April 13, 2008 by
Filed under: People 

I’m in the process of putting together a project that will involve a number of external resources from different disciplines. The intent is to build a product that will require technical, sales and marketing resources, and likely some branding and analytics effort, most of which will come from external consultants that I know. Being a consultant myself, I have learned the cost of totally missing the mark with a proposal, but I think this is the first time it has happened to me. I feel I have not been listened to, I feel insulted. I realize that this is the concern I often have to battle against with prospects, that they are going to feel ‘consulted’.

Here’s a draft of my reply, one of those ‘better sit on it overnight’ things. Names have been changed, of course.


After reading your letter about how you see your company supporting this project, I would have to say we’re not quite ready to set up a call on Monday afternoon.

If you recall, twice now I have described with detail and passion some of the reasons for developing this product. Yes, in working with any new company, there is a discovery stage, but I have found that in working with SME’s it is critical to come to the table with the sleeves rolled up and ready to add value from the start. My experience has been (and I recall your nodding in agreement) that to suggest that you will spend some time doing some planning, having some meetings, doing some other things that are specific to our respective niches, then providing a detailed plan and timeline with recommendations and suggestions for anywhere around $10k, the small business is going to show you the door. You undershot this by $500, but that’s probably just to stay below that 5-digit ceiling.

This was a central distinction behind why I have developed this product – to be able to provide value out of the gate. It hasn’t been difficult to provide tremendous value for far less money to my clients, and for me the bar has been raised in terms of my expectations. I have learned over the years to recognize the difference between strategic and tactical cash flow. While it may appear to be a good start with a new client to pull in $10k, and there is that dreadful expression of ‘not wanting to leave money on the table’. I have found that being sensitive to the needs of the SME is critical for ongoing engagement. Even in times of strong cash flow, the SME is still sensitive to where the money goes.

Whether it is a matter of providing faster value only to the SME’s or to provide this to all clients is a matter of choice (in larger firms the decision makers are not as closely wedded to the budget, and ten grand here or there is more like pocket change) – my choice is to provide this value to all clients.

Bob, in our discussions earlier, we talked about how deep down, while all clients would suggest they are different, they are actually similar in many more ways than is apparent on the surface. This is true for consultants as well. We both know that the traditional discovery phase that you propose has elements that have been reused from previous discoveries, even if the client is unaware of this point. Producing a detailed report of recommendations often leverages cut-and-paste from previous reports, and the report generation is the double-edged sword of mind-numbingly billable effort. I have no interest in doing that, I have no interest in billing for that sort of thing, and I have no interest in paying consultants to do that for me.

In your letter, you cite the notion of clear ROI for our collaboration. Thus far, you have proposed $9500 for telling me what I already know and identifying what you are going to do to provide value, which will cost me ‘TBD’ more. If we are deep down all the same as consultants, then you should be able to give me a credible expression of ROI based on your experience with similar clients, some concrete examples and reference clients of similar size, and you should be able to provide this expectation from day one. If the model is compelling enough, I’m certainly willing to drop all of these initial fees and let you participate in the action, something I am always willing to entertain with clients. To borrow a phrase from your letter, “Your success will be our success”.

Bob, I think you have completely missed the mark here. If you are interested in engaging with Clarrus, you will have to demonstrate that you have heard what we already have discussed, and sharpen your pencil. My goal is not to spend here, my goal is to gain value.

–end of draft reply–

So, should I send this? In my travels, I have found there are consultants that are in it for the money, and there are consultants that are in it to provide value to their clients. As a prospect, I know that there is a sales pipeline somewhere that has prematurely bumped me to a new level. As a consultant, when you look across the table, do you see a bag of cash or an ongoing relationship? – JB

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