When you don’t sell the engagement, someone else does…


There’s a services salesperson who shows up at a cabin where some consultants have gathered to hunt bear.  Only the salesperson shows up without a gun.

The other hunters are very curious. “How are you going  to get a bear without a gun?” they ask.

“Do you have a knife?”

“No,” says the salesperson.

“Do you have a club?”

“No,” says the salesperson.

“Don’t you worry. I’m going to get a bear. Just wait right here and see.”

The salesperson  leaves the cabin and disappears into the hills for several hours.

Eventually the salesperson happens upon a bear asleep in its den and the salesperson kicks the bear and gets it really angry. As the bear wakes up, it starts to chase after the salesperson, so the salesperson starts running back towards the cabin.

Finally the hunters hear the salesperson running down the hill and yelling, “Open the cabin door! Open the door!”

They open the door and the salesperson runs into the cabin and holds the door open. An angry bear follows close behind, running into the cabin, too.  Then the salesperson steps outside, slams the door shut, and says, “You finish that one. I’ll go get another.”


It is a pattern of behaviour that has worked well for the salesperson’s commission  in hunting consulting engagements . Talk to the client, get them all riled up, sign the contract and then step outside leaving it to the consultant to deal with. Some consulting companies fail to engage the consultant in the business development process which means the following must be true for the consultant to be successful.

  • The salesperson must have diagnosed the problem correctly.
  • The salesperson must have correctly identified your capabilities to provide the service.
  • The salesperson must have correctly communicated to you the problem and the nature of the expertise required.
  • The client must have thought through and accepted the potential consequences of defining the problem and service either by themselves or with the salesperson only.

In short, not very likely these are all true.


So how do you get the engagement to both start and finish well with a satisfied client?

In my blog  post A double cheese burger, extra large fries, and a small diet Coke I described the importance of two very critical steps in the consulting process.

The Entry Stage  where you develop and agree to a stable, balanced and workable set of arrangements with the client that provides  clarity about how you are going to work together and the process to get to the end.


The Diagnosis Stage where the aim is to identify the real problem. In other words, the source of your client’s problems not just some of the effects of the real problem. Most importantly to make sure your client or the salesperson has not incorrectly identified the problem.

So yes it is important to validate or revalidate what has been sold by the services salesperson. It doesn’t have to be a long process but it is critical to ensure that you have a full and complete understanding and are engaging to solve the real issue. If you miss the diagnosis stage, sometimes you will be lucky but more often than not the engagement won’t be exactly what the client actually needs and you’ll end up with an angry bear to deal with.

Re-diagnose every time.

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1 Response to When you don’t sell the engagement, someone else does…

  1. Pingback: Infinite Shades of Grey – A year later and a little greyer | Infinite Shades of Grey

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