The Five Phases of Consulting: Initiation (1 of 5)

by paulgebel

When a consultant approaches a qualified prospect for gaining approval for the work to be done, initiation is an often overlooked or minimized step in the process. I suspect that the reason lies in the fact that independent consultants do not always make the best salesmen (in the noblest sense of the term), and vice versa. As Zig Ziglar so aptly put it, there are really only ever five reasons, real or perceived, that a sale can go awry. The five basic obstacles are: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, and no trust. From the very first exploratory meeting through every phase of discovery, the consultant should strategically qualify or disqualify each of these five obstacles.

In a traditional retail or B2B sales-based role, the obstacles may effectively be tactically removed. That is, a customer may create the illusion of one obstacle in order to camouflage another, and the salesman is required to detect this misdirection. For example, a customer may lead the conversation towards a meager budget obstacle, when a lack of trust is the real issue. These kinds of conversations still may take place in the consultative process, however the difference between a sales approach and a consultation is that one has a customer and the other has a client, respectively.

What is the difference between a customer and a client? The customer is always right.

A tactical conversation eliminates the obstacle for the success of the sale. A strategic conversation eliminates the obstacle for the success of the relationship. A successful consultant deals strategically with clients, and the process towards successful change needs to be one of compromise. Sometimes it involves the consultant discovering that they are not actually the right one to work on the project that the client thinks they need. The level of maturity needed to have an initiation meeting lead to that conclusion is probably the single largest test of the quality of a consultant and the biggest distinguishing trait from a salesman. A successful initiation will lead to three fundamental points of agreement.

  1. What the client’s expectations are
  2. What the consultant’s dependencies and constraints are
  3. What is required to kick off the project

The initiation is the foundation on which the whole project and larger relationship will be based. With a poor initiation phase, there is little chance of succeeding through Discovery, Analysis, Implementation and ERT (Extension, Recycling, or Termination).