn is the foundation of every kind of relationship. Where people trust each other, reliability, loyalty, and eventually added value emerge.

It is not for nothing that we hold so-called chemistry meetings in the early stages of a project. Believe it or not, but in those meetings the project itself is subsidiary. Rather, we try to answer the questions: Can we (and do we want to) work together? Are we on the same page about the way we want to collaborate? Given that you probably will be working together quite intensively for a few months, clarifying these questions is vital. And on a bigger scope this is not only about the project outcome but also about a better quality of living. Doing business is simply more fun and enjoyable if you are in tune with the people you work with.

LL: Do you think that the interpersonal relationship between principal and agent is more important today than it has been, let’s say, ten years ago?

DB: It definitely has always been important, but taking into account that the intensity of collaboration has increased in general, one could argue that it is even more important today. Broadly speaking, in the past the client handed over a briefing and after four weeks of in-house development you presented your results and that’s it. Today the client is much more involved in the actual development. The involvement of all parties – be it within your own team or on the customer side – opens up new perspectives and oftentimes creates a special momentum that eventually enhances the identification one has with the results. You so to say write a story together as a team.. Needless to say, this story will have its ups and downs. And that’s why a well-functioning relationship is so important.

LL: Even the best relationships are sometimes heading towards a crisis. How do you deal with this?

DB: There are no hard and fast rules. From my point of view, in times of stress it’s most important to act solution-oriented. At this point the question of guilt or who triggered the conflict in this matter is not relevant. What’s relevant in these moments is that you, on the one hand, adhere to what you have done and thereby maintain a confident attitude, but on the other hand, demonstrate that you’re willing to compromise in order to find a solution. Also, the timing aspect is important: at which point and to what extent do you want to intervene?

Successfully managing critical situations can in the long term even be beneficial for the relationship with the client. If you prove to be a reliable partner even in periods of crisis, you get the chance to build trust — which is, as I said earlier, the basis of a good relationship.

LL: In summary, what does a good relationship between consultant and client constitute?

DB: For me there are four decisive points. Firstly, be close. I favor an in-person meeting over e-mail, phone, or any other form of communication. Meeting face to face and actually talking to each other has still, even in times of digitalization, its very own special quality. This brings us to my second point: collaboration. Which for me means working together in its most literal sense. The third point is, get out of the daily routine from time to time. Why not trying a surprisingly unusual setting for your next workshop? Not everything has to happen inside the office. With an automotive client, we once visited a racetrack, for example. It was fun, even though I felt quite sick after the test ride (laughs). Last but not least, meet your client at eye level. Only equal partners will deliver great results.

_Diana Brix is Client Partner at MetaDesign Berlin. _Linus Lütcke is Marketing Manager at MetaDesign Berlin.