Consulting can be much more than giving advice. Although consulting can be delivered based on many varied formats, there is a format or a hierarchy of consulting purposes we believe still rings true today, and this model is very consistent with how we support the consultants in our network.
A Hierarchy of Consulting Purposes
Image taken from “Consulting is More Than Giving Advice” Harvard Business Review
- Providing information to a client.
Clients could be seeking you out for specific information or knowledge you have in a specific industry or area of expertise. Sharing information can be a great way to get an introduction, to get in front of the decision maker. However, as a consultant you have to decide, how much information are you going to give away for free? As the consultant, you are looking for your next client and the decision maker may only be looking to pick your brain for free.
So, how do you decide how much to give and how much to hold back until the decision maker becomes a client? In our experience, if you can turn the search for information on the part of the decision maker into a dialogue about why the information is important to her/him, the conversation may turn into a far more robust discussion about the organization’s issues, problems, or challenges. Getting a decision maker to start opening up about what he/she wants to solve, grow, change, and improve while giving nuggets of information along the way makes it a win-win conversation. If decision makers trust you enough to share the reasons they want the information, you are well on your way to helping your potential clients see your consulting value.
If you are successful in getting the decision maker to open up, you have gained rapport and are on the way to trust, which leads the dialogue right through the next three steps of the hierarchy in a pretty fluid manner.
- Solving the clients problem
- Making a diagnosis
- Making recommendations for a diagnosis.
The only way a consultant can help a client solve his/her problems is to be able to fully understand the problem, the cause of the problem, and what the return on investment will be to the company if the consultant helps solve the challenge. Now, we are referring to problems in this example, but it is also highly possible that you could help a client maximize an opportunity. (Not every company is living in a world of desperation and problems. Some companies live in a world of inspiration and opportunities.)
Once a dialogue of trust has begun, then our consultants work through a detailed fact finding process to understand everything they need to know about the company’s current situation. That might mean interviewing more team members, running an assessment to collect more data, talking with suppliers or vendors in order to compile a “Situational Analysis.” It is only when they believe they have a complete view of the situation will they make a diagnosis and supply recommendations for a solution(s).
Assuming success, we are now at level 5, Assist with Implementation. This is where consultants have now turned level 1-4 into a paying consulting client and we are now in solution delivery mode based on the specifics of the Situation Analysis.
It is our experience, when a client wants the consultant to help and is willing to pay for level 6-8 – build consensus and commitment, facilitate client learning, and improve organization effectiveness – the consultant has proven themselves to the organization as a trusted advisor by providing the needed guidance, resources, and information. The company is willing to make ongoing investments because it can measure a direct return on those consulting investments.
- Are you consistently showing your clients a measurable return on investment?
- Do your clients see you as a trusted advisor and consistently have you back for projects?
- Have they built your fee into their budget as a monthly retainer?
- Do you use a consulting model that allows you to facilitate solutions that are the best for your clients?
We work with a lot of consultants from all different areas, and if you struggle to answer even one of these questions with a confident yes, perhaps a bit more about our model would be a worthwhile conversation.