Consulting Rule #3

I often state a truism that I stole from someone I can’t remember – In consulting, as in medicine, prescription before diagnosis is malpractice. (If you are this person, I apologize, I owe you a beer.)

In a recent conversation while on a walk with my wife, Christine, we concluded that there is a corollary to this rule – You can’t prescribe if the patient/customer will not let you diagnose.

I hear about this problem more than a couple of times a week from Sage partners with whom I am speaking. It usually manifests itself like this, “Ed, I was trying to get an understanding of why the customer thought a request they had made was important, and they told me that they don’t reveal that information to outsider consultants. What can I do?”

My initial response is a half-kidding, “Run away!”

After explaining that I am kidding, sort of, I state, “Perhaps you should suggest to them that they reconsider and explain that while you understand their concern, it is not in their best interest to withhold this information. Consider this – if you go to a cardiac surgeon and just ask for a triple bypass operation, any ethical doctor will first insist on a few tests before performing the surgery. Certainly, they would want to take your blood pressure and heart rate. Would it make any sense to say, ‘Hmm, I don’t know, I don’t think I want to reveal that information to you.’? Clearly, it would not. I am in the same situation as the doctor, without a full understanding of the problem, it would be unethical for me to proceed. So, I ask you to reconsider and answer my questions. If not, I really don’t think I can help you.”

Is this hardball? Maybe, but your only alternative is to violate your ethics and prescribe before diagnosing.

Five Questions to Get Answered Early

In my recent readings and work with small businesses I have developed a list of five questions that a consultant should get answers to as early in prospect relationship as possible. Once you are hired (or have invested in a long-term sales cycle relationship) getting these answers provides little to no value.

  1. What is the purpose of their organization?
  2. Are they looking for an expert, a pair of hands, or collaborator?
  3. Are you being hired to potentially blame someone if it goes wrong or to reduce chance of it going wrong?
  4. Do they view this purchase as an expense or an investment?
  5. What is the state of their employee restrooms?

Hat tip to Wayne Schulz for the last question.