The Consulting Process
Chapter 1 introduced the concept of a consulting process. It was outlined as:
In some consulting fields, the process can be more complex than that. The complexity you select depends on the complexity and value of the services you will sell. For dog training, this four-step process is sufficient. For investment consulting, the process is more developed — and the outcome more critical. Many professional consultants use the following seven-step process as they produce solutions for their clients:
Let's take a closer look at these steps.
There is no one perfect way to process problems into solutions and prospects into clients. Feel free to modify this suggested — and proven — process to fit your own requirements and methods. You may even have multiple processes, depending on the complexity of the problem or the needs of different client groups.
What's the problem? What does the client need? These are critical questions to begin your consulting process. Until you know what the need is, you won't be able to offer a solution.
How do you analyze needs? By listening! As you develop your consulting business concept, you will also develop a list of core questions to ask prospects and clients to analyze their needs. For example:
Senior Investment Counselor: How much do you have invested now? Where? What are the results?
Movie Dog Trainer: What is the scene about? What do you want the dog to do?
All of your clients have a problem for which they need a solution. You must know what that problem is and what the client's needs are. Finding out requires active listening.
As you interview your client, you'll discover there are many problems. If they have a common source, you may be able to help resolve more than one. However, you must first define the core problem. It can be the biggest problem, the source problem, or some other condition. It will be your initial task to help the client define the project. Otherwise, how will you know when you have achieved the needed results? For example:
Senior Investment Counselor: You need to develop an annuity in the next five years that offers a return of $2,000 a month.
Movie Dog Trainer: You want a scruffy dog to walk into the scene, pick up a set of car keys, and run off stage left.
Clearly defining the problem is the first step toward producing a valuable solution.
To produce a solution, you'll need more information. This information may be in the form of additional facts, the results of interviews, or your own observations. You'll need both quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (views, opinions) information before you develop a viable solution.
Many questions will occur to you as you consider the client's defined problem. You may need to see the problem for yourself or you may need to measure the problem. This is research and it is a vital part of consulting, whether you're selling investment information to a senior, choreographing a specific action in a movie, or helping a client start an e-business.
Before a full solution can be offered, you must know where things stand now. For example, a senior investment counselor must know how much the client currently has invested.
Put another way, in order to help the client get from “here” to “there,” you must first define “here.” If the client's investment is currently not returning any income, the solution is different than if the investment now returns $1,000 a month, halfway to the $2,000 monthly goal. The movie dog trainer must analyze whether the selected pet performer knows a similar pickup trick or must be taught it. That's gap analysis.
Based on your knowledge and wisdom — in combination with the data and information you've discovered — you are now ready to offer one or more recommended solutions. This is what the client is paying for: your carefully considered solution. In the coming chapters, you'll learn how to make that presentation in the most useful form. For now, know that you will first review the agreed problem with the client, outline what you know and what you have learned about the solution, then present the solution as one of value.
In some consulting situations, you will also be the implementer. You will manage the senior's investment portfolio or be on the movie set to direct the dog through the scene. In other projects, you will pass your recommendations on to your client or to a third party for implementation. In each case, you will need to develop specific recommendations on how to implement your solution. “Invest more money” is not a solution for your senior client. You will either need to implement a specific plan or document it so that the client can. Implementation is also called solution management.
Feedback is a vital part of all processes. In industry, processes (such as producing soap) are controlled by measuring the output against what is expected (a setpoint or benchmark) and adjusting the input accordingly. To ensure that your consulting process is valuable to your client — and future clients — you must review and analyze the results. You must get feedback from your client.
If you are implementing the solution, feedback is easier to measure. You know the desired results and you measure the actual results against them. Did the senior meet his monthly income goal? Did the movie dog give a satisfactory performance in one take or did it take ten? You need to know so you can make future advice more valuable.
You also need feedback on the client's perceptions. Are they happy? Will they use your services again? Will they recommend you to others? This post-project review is vital to your consulting business' future success.