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7 Stages of a Successful Consulting System

I like systems. I think in systems and, even when I don’t realize I’m doing it, I work in systems. There’s something both comforting and efficient about working with familiar patterns.

Consulting System

photo credit: brendonhatcher via photopin cc

I’ve based my entire body of work around the idea of a marketing system.

In order to install that system however, I’ve had to build, refine and reflect on a consulting system that allows me to translate the full power of my marketing system into something a client can use.

It’s not enough as a consultant to develop a worthwhile methodology; you’ve also got to develop the technology to make it ultimately useful for each and every client.

All that to say that today I want to share what I think are somewhat universal stages for any successful consulting system and engagement.

Education

A successful consulting engagement lives and dies upon expectations. If you don’t view the process of educating a client on your unique approach as part of the engagement, as opposed to part of the selling process, you’ll hit snags down the road.

When a prospective client wants to meet to discuss working together treat that meeting as an opportunity to do some valuable work with them rather than simply showcasing how you work.

Conversion

Once a client is convinced you can help them you must contractually spell out exactly how it’s going to work. You need them to agree to types of information you need, access to staff time, meetings with stakeholders and precisely what you intend to deliver and when.

I wrote about my use of contracts recently here.

Discovery

In this stage you are working with the client to discover “what is.” In other words, this is the audit phase. For me this includes internal staff interviews, external client and partner interviews, website analysis, content analysis, past and future campaign analysis and analysis of key performance objectives and goals.

It’s important to enter this phase with a very open mind. You have no idea what you’re going to find but you must be thorough. (Checklists are really important part of the system here.)

Research

Now it’s time to take what you learn in the Discovery phase and start looking to turn “what is” into “what’s possible.” You need to dive in and take a broader look at the client’s industry at a whole, with special attention given to deconstructing competitors.

This is also the place where I access the internal and external interviews in an effort to better understand a client’s culture and community tendencies. You can’t succeed if you make recommendations that a client simply won’t go through with – no matter how smart those recommendations are.

Presentation

This is the big moment. In my world this is the place where I “sell” my recommendations to the client. Sell may seem like an odd way to describe this phase but this is a “don’t pass go without” step.

Most of my work is based on the notion that you must develop and commit to a marketing strategy before declaring any set of tactics as appropriate. In this stage I must get buy in and excitement from the client around strategy recommendations or I must go back to the drawing board.

Implementation

This phase obviously differs for each and every type of engagement. In fact, in some consulting engagements the implementation is actually left to the client.

Either way, a system for proceeding here is important. If you are now going to do the work you’ve proposed you should have a series of projects and processes all plugged into a checklist road map. If you’re not going to do the work you’ve proposed, your recommendations should contain a road map for the client.

Review

I think this is the missing link for many consultants and service providers. No matter how your consulting engagement is designed you should insist upon some sort of review process to access results. We actually write this step into the contract for a specified time in the future.

Only a couple things can happen in a results review and I think all are positive.

a) You can discover your client got amazing, tangible, documentable results and wants to know how to refer you to others.
b) You can find things just kind of stalled and they need you to help get them back on track

Viewing every aspect of your work through the lens of a system makes you more efficient, more prepared to deliver consistent value to your clients and more effective when it comes to creative problem solving.

This Is How We Do It Here

The seven words contained in the title of this post may very well save your life. Well, perhaps not, it just may feel like it.

Those words, uttered in many a selling situation, can keep you from promising something you can’t deliver, cutting your prices on demand, or bending and twisting your ability to deliver results to the point where folks in your organization no longer recognize the engagement you committed to.

To be fair, it’s not just the words, it’s actually having processes you follow so you can deliver the best possible results. Every small business is constrained by its ability to deliver the goods with limited resources. The absolute best way to do that is to get very good at a set of proven processes and then stick to them as though your life depended upon it. This goes for your selling process, contracting process, engagement process, manufacturing process, delivery process, service process and billing process.

In fact, the first place you might start uttering TIHWDIH is in the lead conversion process. When the prospect starts the sales call off with a round of pointed questions and pronouncements of just what it is they need, stop them and suggest that you have a process for helping them uncover the true cost of not addressing this stated challenge head on and that you would like to engage them in that process. (That’s code for TIHWDIH)

I’m not saying that there is never a time to bend and flex as new opportunities arise, I’m simply saying that without your own stated processes of excellence you will get pushed and shoved more then bended and flexed.

Your willingness to stick with your proven delivery mechanisms will help you avoid taking business that you know you shouldn’t take. Your processes are the filter for identifying ideal customers. (If a prospect won’t sit still for your needs analysis, that might be a red flag.) Your processes will ensure that everyone in the organization is delivering the same message, experience and brand. Remember this, a seemingly great opportunity that pushes you outside of your proven processes often costs far more to deliver and may even cause you to take you eye off of serving your core ideal customer.

Lastly, I’ve found that demonstrating you actually have proven processes can be very alluring to prospects. Too many small businesses pitching their wares these days are making promises right and left, but falling down when it actually comes to delivering on those promises. Your “10-step needs discovery process” will automatically set you apart from the pack and likely lead to the ability to raise your prices.

Hang a banner with TIHWDIH emblazoned for all to see and then repeat this mantra at every turn.