On Consulting Skills

Cleaning my drawer today, I stumbled upon a very old printout that was lying hidden under a pile of papers. It was an old email from my an ex-colleague of mine who had attended a consulting workshop by Conda Lashley way back in 1994, when I was with Texas Instruments.

I am summarizing the key points from a rather long email:

Consulting Skills Presentation by Conda Lashley, 5/13/94

Q: What is the number one reason a client hires a consultant?
A: It is to shift the blame/responsibility of a decision on someone else; someone outside the company.

The role of a consultant is to take responsibility and encourage the customer to keep the consultant. In other words, when you get the blame – take it! Let the customer keep using you to shift responsibility so you can help him get out of his problem.

Consultant Tips:

1. Always keep your suit coat on when with the customer. Always stay a “few degrees too cold” for the customer. The consultant is called in because he can provide the customer with the answers the customer does not have. Keep this advantage by being friendly and courteous but never too friendly. NEVER be just like ‘one of the team’ – be the team coach! But always be a team player. There is a big difference. Because the consultants are being paid much more than their own team members, we need to keep this edge, so that the customer in not tempted to ask why he is paying so much more than he pays his own people. Maintain the edge, maintain the credibility, and don’t get too buddy/buddy or the customer will wonder why they have you, you’re just like one of their employees and they pay you a lot more.

2. If the customer asks you a question that you do not seem to know, ask for more clarifications. Often after digging deeper, the question is much more basic than originally perceived, and you might be able to provide the answer after all. If you really do not know the answer, be honest and tell the customer that you have to research it. Build a network of consultants that you can ask when you need information that you are not able to give.

3. What to avoid:

a. DON’T Share your shortcomings with the customer. Do no break the façade of your strengths.
b. DON’T tell them about your technical weaknesses.
c. DON”T talk to the customer about your personal life.
d. DON’T call the customer by pet names, like ‘honey’, ‘lambchop’, ‘hunk’.

4. Your goal is to help the customer become self-sufficient, not reliant on you. You stand back and help your clients become experts.

5. Your job is to SELL: yourself, your colleagues, the software, our services. Make subtle suggestions: ‘have you ever considered using a consultant to perform such-and-such a task?’

6. At the end of the day, jot down all that happened during the day as a journal. This will make it easier to comprise a full detailed status report to the client which can be copied to your managers.

7. Every customer contact needs to be followed up by a letter with a thank you.

8. Stress your real world hands-on experience even if it is not your own, but you heard it from a colleague. Experience always has more impact.

9. When answering questions by the customer, always take the time to compose your answer. Be an active listener to really understand what the customer is asking.

10. When sending a voicemail, send only one topic at a time. This does not waste the recipient’s listening time.

11. Always stay one step ahead of the customer. Anciticpate his needs and be prepared with the advice and the proper material.

12. Always be professional with your language, both in person, in writing and in voice mail. If you put something in writing or in a voicemail, be sure it is professional enough to be forwarded or read by anyone other than the recipient – even if it is controversial.

13. Always supply the customer with regular status reports, even if they are not required.

14. Paper work is part of the job – keep up with it.


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