Imagine. You are on the road somewhere and you have been in meetings with the CTO of your client all day. You are tired and go back to your hotel room and fall asleep. At 4 am in the morning you hear “knock, knock, knock” on the door , you get up and open the door. At the door is the client company CEO.
They say to you, “ I hear you are engaged at my company. You have 60 seconds to explain your value to my company or you are fired.”
The clock starts now.
I do this as an exercise with consulting teams in my Advanced Consulting Skills Course. I give them 60 seconds to craft a response indicating their value and… most people fail miserably the first time they attempt it. The reason for this is that most of us do not think about communicating our value. We may know that we are good at our job, but not certain how to express that and even less certain how to express that to a client. Here is the awful truth. Sorry folks.
If you cannot express your value and differentiate yourself from the crowd, you are by definition a commodity. The same as every other consultant. Commodity consultants (and there are lots) get the worst engagements and get the least compensation.
Top Tip – A consultant being able to express his/her value is the most fundamental of consulting skills and it is one of the most difficult items to get them to do well. Your success in this endeavor will make the difference between having the opportunity to be an excellent consultant or not. Don’t treat it lightly …..
The population of consultants easily divides into two distinct groups: the ordinary and the excellent.
Ordinary consultants can be spotted by these tell-tale signs:
- “I like clients who know what they want”
- “I like helping my clients out”
- “I am happy to do most things that are asked of me”
- “I like to be invited to help”
- “I am not sure I have the right to question?”
The attitude of these ordinary consultants will result in:
- Being used as a pair of hands, brought in as needed
- Superficial involvement
- Ineffective use of time
- Incomplete projects and projects of marginal value
- Value unclear and being questioned
- Low influence with client
Excellent consultants are rare and more in demand from clients. They can be overheard saying:
- “I specialize in these three areas”
- “I work with my clients to solve this type of problem”
- “I always deliver”
- “I always ask the question: ‘How will this add value?’”
- “I offer my views in these areas based on my expertise”
- “I pleasantly surprise my clients with what I do and say”
The approach of the excellent consultant results in:
- Partnership with clients based on shared objectives and plans
- Requests for advice
- More rewarding and challenging work
- Development of reputation and expertise
- A powerful, confident attitude from consultant
- Value added clear for all to see
You want to be excellent. What do you need to do? Among other things, you need long-term commitment, focus and depth of expertise. You also need a crispness and confidence when you handle yourself in front of the client. Your first step is to answer credibly the client’s first question: “What can you do to help us?”
Many ordinary consultants fall at this first hurdle. They have not done the essential preparation for operating as a consultant. They do not really know the value they add. They cannot always answer the question: “Why did the client come to us?”. To be clear about the value you add entails trying to see yourself as others see you. This is not easy but it is important to do. Once the value you add is clear in your own mind, the more effectively you will be able to communicate that value to your clients.
Think about the differentiators…..
What makes you more valuable the other consultant with similar qualifications on their resumé?
- Better aligned experience
- More specific skill set
- Better processes for how you work with your client
- Better track record
- Better productivity
- Better mentor to the client resources
- Easier to communicate with
- Easier to work with
- Better results
- More professional
- Clearer or more thorough documentation
- Pragmatic or experiential approach
- Domain expertise
- Intellectual property
- Organizational depth & other backup resources
- Communication abilities
- Analytical and design capabilities
- Teamwork capabilities
- Familiarity with client tools and processes
- Process adaptability
- Strong Client References
- Strong Team References
Only you know the answer. Take some time and make your own list of 30 items. Feel free to borrow and expand on the ones above, but only pick the ones you personally truly believe in. When a client asks you to explain it, you can.
The next step is to now think like your client or at least a prototypical client. Which ones of the list of 30 are they interested in for their next project?
Now craft a very short, very succinct paragraph for the top of your resumé. Why? Because your future client does not want read about your career goals and the fact that you own a cat. They want to know how you are going to help them solve the specific business challenge they are hiring for. A resumé is a terrible vehicle to accomplish that, but let’s at least take the first paragraph to see if we can make an impact.
In one paragraph answer these 3 things, they do not have to be in any order.
1. Problems my clients face – When you want to….. but………..
2. Services you can offer – I can ……..
3. Benefits of your involvement – My clients say the benefits they gain from my involvement are ……
Now go back and add the differentiators from your list.
Here is just 1 of my versions.
With over 25 years experience in complex solution engineering and mission critical program management I have successfully designed and implemented solutions for my clients that include;
The combination of my project leadership and technical expertise, advanced methodologies and tools combine together to reduce risk, ensure quality and minimize the time to realize the benefits of my clients’ information system solutions.
For the last 11 years, I have been architecting optimal solutions exclusively on the Microsoft platform. My work with enterprise clients spans from the inception of business strategy and concept, to estimate and business value assessments, technical and application architecture, through to full project execution and resultant benefits management.
So in 1 paragraph I have picked up items from the list of differentiators that are appropriate for my enterprise client looking for a Microsoft-technology architect to lead a large new mission critical solution initiative. I would change this on a client by client, project by project basis to have the most impact for that client. You will see another version of this on my linkedin page.
It’s not easy. Imagine sitting at your prospective client’s desk. They have a stack of resumés, what are they looking for? what are they most worried about? what is the specific skill or differentiator that you have that could help them?
Now for $100 you can submit your resumé to a CV Polishing service and they can send it back with all the nice words and make it look professional. They cannot however write that first paragraph. That must come from you. You must believe it and every word of it must be fully accurate.
Write it and then do the hotel room test. Knock, knock , knock…. You have 60 seconds to explain your value or you are fired……..
Keep trying it until you can answer it quickly and honestly every time.
PS. When you tell the truth, it is not bragging. It is just communicating your true value. If you don’t communicate your differentiating value, you are a commodity.