I’ve been in the consulting business my entire career. It’s a difficult business - specifically, the practice of billing by the hour means that you can never ever step off the treadmill. If you stop working, the money stops flowing. We call this the “6-month cliff” - i.e. if we stopped selling work today, in about 6 months our business would fall off a cliff.
Sales are the lifeblood - and there are as many sales techniques as there are minutes in the year.
There’s the “Steak and Strippers” model - i.e. entertaining client executives so they’ll sign our big fat contracts. Some large west coast companies are notorious for this.
There’s the “Like X, but Cheaper” model - where they pretend to be just as good as that larger, more successful competitor, but really what they’re offering is cheap rates on an army of ill-trained, barely-vetted contractors.
There’s the “Best in Business” model - this is actually worth aspiring to; but given that ‘best’ is such a qualitative term, actually determining who the best is can be tough. Is it the folks who won the “Certified AWS Premier Partner” award? Is it those who won “Best place to work (as judged by Local Business Journal)” award? Is it the one with the most revenue? Tough to say.
There’s the “Best Buds” model - where we get your business because our sales VPs went to Columbia B-school with your execs.
There’s the “Sucker Born Every Minute” model - we will use our army of cold callers to find brand new clients before our competitors find them.
There’s the “Better Mousetrap” model - instead of going out to sell, we will focus on honing our skills and contributing to the community, and wait for the world to call us.
As you can tell, they all work. There’s no better or worse strategy, there’s just “won” or “lost” the business. And in general, I have no problem with any one in particular. I’ve worked in companies that have used some combination of all the above models.
But there’s one thing I absolutely detest. It’s the work-for-work’s sake model. It’s where the company will take on any work, no questions asked. Here’s what the sales pitch looks like:
“You want a square wheel? We can do that!”
There are many problems with this approach. First, you’ve taken orders upfront, and will likely have to do so throughout the engagement. Second, the client has self-diagnosed their problem and wants you to implement the fix; they’ve missed out on the consultant’s most important assets: an unbiased outside perspective. As a result, the solution will never be as good as it might have been if you’d partnered up on the solution first. Most importantly, you’ve lowered your own standards. Your best people will be unhappy and bored with this project. You’ll lose a few stars. And now you’re stuck at a certain level in the client’s head; pulling yourself up to a higher level will be a near impossible task.
Better to say “no”, to focus, to give the client good advice even if it means they go to someone else for the implementation.
You cannot be all things to all people. So stop trying. Self-awareness and discipline in sales may create short-term pain, but has lots of long-term benefits.