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IT Consultant


Top 5 things you should never say to a client


By Brad Egeland
February 16, 2011, 6:42 PM PST

Takeaway: Unless a project issue is extremely critical and requires immediate client input, IT consultants should gather as much information about the problem before presenting them with a potential solution.

 When you’re starting out with a new client, you probably don’t know much about the individuals involved, how they do business, or how timely they are about paying their invoices. So you strive to establish a meaningful and trust-based relationship with the new client by focusing on communication and information sharing in the hopes it will be a successful consulting engagement.

 Your first instinct might be to tell the client everything about the project because full disclosure leads to customer confidence and a high degree of customer satisfaction, right? Well, not always.

 I do not recommend lying or keeping critical project details from the client; I do, however, think it’s important to be able to discern what information actually needs to be passed on to the client. You should also carefully consider your timing if need to tell the customer bad news.

 Here are five things I believe you should never say to a client — at least not until you have all of the necessary details, or your concerns have been confirmed.


 1: You are asking for the impossible.


Once you start working on the project, you might realize that the real issues are quite different from what you were told. You don’t want to tell the client that you cannot accommodate their request unless you have thoroughly investigated the problem and exhausted all possible solutions.


 2: The project change will probably cost “x”.


Never give the customer a ballpark estimate because that can come back to bite you if it’s too high or too low. If it’s a high number or f the estimate turns out to be too, you run the risk of angering the client. Tell the client you’ll investigate how much the project change will cost and get back to them. 


3: You don’t have the right personnel to make this work.


If you tell a client they don’t have the right people in place for the project to be a success, you’re basically telling them their company (or possibly them) has done a poor job of hiring. You should look for a way to turn your concern into an opportunity. For instance, the issue could be a new project task — that is, to look into the experience level of the staff. This could lead to for a change order that involves training, which might mean more revenue for you.


 4: You need to restructure your organization to accommodate this solution.


If you tell a client they’ll have to restructure their company in order to make the solution work, not only will they very likely think that you’re speaking out of turn, but they’ll also interpret this to mean lots of money and months added on to the project. This could cause the client to shut the entire project down immediately. Before you say anything like this to the client, ask lots of questions and interview department personnel. Look for positive ways to turn this into an additional set of tasks on the project.


 5: The sky is falling.


There is no need to alarm your client about a project. I almost had to pull my tech lead off of one consulting engagement because he always whined when he’d find a problem. Bad news does not have to be blurted out, especially in earshot of the client. Instead, give yourself time to digest any problems you find and think about alternatives. Then, put together a rough estimate of the time and dollars needed to fix this newly discovered issue. That’s when you talk to the client about the problem and your proposed solution. If you discuss every bump in the road with the client, you’ll unnecessarily worry them, as well as waste your time and theirs.

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