Management Consulting Essentials: The first meeting
Posted On December 23, 2011
I meet and talk with a lot of independent management consultants. 99% of them are extremely busy. They are so busy that they have little time to learn new approaches, keep up with the development in their area(s) and develop their business. Most of them even complain that they are too busy. They also use their busyness as an “excuse” for not being responsive and not meeting deadlines.
When I ask why they are so busy the unison answer is: “client projects”. My response is: “Fantastic, you must be making tons of money?” Answer: “Silence.”
The silence continues when I ask them: “When will you increase your prices and with how much?”
This series of posts will address the “many hours/low price” issue, explain the causes and provide recommendations for how you can remedy the situation. Applying the ideas should enable you to work less hours, make more money and have more fun at the same time.
The first meeting
Any engagement for the individual management consultant always starts with a first meeting. Unless you are going to discuss a chemist type service, this doesn’t mean that the first meeting is the start of a management consulting engagement!
If you are an experienced management consultant you will know that irrespective of how much the client tells you at the very first meeting there is nothing you can do for any client until you have some genuine insight into the nature of the situation. Therefore the objective of the first meeting is NOT to close a deal for fixing the issues with which the client is struggling.
Objective 1: Check the chemistry and culture
Your first objective is to verify that you can trust and that you will enjoy working with this client. Does he convey healthy business ethical principles, does he convey integrity and does he seem to be realistic in his perception of a what a potential consulting assignment will achieve? As a seasoned business man you should trust your intuition. If it doesn’t smell well, it probably won’t taste good and you should walk away.
As an independent management consultant you just don’t want any bad deals or lousy projects.
Objective 2: Size the pain
The second objective is to size the pain. How big and critical is the issue at hand? What happens if it doesn’t get fixed? What will the client do if they don’t engage you to help them deal with it? Is there a deadline? What is the budget? Use the good old SPIN approach and keep asking questions to qualify that there is a compelling reason for taking action.
There are two things you never do at this stage:
You don’t sell: You ask questions to make sure there is a compelling reason to do something. You make the client confirm that the financial impact of the issue is much bigger than your consulting fees (not that you will reveal anything about you fees at this stage). You also ask questions to verify with yourself that this is a project that you can actually handle.
You don’t start the consulting engagement: This is tricky and takes some time to learn. You can ask a lot of questions, but you avoid any questions related to the causes of the issue or the possible solutions to the issue.
Assess if the person you are talking to is “avoid” or “achieve” driven. “Avoid” driven personalities are constantly looking for ways to minimize risk. “Achieve” driven personalities are constantly looking for ways to exploit growth opportunities.
Objective 3: Can you help us?
The preferred outcome of the first meeting is that the client asks you if you can help them fix the issue.
You response will be that you will think about it, but in any case is additional insight required. You will need to interview people and read material. When you have done so it will make sense to get together, review your observations and then define the next steps.
If the client is receptive to this approach you should mention your minimum price for such a “first insight phase”. There is no need for you or the client to spend any more time and energy if your threshold fee is outside the range he is willing to pay.
If the client doesn’t ask you if you can help, then there will be no deal. You thank the client for taking the time and agree to do a follow up call sometime in the future.
What about your presentation? How should you convince the client that you are the right consultant for the job?
You shouldn’t! The client makes this conclusion himself.
Why are you there in the first place? It is because it makes sense. Your position, your web site, your blog, your whitepapers, your resume, you references – all that support that you are the subject matter expert. The way you conduct yourself at the meeting does the rest. It’s your gently yet firm way of running the meeting and taking your client to the conclusion, which will cause him to ask for your help. It’s the questions you ask, not the things you say.
You can always ask if there is anything in particular he want’s to know about you. Answer his questions short and clear and ask for confirmation. Avoid that the meeting is about you, your experience and your fantastic qualifications. The less you say the better.
The meeting is about the client and his issues.
PowerPoint presentations and long explanations will only do damage and increase the probability of loosing the control and the business. Leave you PowerPoints at home. A clear positioning statement at the back of your business card should be enough.