“I need a solution to X problem, you’re an expert, can you help me”?
That is the foundational reason a consultant is hired.
It drives me nuts when you go out and find an answer to a problem, only to be met with objection because it doesn’t fit the status quo or doesn’t validate their point of view. On the flip side, if what you recommend is embraced, implemented and helps your client go to the next level, it is extremely gratifying and worth dealing with clients who embrace change only in theory.
So how do you deal with this reality?
I’d like to share one of my experiences, how I dealt with it, the risk/reward outcome, and ask those who read this to share their tips and tricks with the rest of us!
Business Ethics When Dealing With Massive Ego
A few years ago I was hired to help flush out business model, functionality requirements and customer acquisition strategy for a new tech company. This venture was a spin off from an existing company that wanted to build a SaaS solution for their clients.
While we agreed on target demographics, general business model etc, important things like what does this software do and how do we get customers were completely opposite.
I spent quite a bit of time talking with potential customers, and asking what they would love to have automated and/or streamlined. In those conversations, I bluntly asked how they would react if approached in different ways from a marketing and sales perspective. Trends were identified, similar functionality requests were made over and over, which quite frankly made this pretty straight forward. 150 potential clients all wanted XYZ, and said what would make them pay attention to it.
So I put together a plan. Top to bottom, here’s what needs to be done. Development, marketing, pricing models etc.
Enter Ego Conundrum
To my surprise and irritation, without even reading what I spent 4 months working on, the person who hired me pulls out his own plan, and proceeded to tell me while he appreciated the time spent, they had decided to move forward in a different direction!
Politely I said “totally understand, would you mind letting me take a look at yours.”
Looking through this alternative, it was blatantly obvious zero research had been done. It was so completely one-sided it would make your head spin, included things every potential customer I had talked to didn’t want, and marketing strategies so antiquated I was stunned.
Very quickly I remembered meetings where everything in this plan had been brought up, and everyone else at the table other than me had been saying yes, yes, sounds great. In reality I had been hired to validate these ideas not actually help develop a plan.
Enter Business Ethics Dilemma
Now I faced a serious problem. Based on the research, if they went down this path a lot of capital would be wasted.
I’d been hired to help them determine the best course of action, but to tell the “boss” he was wrong would require a massive slap to his ego, and likely burn a bridge. But if they followed his plan, 6-12 months later so much money would be wasted the bridge would be burned for not having said it was a bad plan.
I decided to diplomatically relay a few things potential customers had requested in the hope he would be open to listening. Immediately was told he knew the market better than me, and that customers don’t know what they want.
Next, I tried to explain a few thoughts on more efficiently marketing the service, and the value proposition points potential clients had told me. This too was instantly rejected.
It was now clear trying to change his mind was pointless. I now had to make a hard choice, burn bridge now or later.
My Decision And Its Repercussion
I decided that it was better to be upfront, and let the chips fall where they may. A rather strong, but polite case was made, and my prediction of what would happen if his plan was followed.
I stated strongly this wasn’t being against making changes to my plan, but that I truly wanted to do the best for my client, whether they agreed with me or not.
As expected, this was not well received, and I was not so politely asked to leave.
Fast forward a couple years, after zero communication – and hearing from others what he thought of me – out of the blue my phone rang and it was that old client.
After wasting $500k, having absolute rejection by clients, significant internal problems with employees, and even conflict with business partners, he realized that I had really been trying to help him make the right decision. He told me that I had serious “balls” to have stood up to him that way, and apologized for bad mouthing me to others.
We haven’t done business again, but to this day I still get phone calls from people who he’s recommended me to, and hear he says I shoot straight with the clients best interest at heart.
So while I have a love/hate relationship with consulting, it never ceases to amazing me the outcomes you can’t predict. All I can say is it’s always best to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t feel good in the moment.
This is just one of many crazy things that have happened to me. I’d love to hear your experiences, similar situations and how you’ve handled them!