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The Ultimate Choice for Consultants

In the U.S.A.’s extraordinary election cycle, each and every citizen made a critically important choice (including those who chose not to vote). Hours later, individual voters learned whether they had “won” or “lost.” As a consultant, you should reverse that order. After you win or lose you have a critical choice to make.


In the course of pursuing new business, sometimes you’re going to win projects and sometimes you’re not.

You have the same choice to make whether you close the deal or it slips away:

Will you learn from the experience?

I’m not talking about five minutes of introspection while you’re popping the champagne cork or flavoring your beer with a deluge of tears. I mean useful, productive, structured learning.

The important choice we face every time a potential project leaves our pipeline is between stumbling forward slowly, or accelerating our success. The right choice is learning and applying the lessons.

Two simple checklists will serve you well. One for your wins and another for your losses. Fair warning: if you’re honest, you’ll have many more losses than wins. That’s because you should include every potential project at every point of the pipeline that you don’t land, not just opportunities that made it to the proposal stage.


I cut a number of the questions on my own checklists down for this article because I want us to fill out the checklists together.

Winning Checklist

Where did you first meet the client or how did he hear from you?

What touches were involved in the path to the win? (e.g., emails, phone calls, in-person work sessions, team dialogues, etc.)

What was the fee progression? (e.g., ladder up from a small project to a large one; start with a pilot; start with a large initiatve)

What drove the client’s decision? (Ask them why they chose to engage you.)

What were the sticking points during scoping and/or negotiation?

Losing Checklist

Will the prospect give you feedback? (If not, why not? What does that tell you?)

Who did you lose to?

What drove the client’s decision? (Ask them why they chose not to engage you.)

Which of the Six Pillars fell short? (Know, Like, Trust, Need, Want, and Value.)

Is there any way you believe you could have won the project?


The key is that you learn from your checklists and the database of results. Where are your winning clients coming from? Who are your best sources? What types of touches have turned out to be pivotal? What sticking points seem to consistently trip you up?

The difference between a robust review of your performance and a few minutes of self-reflection is as striking as the difference between a democratic election and a chocolate glazed donut. (Even though a donut may have won the popular vote.) When you use the checklists you’ll frequently uncover important lessons you would have otherwise missed.

Whether they’re in a red state, blue state, international state, or state of bliss, the best consultants are making the choice to learn from every win and loss. That’s why they win more often.

What question(s) would you add to the checklists above? Please add your ideas in the comment section, and I’ll addend the article using your input.


  1. Liz Wainger
    November 9, 2016 at 7:58 am Reply

    Good post David. One should always been doing market research on one self.

    • David A. Fields
      November 9, 2016 at 10:43 am Reply

      True, Liz. Though, as we also learned from this round of U.S. elections, the lessons from market research are only as good as the information you gather. Sloppy or biased reviews lead to incorrect conclusions. Thanks for giving your input, Liz.

  2. Lori Silverman
    November 9, 2016 at 9:49 am Reply

    I no longer compete for consulting business against other consultants so there is no winning/losing — only wins. This means if the client requests a proposal from my firm and others (a bid process so to speak), I politely decline the invitation. Over the last 30 years, I’ve learned that I want to work with those who are able to quickly see the uniqueness of what I bring to the table and want to forge a long-term relationship. This assumes that in the entry and contracting phases there is a good match at the level of the presenting problem and my hypothesis about what the real problem might be with what I can offer — and there’s a good match on core values. With this said, continual evaluation is built into the process I use for (I follow the OD process for all projects which integrates evaluation into every phase: Entry, Contracting, Data Collection and Analysis, Action Planning/Planning for Change, Intervention, Institutionalization/Sustainability, Evaluation, and Closing). This means I am gaining feedback on my work throughout each phase.

    • David A. Fields
      November 9, 2016 at 10:49 am Reply

      Thanks for the comment, Lori. It sounds like your project process has a robust feedback loop.

      We’re talking past each other a little bit thanks to semantics. In my world, there is always competition. Most often it’s inertia or competing priorities or internal staff. Other consulting firms are last on the list of competition.

      Now, if you’re saying that every time you talk with a prospect about a project you win the work, that would certainly set you apart from every other consultant! But, you suggest otherwise by mentioning the “entry” and “contracting phases” as stages where projects may leave your pipeline without a win. My question is: what’s on your checklist for those losses?

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