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9 “Whys” Every Consultant Should Master

As a consultant and leader of a consulting firm, inquiry is your most powerful tool.

Last week’s article drew from toddlers’ propensity to say No. Consultants can learn even more from little tykes.

Children are inquisition machines, pestering their parents and teachers with scores of questions every day. Kids’ insatiable curiosity and their innate understanding that knowledge is power spurs an endless stream of questions. Why is the sky blue? Why is water wet? Why does stevia have a terrible aftertaste? (Okay, I may have added that last one.)

Consultants and consulting firms need to adopt that childlike dependence on inquiry.

By asking the right questions you can engage prospects, position your consulting firm to win lucrative projects, and uncover superior solutions.

That’s why the heart and soul of Becoming the Obvious Choice (a.k.a. Step 5 in this excellent book) is discovery. That’s also why the Context Discussion, which anchors the discovery process is essentially a series of questions.

The following Whys can all be slotted neatly into your Context Discussions. They’re just a start, though. I’ve left an open space in the 9 Whys list for your additions.

9 “Whys” Every Consultant Should Master

What other Why questions do you think are essential in consulting?


  1. Janet Falk
    January 31, 2018 at 9:37 am Reply

    Hi David,
    This is timely. My next monthly newsletter is “Why is your company launch a secret?”

    Also I coach my clients that reporters ask “Why YOU? and Why NOW?” to discern the news value of a press release from the reader’s perspective.


    Janet Falk

    • David A. Fields
      January 31, 2018 at 10:51 am Reply

      Interesting, Janet. “Why Not Share?” may be a useful, probe with prospects and clients who keep their information and ideas close to the vest. Good one!

  2. Ron Chapman
    January 31, 2018 at 10:08 am Reply

    Hi David,
    This is a good reminder to continue to ask questions as I head to a new client project next month.Thanks!

    My additional Why is “Why Them” when selecting groups for training or picking staff to become trainers. Opens the discussion on broader systemic issues that clients always overlook.

    Have a great day!

    Ron Chapman

    • David A. Fields
      January 31, 2018 at 10:42 am Reply

      Why Them? is a terrific addition to the list, and forces the client to think through criteria. Good luck on the new client project, and thanks for contributing to the list!

  3. Robyn
    January 31, 2018 at 12:37 pm Reply

    There is the “Why do you NEED this?” question and then there is the “Why do you WANT this?” question.
    Quite often clients claim to “need” something as an essential, and it turns out (once you have done the appropriate discovery & clarification) that it is really more of a “want” / something non-essential.
    And they may have completely misdiagnosed their problems, and therefore have not uncovered what they truly do NEED.

    One of my favorite project manager’s mantra’s re: project/solution scope & implementation was: “You [the client] can’t always get what you want, but you’ll get what you need [from the project]”.

    Our job as consultants was to uncover the true needs & make sure that the solution addressed those needs..
    Non-essential “wants” were relegated to a future project phase – and with time, quite often the client realized that they didn’t even want or need those “wants” anymore, once their true needs/problems had been addressed.

    And this is why I often tell clients that I am like a 4-year old – because I will continue to ask “Why” until I get the answers I need [and also because if I don’t get enough sleep or eat enough at the right times of the day, I get very cranky 😉 ]

    • David A. Fields
      January 31, 2018 at 1:24 pm Reply

      You’ve eloquently illustrated one difference between the Want and Need pillars of the “Six Pillars of Consulting Success.”

      Clients may not distinguish between Want and Need, but we consultants absolutely have to. As you’ve pointed out, understanding what clients Need is essential to delivering a high-value solution. Ironically, understanding what clients Want is how you actually compel a client to sign on the dotted line and start the project.

  4. Joe Frisbie
    February 2, 2018 at 4:10 pm Reply

    Robyn is on point.

    What a customer wants is not always what they need. For example the latest trend in business is sustainability. Many companies, especially if you are a large company have a Sustainability Program, maybe a Sustainability Executive and really big companies have a sustainability dept.

    Yet what is sustainability? It actually a new name for the oldest problem in business. How to keep the doors open.

    How to keep eliminate or minimize disruption in your supply chain.

    Supply chains are connected to nearly all global events eventually. That same supply chain also has more demand and more potential customers. Due to advances in technology it is possible not only to monitor and analysis supply trends but to also manipulate this supply chain.

    Sustainability is also related to internal operations. These issues are as numerous and diverse as there are industries. But they revolve around the concept of maximizing internal operational efficiency. Are you utilizing all your assets?

    Aren’t there departments and/or individuals who are already responsible for both those decision and processes?

    So you want a Sustainability Program or Policy. Do you need a full-time Sustainability Executive or a part time sustainability check up? At Sustainable Practices Associates we the later is a better use of your resources. Put some sustainable practices to your internal cost.

    • David A. Fields
      February 5, 2018 at 2:41 pm Reply

      The interesting benefit to trends, fads, and business flavors of the month is that they focus attention and create movement. Even if the trend is exposing the same Need that others have talked about in different ways for years, decades or centuries, the new language can spark Want.

      As consultants, our probing Whys can lead a client to reframe his own Need into terms that fan the flames of Want too. Thanks for contributing your example, Joe.

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