One tip to overcome this challenge as a coach, consultant or mentor.
For the coaches, mentors and consultants amongst you, to be effective in your roles, you require a high degree of openness and honesty from your clients to provide the right support and/or advice. If they are willing to do this, along with being asked some great questions by yourselves, you will elicit the challenges they are facing and their desired outcomes. When your client is stuck, and experiencing frustration and friction, they will be keen to receive your support but to be even more confident that you can help, they require you to evidence that you have the appropriate knowledge and experience. How do you demonstrate this?
The relationship you have with your clients means absolute confidentiality and the need for being very discreet when sharing examples of the impact of your work. I have often pondered in my own work how best to do this without revealing specific details.
It is important for any business to be able to articulate the change their product or service makes for a customer or client. A core part of the role I undertake involves me spending many hours with clients scoping out how best they can demonstrate the value they create ahead of scaling the adoption of their product or service. It’s one of my favourite activities in fact.
I have written articles before on how to design the best demonstrators (some of you will call these pilot projects) and ensure you are collecting the right outcome measures that are meaningful for your current and future customers. It is this information, the data that proves that your product or service has created a change for your customer that is then shared in your marketing activities. But how do you do this in a meaningful way when the change you create is often confidential.
This might sound ridiculously obvious, but my suggestion is something which many professionals forget to do. They sit in isolation, trying to write up case studies in a way that doesn’t breach any confidentiality but get frustrated when it lacks the necessary detail. My number one recommendation is to ask your client directly for feedback. I often take a very structured approach and have designed a set of questions that I encourage my clients to use. These are the list of questions I have shared in articles before:
(1) Understanding how your product or service was discovered. For example, as a consultant or service provider you may want to ask “How did you come across my/our work?”, whereas for a product you may ask “how did you hear about my/our product?”
(2) Understanding the baseline or their starting point before you worked together or they bought your product. “What challenge were you facing in your business or personally when you first reached out to me & how were you feeling about this?”
(3) Understanding what the competition is doing and/or how your clients are trying to solve problems without your intervention. “Had you previously tried to solve the problem/challenge you were faced with? If yes what did you do? If not, why not?
(4) Understanding how the value of your product or service was perceived from the outset. “Why did you decide to trust me/us to work on this activity with you?” or “Why did you decide to purchase our product, what were the determining factors?”
(5) Understanding the results and outcomes you create, that is the value you provide. “What have been the 3 main results or outcomes that you have got so far from working with me?” or “What are the 3 main outcomes of using our product on your business or for your own customers?”
(6) Understanding the change that you have created for a client. “How do you now feel about the original challenge you were facing?” “How do you feel about the original challenge for which you purchased our product to solve?”
(7) Understanding the potential for scale and wider impact. “Would you recommend me/our product to anyone? If yes, who & why?”
To keep feedback focussed you can ask your clients to describe outcomes, impacts, their opinion of you and your product in 3 words. I often ask new clients questions such as, “what 3 words would you use to describe me/our product on first meeting/first use?”. You can then follow up with “what 3 words would you know use to describe me/our product now” and then finally, “if you had to describe me/our product to someone else, what 3 words would you use?”
However, something I have learned from experience is that when you really want a client to be candid, the simple act of asking them for a short testimonial following your work together will often elicit the most powerful insights. When a client is unprompted, while they may not cover all of the aspects you prompt with the structured questioning, they will share the most significant value you have created for them. In addition, I am always surprised just how prepared they are to share their uncomfortable starting point as the baseline to demonstrate how far they have come. This was also the case when I worked inside a large organisation and I was requesting feedback on in house innovation coaching and mentorship schemes. When people value your support and the investment you make in their development, they give meaningful feedback willingly.
One of my favourite testimonials I have received just this week provided me with detail that I don’t believe structured questioning would have elicited. Not only did they share the outcomes I create but also the method by which I do this. I loved his honesty.
“Beth is a real facilitator to make things happen. She listens, engages and directs. A unique and purposeful mentor who gets to the nitty gritty as to what the individual and business characteristics and values are, and goes onto marry this with her direction within the sector. What’s unique about Beth is her network of contacts within the healthcare sector. A key thing for me was how her mentoring was all about cutting out the red tape and chatter and really looking to add value at a strategic level. Beth and I worked on new business models and creative routes to market, her timely introductions were a godsend. Best of all is Beth’s approachability, at times Beth came across as being blunt, which in hindsight is her forte as she will not pander to your whims, as she tells it like it is. In business and entrepreneurship, you need to hear things plain and simple.”
What value are you providing for others? What would your clients say about your approach? What can you learn to inform your work moving forward?
My ‘one tip’ is simple, ask for feedback. Do this through a blend of structured questions and a request for a short testimonial. You will be surprised how open your clients are prepared to be when you have taken them on an effective journey to their desired outcome. Be clear when you ask for their feedback that you are looking to share this publicly as it is only right that you get their permission upfront. You will be surprised how prepared your clients are to show vulnerability and be open.