As a Consultant, How Not to Reach Out to Your Client
The second internship I ever did was for a management consulting firm. It helped to jump-start my career. One piece of advice I will never forget and that’s why I want to share it with you.
There was one guy at the firm I really looked up to. Gustav, co-founder and partner of the stock listed consulting firm. Gustav was charismatic, kind, and had the physique of a Viking. He seemed untouched by the ruthless pressure of quarterly profit demands.
It’s safe to say I judged Gustav as brilliant.
And so to me everything that Gustav did was brilliant.
Until one day Esther came to me. She was a senior consultant and also my mentor. Esther said: “do you want a piece of advice on business development?”
“Sure”, I said. Who doesn’t?
Esther: When Gustav calls a client, what’s the one thing he asks them?
Me: That’s easy to answer. The entire office overhears his passionate calls! The one thing Gustav always asks is: “How’s business?”
Esther: Exactly. And what do you think of that question?
Me: I think it’s great. He says it with energy, and he shows interest in the business of his client. I would say it’s a best practice.
Esther: That’s where you and I disagree. In fact I think it’s a horrible question.
Esther then presented her viewpoint. A two minute lesson that I use almost every day.
Esther: You see, as a consultant, you’re supposed to know how the business of your client is going. When you ask “How’s business?”, you can come across as badly prepared.
People hire a consultant so they are able to commit to an informed decision based on valid information.
“So what would be a better approach”, I asked?
Esther: Make sure to prepare when you call a client. Read their annual report. Or, study the news to keep track of relevant market changes. Based on the information you find, design questions that trigger your client.
Me: Do you have an example to clarify?
Esther: Last week I checked in with a client. I knew that their key competitor had just announced a major expansion in Latin America. So I asked him: “How do you think the strategy of your competitor will influence your current position as market leader in Brazil and Peru?”. Three days later the client asked us to conduct a full-fledged competitor analysis for Latin America.
Next time you reach out to a client, ask yourself: “How can I design a question that triggers thought and action?”
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on June 20, 2017.