Yesterday I shared why I don't trust anyone who pitches you a solution before diagnosing your consulting business.
I picked inbound leads as an example since that's what most digital marketers are in love with nowadays, but the idea works with anything from appointments to followers and subscribers. No one really wants more sales meetings, what most consultants want is to earn more while working less.
That's why you need context to offer effective growth advice - industry experience is not enough. For an example, just look at me: Today, I'm a business development advisor for boutique consulting firms with 2-10 partners that typically sell to large companies. I'd say that's a pretty narrow specialization decision.
Have I collected benchmarks and best practices from past clients? Yes. But every client is also in a unique position - their offerings are different, their target market has its own characteristics, and the people who run those firms have different goals, worldviews, and personalities. Generic advice is not only ineffective but can worsen things.
So context matters, and for both sides of the engagement:
- If your work includes supporting clients with growth, you need to understand their context before exploring solutions if you truly want to deliver results.
- If you're a consultant who's considering hiring someone to help you grow, you need to evaluate whether that person is taking your circumstances into account before proposing solutions. That's part of your job when assessing their expertise.
Exploring Context For Growth
What are the elements or criteria we consultants can use to pick, experiment, and optimize the way we market and sell their services?
That's a big and scary question, but I'll share the four main "blocks" of context I usually explore when starting with a new client:
- Positioning: In what business are you in?
- Business model: How do you serve your clients?
- Past & Future: What were the results from previous initiatives? What are your goals and desired outcomes for the future?
- People: How do you (and the whole group, if working with a team) look at and behave to drive growth?
Let me quickly break those down.
Your positioning is the most important business decision you can make to drive growth. We need to understand who you sell to if we want to explore how your clients behave (so you can earn visibility and trust from them), what's the size of your market (how many potential buyers are out there), and what's your reputation among your industry (or what do you want to be known for).
Your business model is another obvious criteria for context. Do you sell online courses and products with zero marginal cost of replication? Do you offer productized or done-for-you services like an agency? Or do you work on a 1:1 basis, selling bespoke consulting services to build new client capabilities? Your offering mix will completely dictate your growth initiatives.
If you're dealing with growth, we need to talk about concrete numbers and indicators to understand the dimension of our task. How's your current situation now, and what have you tried in the past? What do you want to achieve in the future, and how do you measure success?
Last but not least, people. How do your goals personally affect your clients? Which tasks, activities, and challenges do they want their work to consist of? How do they look at growth? What energizes them? And if you're working with a team, what's the dynamic like? What do people say, and what do people do? Don't ignore culture.
Over time, you should always dig deeper to better understand what your client's world looks like, but these three elements are a good starting point for any client relationship.
If you find someone sharing advice before exploring your context, walk away. The best consultants I know recognize that the value of their expertise is not in itself, but in how they apply it to help clients. It turns out that the better you know your client, the better you'll help them.