You’re sitting down with Yolanda Blatherpumpkin, a hot prospect at Rocket Chocolate who desperately needs your help. If you manage the process well, a lucrative consulting project and a case of mocha turtles are just two conversations away. But before you launch into the first conversation—the Context Discussion—with Yolanda, you need to take an important step that I outline in detail below.
In your excitement about having a live prospect on the line, it’s tempting to dive right into the Context Discussion. Of course it’s also tempting to grab every free sample handed out at Costco on Saturdays. Neither is a good idea. (Admittedly, for different reasons.)
Launching directly into the Context Discussion may overwhelm Yolanda and even sour her impression of you. After all, you’re about to ask for a bushel of information, some of it quite sensitive.
That’s why before you say anything else, start with…
The Prefatory Statement
The Prefatory Statement sets up the discussion. Like a waiter tying a bib around your neck before serving you lobster, the Prefatory Statement shows you care and that what comes next may be messy.
Even more, the Prefatory statement indicates you have a robust process, which creates safety, trust and credibility.
The language I use for the Prefatory Statement sounds like this:
Yolanda, I’d like to ask you for some more information so that I fully understand the context of this project. Once we’re on the same page with the context, coming up with a proposal is easy.
There are six topics I’d like to cover:
The situation—you’ve done a good job of explaining what’s going on, so I think I have a handle on the situation, but I have a couple of other question.
Your desired outcomes—in other words, if you’re at A now, where’s the B you want to get to?
The indicators of success—how will we know we get to B or that we’re making progress along the way?
Any risks or concerns you have—in other words, what could go wrong or what might keep you from moving forward.
The value of the project—which is why you’re bothering to do this.
And finally, any parameters that would affect how we scope the project.
Those are the six areas—situation, desired outcomes, indicators of success, risks and concerns, value and parameters. Will that work for you?
With many prospects, I’ve found that similar statements grease the skids for each section of the Context Discussion.
These introductions bound the discussion, which makes the process feel safer to Yolanda, allows for an open, candid, vulnerable discussion, and shows I have a well thought out approach.
For instance, in the Situation section, I’ll say,
“Yolanda, you’ve given me a lot of background on what’s been going on, but I want to ask two more questions. One is what’s changed and the other is why you’re bringing in help from the outside. Let’s start with what’s changed…”
Prefatory Statements are very basic, and may even seem remedial. However, you’ll find they make the difference between feasting on chocolate turtles and going hungry at the end of important conversations with consulting prospects.
Have you tried using the Prefatory Statement or similar introductions to your conversations? (Please share your experience with me and other readers.)
Text and images are © 2019 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.