In the last few weeks, I talked to a handful of consultants. There's two memorable ones. One for good reasons. One for bad reasons.
Names have been changed.
Joe Braggert: Joe thinks he knows everything there is to know. Joe's first words to me were, "Why do I need to talk to a sales person before I can sign up?" I had a total of 5 calls with Joe, which was 5 too many. We also exchanged a few emails. I did my best to help Joe.
Joe wanted to buy based on following the company from "the beginning". He thought he knew how we worked better than I do. Joe had no interest in discussing how he was going to use our tools with me. Joe asked only one question. He asked it approximately 20 times. I gave him the same answer each time and it wasn't to his likeing. The last 15 times he asked it, I suggested that we weren't a good fit for his needs. Each time I suggested that, he suggested we were making a very fatal mistake in our business strategy. He lectured me. I told him that I understood his point of view, but the strategic decision was made for a variety of reasons and that the Company is signing on many customers each month that are ok with this decision.
The second call ended with "I'll discuss this with your management." A threat which he had no ability to execute. So, I summarized our call and forwarded it to our management and cc'd Joe. They reiterated the same message that I did.
In response, Joe provided a large amount of unsolicited advice and insisted we were making poor decisions about our business that would ultimately stunt the company growth.
All the while, there was a relatively simple way around his issue. I had suggested it and he ignored me the first few times and continued to lecture me. He also insulted me several times. The solution involved him investing another few thousand dollars in his business. The third time I suggested it, he told me that did not have the money to invest. In his mind, this was our fault.
John Partner: John and I discussed several of his current clients and prospective clients. We discussed, in detail, how we could help one of his prospective clients. Most of his current clients weren't a great fit or already had most of what we did covered. Unfortunately, the deal with the prospective client fell through. During the process of figuring out whether this company was a fit, I realized that John was a sharp guy. He not only knew internet marketing, he had done it successfully for his clients. He also understood his client's businesses and business in general.
After his deal fell through, I suggested that he and I should talk about his business and whether I could help him in any way. We scheduled a call. During the call, I suggested that occasionally we have clients who need extra hands-on assistance or someone to do the work for them. He asked me a string of questions about how we were structured internally. Through a series of questions, without asking it straight, he discovered that we are mostly interested in building a software as a service business, as opposed to a "consulting" or "services" business, as SaaS scales much quicker and more profitably. In the beginning of the call, he didn't think we'd be interested in working with people like him because we do provide consulting. By the end of the call, through a series of smart questions, he understood our business model and the opportunity for him to get involved with us.
John and I will talk again. I am sure we will do business.
Joe doesn't have a website for his own business yet. He probably blames a long list of other people for this, mostly me.
The Lesson: Do you ask questions in order to identify what's important to people? Or do you just make statements based on what you think is important? Do you take responsibility for situations and make decisions based on what's available to you? Do you wait around for the situation to be perfectly aligned to your vision? And blame others and external factors for your failures?
Do you seek out opportunities to collaborate that fill holes where you're not strong? Or do you pretend to be an expert at everything?
Do you do what you do because you love it OR because you're trying to prove how smart you are?
Oh. And if you're a consultant, remember that your first job is sales or selling yourself. The stories above should demonstrate that you're always selling, even when you're buying, whether you're good at it like John or really bad at it like Joe. Coincidentally, Dave recently published a post called the "Tale of Two Salespeople" which you should also read.