Want to know what consulting clients really want when they’re looking for a consultant, and how they perceive you? I get a regular taste of this by interviewing consultants for my corporate clients. But for a total immersion into your clients’ world, live through the hiring process. That’s what I’ve been doing for the past month, as I once again try to find the perfect person to add to the staff of my little group. It’s been eye-opening and illuminating.
Over 200 individuals have already applied for the role I advertised, and all but a handful received a quick “No thank you” response. I bet most of those who were rejected felt extremely frustrated. In fact, a few let me know the depth of their disgruntlement in no uncertain terms.
I get where they’re coming from. They feel the same way we consultants do when clients don’t award us a gig. They’d looked at a detailed job description, felt they were a good fit and knew in their hearts that they would do a good job.
Here’s the eye-opener: look at the parallels between the statements I heard from virtually every job applicant and the statements I routinely hear from firms that apply to be the consultant on one of the Ascendant Consortium’s consulting projects:
|Job Applicant||Consulting Applicant|
|“I’ve never done that specific task, but I’ve done very similar work.”||“I’ve never solved that exact problem, but I’ve solved very similar problems.”|
|“I’ve never worked on B2B marketing, but I’m sure the concepts from my B2C experience apply.”||“I’ve never worked in your industry before, but my approach works across all industries.”|
|“I haven’t dealt with the exact issues you’re raising, but I’m a very fast learner.”||“We haven’t dealt with a situation exactly like yours, but we’re very fast learners.”|
|“I’ve held a combination of positions that make me uniquely qualified to work for you.”||“Our <yada yada> approach is a unique and breakthrough way to solve this problem.”|
|“Everyone I’ve worked for will give an outstanding reference.”||“Look at my testimonials. All my past clients loved my work.”|
|“I’m exactly the guy you need!”||“We’re exactly the firm you need!”|
Yeah, you’re smart, hardworking, a fast learner, unique, confident and loved by everyone who knows you. But that’s like saying you’re crème brulee. You’re sweet, and tasty and everyone devours you then asks for more. Fair enough, but if I’m looking for a gluten-free, sugar-free, chocolate delight, you don’t fit the bill.
All those great attributes you’re touting are table stakes. Everyone has them, and they’re not enough. The person I’m hiring has proven she previously accomplished the exact tasks she’ll be tackling for me, in a similar environment. Similarly, the consultant who gets hired offers a reliable solution to the client’s specific problem.
That’s what clients really want:
a reliable solution to their specific problem.
And that’s why it’s wildly important to focus your practice on a tightly-defined issue. That’s also why you should establish your chops (a.k.a. proof of reliability) in a specific industry or a narrow functional area.
Clients have a lot of options and they don’t have to settle for table stakes. If you think you’re going to win a steady stream of large consulting projects because you’re bright, hardworking, adaptable and have strong testimonials, you’re going to end up frustrated. Just like the young man whose reply to my statement that he has none of the experience I’m looking for was, “Yeah, but how hard can it be?”
Maybe what clients need isn’t hard, but they’re still going to turn to the one consultant that appears to already fit them like a glove. Be specific, be precise, build your experience, and that glove will be you.
What do you think? In your experience, what do clients really want? Write your thoughts below and I’ll write back.
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Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.