Consultant’s Guide: Know Your Client’s Industry

Everyone is a consultant today, whether you’re serving external clients or working internally for your company. To differentiate yourself in today’s competitive marketplace, you need to build your industry knowledge and know your client’s industry.

 “Knowledge is a weapon. I intend to be formidably armed.” ― Terry Goodkind

  • Know your client’s industry – they expect it!
  • Understand the hot industry issues to get to the table and become a thought leader
  • Follow the money! Understand how your clients make money so you can position solutions that improve their bottom line

Sounds simple, right?  But the reality is there are industry experts that have been working in banking or media or health care or technology and they have years of experience in their industries.  How do you compete and become an industry expert? It takes commitment, but it’s actually a lot of fun diving into a specialized industry and building your domain knowledge.

Step 1 – Build Industry Knowledge

In order to engage with senior executives, you need to build your industry knowledge.  I suggest you implement both a short- and long-term strategy.

Short-term strategy

  • Find reputable industry training to help you build a strong foundation of the industry basics
  • Choose at least two industry publications or blogs and commit to reading them a few times a week so you can learn about and follow real industry issues and organizations. Choose relevant publications that may discuss your client, their competitors and the issues occurring in the industry.
  • Find a knowledge-base of industry terms and information. You can’t know everything. Having a go-to knowledge base of information to access (i.e., industry Wiki) can help you prepare for meetings, research industry issues and develop your industry knowledge.

Long-term strategy

  • Get to know industry experts in your organization
  • Expose yourself to industry leaders, by attending conferences or following industry leaders on LinkedIn
  • Keep executing the short-term strategy – take more training, continue reading industry publications, expand your understanding of industry issues

This will help you develop a solid foundation of industry knowledge that you can draw from confidently during client conversations.

“You need to turn over every rock and open every door to learn your industry. This process never ends.”  Mark Cuban

Step 2:  Know the Hot-Button Issues Driving Your Client’s Industry

Unfortunately, a lot of people start here.  But the reality is you will never understand the hot issues in an industry unless you possess a solid foundation of industry knowledge first – remember Step 1.

Sites with Hot Industry Issues

A great place to start to learn about hot-button industry issues is in the industry publications you have been reading.  Build on this by looking at the websites of leading consulting firms (such as Deloitte, EY, PwC, KMPG, IBM, and McKinsey).  These firms deal with clients across industry, and their sites are packed with “hot-button” industry issues and future industry forecasts.  They want to be the “thought-leaders” so their sites are packed with domain knowledge.

Know Your Client

Check out your client’s annual report and investor presentations.  Senior executives of many publicly traded organizations deliver presentations to industry analysts every year. Their presentations can be found on their website in the Investor Relations tab.  These presentations can provide insight into their strategy and business objectives.

This gives you lots to talk about with your clients.  Having industry and strategic conversations with your clients is where the true value is.

Link Your Solution to Client’s Issues

Link your solutions to your client’s hot-button industry issues. When you understand the key industry issues your solution helps solve, you now have a great story to tell your client.  But the story isn’t complete until you follow the money.

“Anyone who knows anything about the music industry knows it is not only about the music.”  Isaac Hanson

Step 3: Follow the Money!

Once you know how the industry works and what the key issues are, you can really start to provide solid consulting advice to your clients.  They may start to make you part of their inner circle, but they won’t pay attention if you don’t link your recommendations to their bottom line.

Build Financial Acumen Specific to Your Industry

Doing that involves building your industry financial acumen.  If you can find training or a guide or knowledge base that has that information (income statement and balance sheet and key metric information) available, dive in.  You need to understand the basics of your client’s financials and metrics.

To truly recommend a solid solution and write a proposal, you have to link your solution to your client’s strategic AND financial goals.  That allows you to speak their language and will lead you to solutions that are strategically aligned and sell.

Go be dangerous!  Be the master of your industry and client’s domain. Diving into a specialized industry is fun and you will look at the industry and your clients with a more refined lens.  You will feel more engaged, work smarter and be well on your way to becoming an industry expert and thought leader.

What are your thoughts?

I’d love to hear your thoughts or any insight you may have on this topic! Please leave a comment below.

About the Author

Chris Lawton, a founding partner at Performance Solutions International (PSI) and financial services consultant, has been providing training and consulting services for the last 25 years (after a career in public accounting).
Connect with Chris on LinkedIn

Performance Solutions International (PSI)

PSI is the leading provider of industry-focused performance improvement services that empower your professionals with the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to succeed in today’s highly competitive environment.

Our industry expertise, financial knowledge, and instructional design capabilities, coupled with over 25 years of working with leading organizations, provides you with a partner who understands your business and can deliver.