Why consultants need to say NO

Often a client is hiring a consultant to validate a decision they have already made. While in many cases the client is correct in their assessment of what might be broken in their organisation, they are probably not as well versed on the best way to reach a solution as the consultant likely is.

Consultants get hired because they have been exposed to multiple scenarios that occur in the same industry or vertical. They have met business challenges with different approaches and learned along the way what works, doesn’t work, and where the risks are. That knowledge is why businesses engage with consultants.

As consultants, we need to balance customer service and our desire to have repeat business with doing the right thing for our client. Sometimes that requires us to say NO.

Why no isn’t a bad word

As a client hearing no with the right logic and a contrary approach isn’t a bad thing as long as good judgment and reasoning are there. If an alternate solution is safer, faster, better for long-term growth, employee satisfaction, or fill in the blank, they will hear you and respond accordingly.

Actually client X, I see the correct approach as blah, blah, because of logic blah and blah. At alternate client Y we had success using this approach, because blah, and learned the following blah.

However, this means that we as consultants need to think before we speak. You cannot just blurt out the fact that the client’s approach is wrong; you must craft your response with evidence and examples. Once you have shared your reply, they should be at least considering your irrefutable proof. If they still refuse to follow your route, you have offered them a solid reason for how they should approach their challenges and that is where you are valuable.

When the client ignores your advice

Accept it. Move on, and think carefully if you want them as a client in the future. Logos on your client reel aren’t worth badly implemented programs so make sure that if you are going to do it their way, you can make the execution a success.

No fee or client logo is worth a black mark on your reputation.

The power of “I don’t know”

So often people are afraid to look unprepared in a meeting and because of this will make something up rather than just admitting that they don’t know the answer. These ad hoc answers are often incomplete at best and completely wrong at worst and do nothing to move the business forward.

It’s not worth the risk…

Many years ago I worked on the sales floor of a Home Depot store.  This is a place where the wrong answer can cause a customer to be electrocuted from bad wiring advice or see their basement flooded from bad plumbing directions.  This is where I learned to say that I didn’t know.

The risks of the wrong answer were just too high to take, so instead you offered “I’m not sure, but let’s find out together”.

In the end I learned as the customer learned and was better prepared to answer the question the next time a customer asked me.

Changing my habits

A few years ago I started to implement this in my work life. If I didn’t know the answer I said so and would do the research and follow up with the correct response as the information became available. This meant that I became a resource that learned the answers in many categories because I was spending a great deal of time researching each vertical.

At first I was afraid that saying I didn’t know would make people think I was unprepared, but it became quite the opposite. People discovered that if they added questions into the meeting notices I would come armed with as much information as I could and realized that if I gave an answer it was because I had the research to support it.

Challenge the desire to know everything. There is no person who can possibly know everything.  Experts in all categories reference their research and that of others before they make a claim.

So if you don’t know, don’t bullshit. Accept it and start digging up the answers.

Cold calls don’t need to be clammy

Please stop spamming my Linkedin profile.

I understand, its the end of the year and as a sales person you have quotas that you have to meet.  I’m not judging you for using your premium account to search out people like me that may need your good or service, but don’t let yourself think I’m not judging your approach.

“Dear Sir,”

Your first failing: I am plainly a female and would have preferred that since my first AND last name are already on my profile you would be best to address me as Erin, Ms. Burrell or even the slightly more annoying Mrs. Burrell. It would have only taken a moment to edit that form letter to incorporate my name. A clever person may even find a method to automate the Linkedin message to include a pull of the name I have displayed.

“It appears that my (fill in the blank good or service) may be of use to you or your company”

Can you get more generic? It appears to me that you did not take the time to READ my profile or do any research about where I work or what I do. Had you taken the time to read my info you may have realized that 1) your service might not actually be relevant to me,  2) I am actually responsible for providing the very service you are selling, or 3) This girl needs what you have to sell… tell me more!

I’m not saying that I dislike cold calls. They are sometimes a cost of doing business. You as a sales person need to create relationships, but ask yourself: Would you approach a potential future spouse this way?

Google just told me there is a guy that has the following tags associated with him: #job #car #doesntliveinparentsbasement.  He’s perfect!

Dear Sir,

I think that you and I would be a great fit since I want to marry someone who does not live in their parents basement.

Please reach out to me soon to discuss our upcoming marriage.

Best,

Random Girl

416.XXX.XXXX

randomgirl@youhaventmetyet.com

What?  You think that is a bad idea?

Some of my best professional relationships have been started with a well-researched cold call, but I can’t tell you how much more likely you are going to be to get a reply if you at least know why you are reaching out to me. Figure out how your goods/service would best fit my organization/role and use my name and that of my organization in your message.

If you spend the time to do at least that, I will read the rest of your message and likely even send you a reply. If you cannot take the time, I am afraid that neither can I.

Is Social Media the Answer?

Erin Burrell-Is Social Media the Answer
Defining strategies for social media in business

Each day I come across businesses that are trying to grow their engagement with their customers and employees and the first thing they come to the table with is the need for a Social Media Strategy.  I love and believe in social media, but I don’t believe that it is the best channel for every business or employee relations challenge that you are presented with.

In order to validate if a social media approach is right for a specific business challenge I have started to ask a few specific questions that help to get each brand on the right path.

Is the customer you are trying to reach in the demographic that uses the particular platform?

If you create a Twitter feed for a group that are loyal to Tumblr you may be wasting your time. Social media is a great tool to grow your business but you have to be relevant.  If the platform is not a match to the customers, then don’t bother, but if the answer is yes keep going.

Are you going to commit resources to write content and respond to questions or posts that arrive on the different platforms?

If the answer is no, then maybe you should re-think the idea of being in social media.  Responses that aren’t timely can turn into PR nightmares quickly on most platforms so what could have begun as a question about hours of service could spiral out of control and become damaging to your brand.  It is better not to be in the social space, than to do it badly.

Are you hoping to engage internal employees?

If you want to have an associate Facebook page and they can’t access Facebook from your internal network, you have likely created an obstacle to your own success.  Make sure your team can access your content from their workplace.  Hoping that they will go home and like your brand after a long day is a lot to ask of anyone.

Additionally, if your business includes employees that may not have great internet and/or cellular coverage because they work in remote locations, you may be spending time talking to yourself.

Ok, so you are going to staff the venture and you are committed to making sure everyone can access the content in the channel that fits them best, so what next?

You likely need a social media strategy.  Before you move forward and invest in the project make sure you know what you want to accomplish, and are willing to test it for a reasonable amount of time.  Most social media projects need at least six months to really build up steam, and don’t really hit their stride until at least a year of content and customer engagement has been completed.

When building your plan, include key milestones that will define success of the program as it builds and grows.  Try to be realistic about followers, circlers or likes that you want  for the first few months of the program.  Remember, just because you now have a presence doesn’t mean that everyone will seek out your page tomorrow.

Social media may have what seems like an immediate return on your investment, but you need people to care about what you have to say, before they will trust you with their time.  Be engaging, whatever your platform of choice and make sure that your social brand stays true to your existing non-social customer.

The Path to Good Intentions

I have a friend who is absolutely brilliant.  He has opinions that make you think.  He inspires conversations that stay with you.

He used to blog.  It was clever and challenged your perceptions and preconcieved notions of everything from bacon to music.
Last year he came up with an idea.  It was amazing.  He was going to redefine his blog and create an entire brand surrounding it.
He kept the concept pretty quiet.  He wanted a bold design and layout ready before he made the domain public.  The only reason I got to know about it was because he wanted to bounce the brand and concept off someone who wouldn’t judge it before seeing it live.
I just discovered that he never finished the design and let the domain lapse.  Life, it seems got in the way of his execution.
Now the world will not get this chance to know how smart he really is, and since he neglected his old blog for the last year they have mostly forgotten his older very clever posts.
So the question I have to ask is if you have a seedling of an idea do you plant it and water it in a pot that you know it will outgrow just so that it can at least start to take root?
The challenge it seems that those of us with big brands behind us in our day lives face is the need to “go big or go home”, when just going would have been enough to start.
So I allude to the path of good intentions.  We can get detoured along the way, but there is nothing to say that we can’t still start.
It is never too late to begin a great project that will help you to grow and evolve, even if you have to start it just a little bit smaller than you originally intended.