Back to the List

The Unexpected Activity That Wins Raving Fans for Your Consulting Firm

Your consulting firm can generate customer delight, referrals and glowing testimonials by tackling a small, unexpected task for your clients.

The Story

A simple idea from a true story:

A long, long time ago in a city far, far away, when I was an entry-level executive at a large, Midwestern consumer products manufacturer, all employees above the entry level attended an annual meeting at a beach resort.

We youngsters left behind at headquarters for a week, were as diligent as you’d expect a gaggle of high-energy, undirected 20-somethings to be. (There may or may not have been an epic hallway bowling match.)

Of course, a few enterprising colleagues kept their noses somewhat to the grindstone, running reports or writing memos.*

Then there was Steve. Steve cleaned the “Store.”

Steve had thought to himself, “I’ve got a little bit of time on my hands. What could I do that would be useful and has been neglected because everyone is too busy?” One obvious candidate: the Store.

The Store was a windowless room outfitted with retail-type shelving racks. It was, ostensibly, designed so that product management professionals could review potential new product designs and packaging in a realistic setting, surrounded by real, competitive products.

In reality, the Store was a chaotic, disorganized mess. Jumbled stacks of outdated competitive products blocked access to shelves stocked only with haphazard arrays of discarded design ideas.

After about two days of modestly hard work in a dusty, unglamorous room, Steve had transformed a useless, cluttered space into a valuable resource our senior executives immediately appreciated.

Shortly thereafter, Steve received his first of many rapid promotions. (Though he never won the hallway bowling trophy.)

Applying the Lesson

The moral of the “Steve cleans the Store” tale points the way to a more successful consulting firm.

In your quest to please clients, you could perform a supplementary analysis or conduct an extra meeting. Clients generally appreciate any efforts above and beyond the defined scope of your project.

However, those actions aren’t surprising sources of value and, therefore, won’t garner heaps of praise and unsolicited referrals.

Cast your gaze around to identify where a bit of attention to a lingering challenge or a small, side issue could surprise and delight your clients.

In other words, what can your consulting firm do to “clean the Store”?

I’m sure you’ve witnessed instances when bit of unexpected, extra value evoked outsized client delight.

Please share!

In the comments, tell me an example of when you have (or will) put this idea into practice.

  1. Christin Marvin
    January 24, 2024 at 6:52 am Reply


    Great note here. I have a client who is considering adding cooking demonstrations classes to her business model and was nervous about doing it alone, so I offered to come assist so I could help her collect feedback and look at efficiencies while she excelled at being her natural creative and charming self and building connections with attendees.

    • David A. Fields
      January 24, 2024 at 9:06 am Reply

      You’ve described what may be the perfect consulting activity, Christin: helping your client while receiving an excellent meal. We’ll just assume some sort of chocolate dessert was part of the class.

      Thank you for contributing your example of an unexpected value-add, Christin!

  2. Daryl Crockett
    January 24, 2024 at 11:03 am Reply

    Excellent advice. I would like to add a caveat though. If Steve had been asked to file paperwork and instead had cleaned the store, that might not have been a good thing. We have made the mistake in the past of delivering what the customer should have asked for and not what they contracted for. And while they were pleased with the addition, they were not pleased that we did not make good on our deliverables. So unexpected is good, just not at the cost of the “expected”.

    • David A. Fields
      January 24, 2024 at 11:57 am Reply

      Very fair caveat, Daryl. As you point out, adding unexpected value is not a substitute for delivering the value you’ve been contracted to deliver. It’s meant to be the whipped cream on top of the hot cocoa…or perhaps the chocolate sprinkles on the whipped cream.

      I’m glad you highlighted that point, Daryl!

  3. regiocon
    January 29, 2024 at 9:10 pm Reply

    not sure i agree actually, of course everyone wants a plus “alpha”, but managing scope creep is a constant issue. Additionally, budget holders are handcuffed as well.
    Anyway, has not worked for me, perhaps it is I who needs to tweak things.

    • David A. Fields
      January 30, 2024 at 7:49 am Reply

      Concerns about scope creep are fair, and it’s important to separate a small, meaningful, unexpected activity from scope creep. In the Store example, Steve didn’t complete more of the work expected of him or that our bosses might have requested. He tackled a totally unrelated, unexpected task that created value. That’s wholly different from scope creep, which is an expansion of your project for which you should rightfully be paid.

      As far as budget holders being “handcuffed,” it’s not clear to me what your concern is. Nothing prevents budget holders from being delighted and singing your praises to others, which is the point of having raving fans.

      Thanks for exploring the topic!

Leave а Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Prev Article

5 Keys to a More Profitable Consulting Firm

Next Article

Accelerate Your Consulting Firm’s Growth with “RIDE”


Subscribe to receive insiders’ access to information and resources that will help you grow your consulting firm.

Note: By subscribing you are confirming that you have read and agree to our terms of service and privacy policy. You are also confirming your consent to receive emails from David about his articles, programs and recommendations.

Firm Type