Inarticulate ramblings of a management consultant

the day to day experiences of a consultant operating in weird and wonderful client situations

Consulting for free – really!?

As I sit in the back of a blue bird taxi in Jakarta on a Tuesday night after a day of pitches…for those of you who haven’t been here, this is likely to take some time….I’m drawn to write about the plague that is increasing impacting consultants, specialist or generalist, local or international, small or large:

the ‘try before you buy’ trend

You know that things have started to take hold when you start to hear specific language which relates to the concept. Increasingly terms and expressions such as ‘proof of concept’ or ‘risk sharing’ are featuring in conversations with clients….essentially a polite form of giving away something (usually time and innovation) as a sweetener in the hope of winning a big piece of work. I was talking with a friend of mine last week who has a very specialist skill set in the financial services sector and whose knowledge around this subject is second to none. He had once again been asked by a client to attend another lengthy meeting to explore in detail the scope and potential solution to some fairly critical issues that the client faced. Being in a start up mode, he felt his options were limited.

Now, let’s not go down the analogy route…it’s far too obvious to compare this to any other sector where the concept of ‘try before you buy’ would end you up out on the street! Imagine walking into a restaurant or a pub or even a shop with that approach…the reaction would be amusing but perhaps unlikely to generate a positive response.

So what are the reasons which we can think of, which would justify a decision to give away something as precious as time to a consultant? More importantly, it’s time which has added value because it’s ‘experienced’ time! Here are my three reasons when it’s worth considering:

  1. When you as a consultant will gain some valuable knowledge as a result of the process….either an insight into the problem, the sector or indeed the company which you can use elsewhere. After all, there is nothing proprietary about what’s been created in a situation which is free.
  2. When you’re working for a someone who has proven himself / herself as a loyal client in the past…ie there is a relationship there which both of you have invested in and benefited from.
  3. When the requirement is a valuable training opportunity for one of your less experienced consultants who is not deployed at the moment. In this case, you’re solving potentially two problems at once. My only caveat is to control the eagerness of your consultant who will be desperate to convert this at any price…which is never a good tactic.

Devaluing the only things which we have…time, experience and goodwill…seems to me to be a very bad start to any relationship!

Categories: Consulting, Economics, Learning, Selling

Tags: , , ,

2 replies

  1. Very well articulated. .. as usual.

    I think of internal services provided by one dept to another in a similar way. If there’s no commercialism involved, the recipient tends to under value the service, leading to wastefulness. Both parties need to appreciate the value that’s being created – either for them or for the other party.


    • Hi Greg, thanks for your comment…as ever, very helpful. The non commercial aspect of these relationships is, as you say, the challenge…however living in a a time sheet world (which is almost inevitably the outcome of creating this type of cross charging environment) may be beyond the cultural limitations of many corporates! Understandibly so.


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