What winning consultants do well: know the client

My first consulting project was peculiar. I was asked by a restaurant owner to help make it better. I was new in the game

My first consulting project was peculiar. I was asked by a restaurant owner to help make it better. I was new in the game and had no idea of where to start and what “better” meant. I called my then management accounting Lecturer for guidance, “if you are challenged to help improve a restaurant, how do you go about it and where do you start?”

If you were with me and listening to that call, you would have heard the advice that would change your life. I know because it changed mine.

He said: find out what the problem is and come up with solutions to solve the root cause of the challenges.

Look at it from the doctor’s perspective: “You are the doctor, and the restaurant is the patient.

When you are not feeling fine, or sick, you go to the hospital to see a doctor. No doctor can give you medication unless they know the disease that you are suffering from. To know the disease, the doctor usually will engage you in private, ask for the symptoms, how you are feeling, your medical history, and this usually informs the kind of additional tests to make, if any, and samples are collected for testing in the lab. They will take your blood sample or urine sample or saliva as well as general body observation including measuring your height, weight, and body temperature.

The medical professionals know the measurement range of the normal person. For example, they know a healthy body’s normal temperature range. Once your body temperature is found to be outside a given standard average range of known healthy people, chances are high the patient has a bacteria or viral infection or ailment of some sort.

I suggest you use the same approach to improve the restaurant.”

My eyes were opened. To win as a consultant, use the doctor’s approach. Conduct the current state assessment of the client to understand the context. What are the current opportunities and the challenges in the way to tapping into them? Average consultants rarely put context into consideration. They just make recommendations that may not be affordable or relevant for the client. However, great consultants apply their skills to the unique circumstances of the client. Going the extra mile to understand the client. The key players and partners and their expectations. And using this information to devise pragmatic and relevant insights to improve the current condition.

With these insights, I spent a lot of time understanding the restaurant. The market catchment – who were the patrons or folks who frequented the establishment. At what time of the day? What was their main attraction? What was their income range and which services would they afford? What other services that they would have preferred. We got to understand that majority of the people who came for lunch did so because of the special buffet we served. And those in the evening came for the University girls that they hoped would be in such an upscale restaurant! We advised the owner to therefore change the menu to include the only buffet for lunch and promoted aggressively. Chips and chicken have dropped off the menu. The change reduced losses and improved sales tremendously.

And for the ladies, the owner decided to give free tickets and three drinks (bottled water, soda, or beer) to all the first 10 ladies who came by 7 am to the restaurant. It worked like magic. Although University students never came, some other ladies loved the offer and always came for the free beers. This meant that so many men came to the place. The rest, I do not know. But as a consultant, you provide insights and help the client deliver the results.

Over my years as a consultant since that day in 2007, I have realized that improving the client usually does not require spending a lot of money in implementing new changes, but rather the re-alignment and re-allocation of the existing resources to be more effective and efficient. Be concerned when the consulting proposals involve a lot of spending. Maybe that could be over trading and may never deliver results.

If you want to become a great consultant, be like the top doctors –take a lot of time understanding the client – who are they? What do they want to be solved by the end of the engagement? Why do they want it solved? How will work well done be evaluated? What is in it for them and you? If you do that you can provide solutions that are responsive to the client’s needs. And you will escape the label of qualification and template Turk – someone who enters the door because they have several paper qualifications and lots of templates, only to fail at application and leave the client worse off than they found them.

Copyright Mustapha B Mugisa, Mr. Strategy 2021. All rights reserved.

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