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Four Ways to Overcome Clients’ DIY Mentality

We are a nation of do-it-yourselfers. Pay a plumber to fix that leak? Nah, a quick trip to Lowes and we’re good. Hire an attorney to write the will? No thanks—these online forms look pretty solid. Check into a hospital for an operation? Please… we’ll just head back to Lowes for a box cutter!

Consultants encounter this phenomenon every day in prospects’ offices: “Why hire a consultant to improve our compensation plans? We’re smart enough to figure that out ourselves. Besides, we could hire two full-time employees for the fees you’re suggesting.”


Without a doubt, our stiffest competition is always inside the client. Internal staff is available and, ostensibly, bargain priced compared to an outside guru. So, how do you overcome the do-it-yourself barrier? By changing the prospect’s perspective. Below are four mind shifts you can employ to make your expensive consulting gig the obvious choice.

Shift the Path to Success

The more your prospects believe the path to success is a series of straightforward tasks, the more they will see their goals as attainable through internal resources or inexpensive help. Conversely, when their ideal route to nirvana travels through sophisticated ideas and processes, they’ll pay a premium to an outside expert.

Does this mean you should portray your approach as complex and wrap it in abstruse language? No, but you better bring more to the party than the ability to execute generic plans. Reorient your prospect’s perspective on what’s needed by breaking out models, conceptual frameworks and approaches that work far better than any they would employ in-house. You must create a clear difference between you and internal staff.

Shift the Objective

Lift your prospect’s gaze from the weeds, where any resource is good enough, to the clouds, where outstanding (and expensive) know-how is required. When a client is focused on a “deliverable,” such as a report or training session, they’ll look for the least expensive, easiest source of that deliverable. However, a client seeking an outcome is wary of cheap, easy fixes.

For instance, a training session on procurement is a deliverable and perhaps Sally from the Purchasing department can lead it. Reducing material costs across all divisions, on the other hand, is an outcome and to achieve that end the client will pony up big dollars to a guru with strong credentials.

Shift the Comparator

Prospects need some way of deciding between you and internal resources and, since cost is concrete and easy to assess, that’s the default comparator. The reference price that prospects have handy is the cost of an employee and, surprise, surprise, the price-tag on a great consultant looks sky high next to an employee’s salary.

Arguing about the fully loaded cost of an employee, including hiring, training, benefits, etc., rarely works. Much more effective is a statement such as, “If your objective is to save money in the short term, then hiring employees is the way to go. However, if your objective is to bring the most expertise possible to bear on the problem at hand, then we’re the answer.” Shifting the comparator to value or expertise positions you in a far more flattering light.

Shift the Scarce Resource

We all dole out our scarce resources jealously. Money, time, chocolate. Hiring external experts depletes clients’ limited budgets. Therefore, they face significant pressure to apply internal resources wherever possible to preserve funds.

How do you alter this viewpoint? By highlighting a scarce resource more precious than money. Time, expertise, experience, proven processes, momentum, and management support are all good examples of resources that are either fleeting or limited. Pharmaceutical companies will open the coffers to any company that can advance the launch of a product by a few weeks. Once your prospect views you as the route to a resource more precious than money, competition from internal staff will evaporate.

belgian chocolates

What have you changed to break prospects’ do-it-yourself mentality and cost-resistance? Share an experience you’ve had in the comments section. I’ll read it as soon as I get back from Lowes.


  1. Karen
    September 24, 2014 at 10:30 am Reply

    Very powerful positioning statements in this article. One thing I have done is worked with the DIY mentality and created tools and templates, which I hope to sell online. However, they will come with the caveat that these are meant to get you started but are not meant to replace solid advice and support with unique situations. Helping clients navigate complexity seems to be the key to selling ourselves.

    • davidafields
      October 1, 2014 at 5:38 pm Reply

      I agree, Karen. The more helpful information offer, the more likely people are to realize that expert help is needed.

  2. Mark Haas
    September 24, 2014 at 11:39 am Reply

    This also works the other way – the DIY consultant. Once the client agrees to use our services, some of us, and all of us to some extent, are off and running with our engagement. We need to be careful that we are not ignoring the often hidden expertise and insight of the client sponsor, staff and their stakeholders in designing and implementing our promised outcomes.

    • davidafields
      October 1, 2014 at 5:41 pm Reply

      Totally agree, Mark. A client called yesterday apologizing that someone on his team wanted to “insert” himself into the project. I welcomed the intruder – he had many ideas, some of which were good! You’re right that many consultants fall into the same DIY trap. Good point.

  3. Yvette
    October 7, 2014 at 6:36 pm Reply

    One way I have overcome the DIY mindset is by emphasising the ability of an ‘outsider’ to be across multiple divisions without the bias of hierarchal relationships. By keeping the primary objective of the decision maker (and budget holder for my project) in mind, I have shown great benefit in getting to understand the different and often competing demands from different divisions, and then been able to close the gap for them based on a holistic picture of their business. Often an employee is too caught up in their own business unit or line or is perceived to be biased towards their specific division’s objectives that others in the company fail to fully appreciate their objectives. By offering an unbiased outside perspective, as well as premium expertise in the particular project, your decision maker can not only ensure the project is completed, but they can benefit from the added communication you provide for them internally.

    • David A. Fields
      May 21, 2015 at 5:25 pm Reply

      “Outside perspective” is a great way to counter the DIY mentality. Thanks for adding that, Yvette.

  4. John Phee
    October 8, 2014 at 10:54 am Reply

    Hi. I enjoy the articles David. A few other thoughts re: the DIY mentality…Likelihood of success, completeness and value of the long-term solution, and breaking the client’s mold and habitual way of doing things the “efficient” way vs. the “right way” add to the argument against DIY mentality and practices. These ideas also help bolster the value proposition when competing with lower-cost, lower-margin consultants / firms.

    John D. Phee

    • David A. Fields
      May 21, 2015 at 5:27 pm Reply

      John, you’ve created a terrific distinction: “efficient” vs. “right”. It harkens to the aphorism, “If you don’t have time to do it right, how will you have time to do it over?” Great contribution.

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