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A consulting success story that surprised even me!

2013 January 21
by Malcolm Sleath

Not me, but how I felt when I heard

I’m used to hearing success stories from clients. (I know, you would expect me to say that.) But seriously, they keep me going.

Most of them I can’t share, because they are too situation specific, and I hear about them during the course of confidential coaching sessions.

But this is an exception, because this success story was told to me not by the person who experienced it (who was not actually a client at the time) but by two different people to whom he has told the story. These are the facts as I understand them.

One evening, towards the end of last year I ran a 12boxes taster event called ‘Structuring Conversations so that Prospects Buy‘ (thanks for the title Graham!).

It was for the London Branch of the Institute of Consulting. There were about sixty people there from several different disciplines because it was run in conjunction with the British Computer Society Consultancy Specialist Group and JCF UK – The Joint Consultants Forum. The organisers kindly sent me the feedback sheets. The appreciation scores were high, and I was pleased because it’s taken quite a while to get the formula for the taster workshop right – mostly by learning to leave things out. Afterwards, the Chairman wrote me a nice letter.

During the course of the evening, I made a number of offers, one of which was the opportunity for people to run the taster workshop in-house free of charge. A couple of days later, one of the participants contacted me to say that he had spoken to his MD, and they would like to take me up on it. So a week or so later, I did the workshop again at an office in the City.

Now bear in mind that this is a taster workshop, and my aim is to give people a sense of how 12boxes works based on their own experiences. It’s not designed to teach people to go straight out and use it, and we are pretty mean with 12boxes intellectual property until people sign up as clients.

My ‘sponsor’ attended both workshops, so I guess his exposure would have been about four hours max, and I didn’t put any new material into the second workshop, although the level of interaction would have been higher because it was a small enough group to fit round the boardroom table.

After the workshop, two of the participants went off to see a client. It was someone they had spoken to before, and they were hoping to get a modest amount of initial consultancy. We are talking in the region of £20,000. Because they already knew the client, they asked if they could try something out on him. They mentioned a new approach they had been hearing about called 12boxes, and they wondered if he would mind if they structured the meeting around that.

Needless to say, this is not what you are supposed to do with 12boxes. The conversation with the client should feel like – well, a conversation, not a structured interview based around a check-list. Anyway, the client agreed to go along with it, and off they went.

As I heard it, they couldn’t stop the client from talking – not that they wanted to. It seems clear the way they structured the interview invited the client to open his eyes to all kinds of issues and opportunities that had simply not arisen at the earlier meeting. A meeting with his boss followed, and the initial consulting assignment grew from £20,000 to £40,000. And they sensed this was just the beginning.

For many consultants, the numbers we are talking about will seem quite small. But a return of £20,000 on an investment of four hours in a couple of free workshops seems a good deal to me, and I know from the experience of clients that a similar effect has been achieved with much bigger numbers. More importantly, the conversation seems to have taken the relationship beyond the boundary of a simple piece of consultancy.

Phone consultationMost consultants wait until after the initial piece of work has been done to get the client to focus on what comes next. The drift I’m picking up from this situation is that the process began before the first piece of work was even started. Of course, this is what should happen. But ask yourself, how often do things actually happen in the way they are supposed to?

If you would like to run an in-house taster workshop either in-house or remotely with the easy to use GoToMeeting platform, why don’t you drop me an email or book a short telephone chat. And we’ll see if we can create yet another success story.