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What to Say Before You Say Anything – Important Script for Consultants

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.)

costco-sample-person

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.

trust-build-during-discovery-process

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.) 


 

16 Comments
  1. rick maurer
    November 16, 2016 at 8:06 am Reply

    Thank you. The timing is perfect. I am developing a new consulting service, and it would be oh-so-tempting to launch into a conversation about it before I took time to take a breath and actually listen to the prospect.

    • David A. Fields
      November 16, 2016 at 1:26 pm Reply

      Rick, as consultants we crave solving problems. The urge to show off a great idea, suggest a remedy, or demonstrate our capabilities quickly reaches a roiling boil. As you note, any time we can take a breath and listen rather than talk, we do ourselves and our clients a favor. Thank you for sharing your experience, Rick.

  2. Bob Endres
    November 16, 2016 at 8:07 am Reply

    Well done David. I admit I never did this. I think if I had I would have closed more deals
    Thanks. Bob

    • David A. Fields
      November 16, 2016 at 1:29 pm Reply

      We all can close more deals, Bob, as long as we continuously improve. As a community, when we give each other ideas and adopt powerful new practices, we are raising ourselves and the profession. Personally, I’m glad your smarts have been added to the mix, and I appreciate your feedback today.

  3. Felix P. Nater CSC
    November 16, 2016 at 8:21 am Reply

    Excellent reminder about the value of becoming a respected consultant on their team and not just a person selling your services for your predetermined fees.

    • David A. Fields
      November 16, 2016 at 1:32 pm Reply

      Amen, Felix! Our business is about establishing mutually-beneficial partnerships. When we follow the path you’re suggesting, we get to offer solutions rather than services, and share in the rewards. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

  4. Cynthia Brown, CFM
    November 16, 2016 at 8:24 am Reply

    Thoughtful and valuable, not just to external consultants, but to “internal consultants” – employees. For anyone who has responsibility for a project or initiative.

    Great way to define the project parameters, David. I’m immediately incorporating this into my PM process. Thank you, and keep posting!.

    • David A. Fields
      November 16, 2016 at 1:34 pm Reply

      Cynthia, I’m glad to hear there’s value for internal PM too. The Context Discussion (and the 6-part Context Document) is laid out in much more detail in my first book and in the new book coming out in April. You may want to dive into one of those to help flesh out the internal process. Please let me know how it works for you and what tweaks (if any) you make.

  5. Anatoli Naoumov
    November 16, 2016 at 10:30 am Reply

    The approach – build expectations prior to inviting another person into a zone of uncertainty – is effective for any serious conversation. Short and simple script is invaluable.

    • David A. Fields
      November 16, 2016 at 1:37 pm Reply

      I love the phrase, “zone of uncertainty” Anatoli. That’s where prospects live. They’re uncertain about how to escape their current situation, uncertain whether you can help, and uncertain whether hiring you is a good idea. Our conversations with prospects bring the uncertainty into stark relief then lead them out of that uncomfortable landscape and into a safe and secure future. Thank you for contributing excellent language.

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