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A Simple, Project Finder for Your Consulting Firm

One, easy-to remember question quickly identifies consulting projects for your consulting firm.

When you encounter prospects—whether entirely new to your consulting firm or existing clients in which you could expand, you ask questions designed to surface potential engagements.

You probably turn to a handful of staple questions, from the banal (“What keeps you up at night?”) to the subtly effective (“If you could spend your day eating either dark chocolate or milk chocolate… why would you do anything else?”)

Strategically-focused queries elevate your consulting firm’s discussions with prospects and reveal higher-value activities. These include gems such as, “What are your major initiatives for the coming year?” and “How does <current topic> tie to the overall mission of your company?”

However, no matter what prompt you use to initiate your discovery, the key to immediately spotlighting potential consulting projects is your follow-up question:

What’s in the way?

You can vary how you ask the question, of course. “What’s preventing you from achieving success?” or “Why haven’t you been able to accomplish that goal?” or “Muggsy Bogues played basketball professionally and was only 5’3”, so what’s your excuse?”

No matter how you phrase the question, you’re focusing your client’s attention on obstacles.

Obstacles are where consulting projects live.

If your prospect isn’t sure what’s in the way, then identifying their mysterious roadblock—either on-the-spot or through a consulting engagement establishes your consulting firm as a trusted advisor.

Conversely, if your prospect knows the barrier intimately and has struggled to overcome it, then the need for your consulting firm is obvious and you won’t waste time floundering around in search of a high-value consulting engagement.

In both cases, you’ll identify easy-to-close projects for your consulting firm faster by directing your conversations with prospects to the barriers, hurdles and obstacles impeding their progress.

Has asking “What’s in the way?” worked well for you?


12 Comments
  1. John Ennis
    May 12, 2021 at 6:55 am Reply

    Great advice, short but sweet!

    • David A. Fields
      May 12, 2021 at 7:29 am Reply

      As an extremely smart consultant reminded me yesterday, “Sometimes all it takes to make huge progress is a simple turn of phrase.” Thanks for chiming in today, John.

  2. I. David Byrd
    May 12, 2021 at 8:04 am Reply

    Thanks for the reminder us of the simplicity of getting to the point. The potential revenue point.

    • David A. Fields
      May 12, 2021 at 9:01 am Reply

      Creating value and generating revenue–that’s the spinning cycle of consulting. Not overly complex. (Nor, as it turns out, overly easy.) I appreciate you posting your thoughts, David.

  3. Ruth Winett
    May 12, 2021 at 8:33 am Reply

    Sometimes what the client thinks is the barrier or the problem is not the real problem. A consultant can often ferret out what the real problem is. It is like a mystery (film or book). The writer usually plants a suspect in the plot who is not actually responsible for the the crime.

    • David A. Fields
      May 12, 2021 at 9:03 am Reply

      You’re highlighting one of the fun ironies of consulting, Ruth: The proximate reason for hiring a consultant and the real need are often different. The perception of what’s in the way will lead you to the project. The reality of what’s holding the client back will lead you to the valuable solution.

      I’m glad you raised that idea, Ruth!

  4. debbie
    May 12, 2021 at 10:22 am Reply

    I find asking “what have you tried already? and what happened?” a good time saving question. If they have not tried anything, what’s getting in the way of addressing the issue? Knowing what they have already tried is also helpful to know.

    • David A. Fields
      May 12, 2021 at 3:54 pm Reply

      Those are also excellent questions, Debbie. They’re particularly good as follow-ups or as part of the Context Discussion once you’ve identified the opportunity for you to work on.

      Great suggestions, Debbie, and I appreciate you adding them to the conversation.

  5. Tom Mitchell
    May 12, 2021 at 2:00 pm Reply

    This is so simple and definitely effective. If you have a longer relationship with a prospect, this is definitely a question they will answer more readily. Just starting in a relationship with a new prospect, I will sometimes remind them that we are a “fresh set of eyes” and that we may see things that they have been staring at and not seeing for some time. I have had some success with getting a prospect to talk with this reminder, sometimes. I always enjoy reading your posts. Thank you!

    • David A. Fields
      May 12, 2021 at 3:57 pm Reply

      You’re absolutely right that well-established relationships lead to open, candid conversations, Tom.

      Interestingly, I’ve found most prospects are extremely willing to talk about what’s in the way–even if it’s the first time we’ve ever chatted. What’s in the way is never them (of course), and they’re more than willing to voice their complaints and dissatisfaction about the culprit that’s thwarting their efforts.

      The “fresh set of eyes” approach is effective too. I’m glad you added that, Tom.

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