Lawyers and psychologists aren’t the only professionals who find themselves the butt of jokes. Consultants suffer their share of barbs, as well.
Steady and somber TV newscaster Eric Severeid wisecracked that a consultant is an ordinary person “more than 100 miles away from home. " Countless others have quipped that a consultant is someone who is paid to borrow your watch and then to tell you what time it is.
By some standards, every meddling in-law qualifies as a consultant, albeit an unpaid, uninvited one.
It makes you wonder, then, why do companies support large and small consulting firms year in and year out, and why are increasing numbers of individuals seeking them as “coaches" to guide them to wealth, fitness, and happiness?
As a consultant’s consultant, I try to address this question with my students at UCLA Extension, who sign-up for my “Building Your Consulting Business" course. I ask them, as an ice-breaker:
What are people really buying when they hire you?
What value are they expecting to get?
Answers fill the expansive white board in front of the room:
Advice. Expertise. Experience. Objectivity. Perspective. Credibility. Credentials. Improved productivity. A friend. A listener. A justification. A scapegoat. Change agent. New skills. Training. Data collection. A report.
On more than one occasion a potential client has said the following to me:
“We don’t think you know any more than we do, but our people are getting tired of hearing it from us, so we’d like them to hear it from you. "
(If you look hard enough, you can find an insult in that comment!)
Some clients are saying, “Tell us what we already know, " and others are saying, “Tell us what we don’t already know. " While it seems foolish to request the former, there are some solid reasons for doing so.
Many of us forget what we’ve learned. Just look at salespeople, experienced ones, who seem to descend into that netherworld known as a slump. If anyone needs a consultant, they do.
What am I doing wrong? Why aren’t people buying from me? Have I lost my touch?
In many cases, a ride-along will reveal much, during which a consultant merely observes a salesperson in front of prospects, sometimes posing as a trainee. Is the seller doing the basics, the essentials? Is he or she breaking the ice, establishing needs, selling benefits, and above all, closing—asking for the deal in an appropriate way?
Is he losing sales he should be earning, and why?
Often, seasoned salespeople become so distracted by their product’s details that they complicate things, over-talk, and violate that age-old maxim: Keep It Simple, Stupid! They might over-analyze and under-sell. Compared to rookies, veteran sellers can forget to do such elementary things that, by comparison, they make upstarts and recent trainees seem like geniuses.
So, a consultant might be just the right person to NOT listen to their excuses, instead focusing on their behaviors, good, bad, and irrelevant.
Sometimes, a consultant is the equivalent of the traveling peddler of the 19th century, who brings news of the outside world to remote villages along his route. Despite the fact that we live in an information age, most company insiders keep their blinders on when they’re at work, believing that the best methods are already being employed, so there is no need to review or update them.
A typical consultant works in multiple environments, transferring technology and skills across industrial sectors as he goes. What he observes working well in a software company might be a perfect fit for a distributor of office products.
Incumbents in these respective sectors aren’t going to make such discoveries on their own, because their noses are stuck, for the most part quite justifiably, in their own provincial trade publications. A consultant, in effect, makes them see what is otherwise not apparent to them.
Perhaps most significant is the contribution that a well-traveled and experienced consultant or coach can make in terms of expectations. Salespeople as well as non-salespeople work on quota systems. Sometimes they’re formal structures, to which salaries and incentives are tied.
In most cases, quotas are informal, unwritten, and even unconscious. They’re implicit statements of what management believes is possible, in terms of achievement. Unchallenged, and unexamined, these quotas exert a gravitational pull downward.
They say, don’t try any harder, because this is a good job. Stop at this point, and prevent your associates from challenging this threshold, as well.
A consultant may be the only person who can come in and say, “Hey, the four-minute mile was broken by Frank Ryan years ago! You can’t believe how fast people are going, today!"
I consulted to a fundraising company that represented a wonderful charity. My best suggestion was incredibly simple:
Ask for twice as much in your initial presentation to potential donors.
Until I came along, they were too timid and too complacent to try such a bold move. But it worked incredibly well.
Of course, cynics might claim that anyone could have suggested that.
Put your consulting hat on: What do you think?
Dr. Gary S. Goodman ©2006
Dr. Gary S. Goodman, President of www.Customersatisfaction.com , is a popular keynote speaker, management consultant, and seminar leader and the best-selling author of 12 books, including Reach Out & Sell Someone® and Monitoring, Measuring & Managing Customer Service. A frequent guest on radio and television, worldwide, Gary’s programs are offered by UCLA Extension and by numerous universities, trade associations, and other organizations in the United States and abroad. Gary is headquartered in Glendale, California. He can be reached at (818) 243-7338 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org