How to Be an Expert and a Consultant
Partnerships in business today are most beneficial when they embrace consultative methods.
Clearly, the word “consultative” means these relationships involve and require genuinely collaborative, client needs-oriented attitudes and behaviors in all our business dealings.
Even so, there are times when your team members must behave as pure “experts”—essentially dictating recommended client decisions and actions, for a product or service, where the client simply isn’t qualified to make the decision, and where their contribution to the decision could be counterproductive.
How can your teams assert their expertise without affecting their trusted relationships?
Let’s talk about how “playing the expert card” affects client dialogs.
Peter Block’s widely-acclaimed book, “Flawless Consulting,” comprehensively defines the often-contrasting characteristics and consequences of our roles as expert and collaborator.
Our challenge is precisely “roping off” that part of our recommendation which is non-negotiable: where we know how to do something, and the client doesn’t; indeed, these are probably the capabilities that caused the client to hire us in the first place. Outside those ropes, your team members are true consultants: always collaborative and client-inclusive.
If we rope off too wide an area, we’re arbitrarily excluding the client from making legitimate, beneficial contributions. If we rope off too narrow an area, we’re allowing the client to override our core capabilities and inadvertently degrade your team’s proposals or data. A (hopefully humorous) metaphor: if we’re asked, “What time is it?” even a genuine desire to be “collaborative” doesn’t justify the response, “What time would you like it to be?”
We should always try to draw these lines before making the recommendation
Don’t wait until the client raises an objection and then scramble to decide what’s legitimately negotiable and what isn’t. Under pressure, emotions and professional egos could cause us to exaggerate what we “own” or, conversely, to abandon some of our expertise while trying to maximize collaboration and make the sale or protect someone’s pride and the relationship.
The downside risk in doing anything to which the client doesn’t directly contribute is that their lack of ownership could reduce the feeling of shared commitment to the plan. When we rightly wear the expert’s hat, that’s a price worth paying: first and foremost, we need to be as effective as possible.
A caveat: saying “trust me” (because I’m the expert) to a deeply skeptical client asks them to make a huge leap of faith. If we’re not proven right, the client’s confidence in our expertise and the trusted relationship could be permanently damaged. Make an extra effort to persuade that dubious client with clear analysis and reasoning—not just empty words!
We should never forget that even in situations where, as experts, your team rightly dictates client decisions and actions, it’s always the client who judges the success (or failure) of the outcome.Our own opinion about the results will never outweigh the client’s opinion. That means we should collaboratively seek an agreement up front on the criteria for measuring success.
In a nutshell
Your client-facing experts and sales teams must walk a tightrope, carefully balancing the necessary dictates with a collaborative, client needs-driven mindset. Ariel can help.