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.

Me: Huh?!

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 on June 20, 2017.

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