Management Consultants. Ew.
This past week BBC aired a “documentary” on their avaricious, venomous “profits from austerity” advising the UK public sector.
After mentioning outrageous big ticket procurement fails – such as the much-delayed aircraft carrier pair cited as maybe costing almost four-times the original 2008 budget of £3.6bn – the filmmaker wondered on Town Hall spending. What if every little project was likewise blighted? They account for a quarter of government spend; £60bn straining under the radar?
It was sixty minutes presenting council ineptitude, outsourcer opacity and consultant racketeering. It is this latter accusation that interests us as solution salespeople.
The sector didn’t look great from the off. A magician driving a flash Jag turning table tricks in the name of helping people collaborate.
What followed were off-camera exasperations as a trio of talking heads revealed insider secrets.
It’s difficult to make a case for their darkest tactical applications in seeking business. Yet ethical and genuinely beneficial deployments of forms of their hammered four flanks of attack can exist.
So PWC produce an investigatory document they call Strategic Operating Model Assessment. Seriously. Who thinks such titles are apt these days? Anyway. It was roundly dismissed by one “armchair auditor” (concerned taxpayer gone detective) as “a blueprint where companies would just copy and paste their names into them”.
It seems they are mere templates where juniors cut their teeth on standard methodology. John Bennett, ex-PWC;
“Very similar to what people experience in trades. In the car industry they open up the bonnet of your car and suddenly they find six things wrong with your car when you only went in for a flat tyre.”
Yet. One of the flagstones of a sustainable sales process is the very ability to hone a repeatable formula. You have a specific, tightly defined issue you happily resolve. So you must learn how to find, expose and agree to fix it.
Valley of Death
Well, here was a new one on me. Death Valley was a place I was taught early to avoid. The frazzling suffocation of silence between final presentation and decision. But this nuance is very different. Consultants seem to use it to signify where they need their prospects to be in order to act. Affable whistleblower (brave enough to introduce his industry tell-all as, “it’s like robbing a bank, but it’s legal”) David Craig;
“What you’re looking for is something that is a big emotional shock.
We want to take them to what we call the Valley of Death.
Where he loses confidence in his people.
He says, ‘well, how can this be happening?’, ‘how can my salespeople not be selling?’.
He has to feel his world has moved and he really has to do something.
Because if he’s no pain, he’s not going to buy.
So down into the Valley of Death we go.
Well. The identification of what he refers to in part as “the dirt” is an essential tract of solution selling success. Only there can you bring “salvation” from “sunny uplands”. Here’s the consultant mindset;
“It’s bad. It’s really bad. But don’t worry. Together, working together, we can save the situation. It’ll only cost you two or three million – or maybe you need to buy a big computer system for another fifty million, who knows…”
Understanding your prospect’s cloudy lowlands is a vital starting place.
Land & Expand
Pretty much every account management machine has a phrase for client colonisation. John Bennett again, on scoping docs;
“they’re actually seen by consulting firms as almost loss leaders as you’re often lining up a larger piece of work further down the line”
“You start to uncover issues in an organisation and therefore put them under pressure.”
From tiny acorns do giant oaks grow, and all that…
Yet this phrase has another context. An all-embracing driving force for consultants; “land in a meeting; find a problem; expand your role”.
Who’s interested in a successful but small project? Taking “transformation” over tweaks every time? Imagine if they dished out fill-in-the-blanks Model Assessments for nothing…
Nobody likes to be remorselessly milked though. Having a plan for genuine two-way development can precede a noble pursuit.
Risk & Reward
These contracts offer a reduced initial rate in turn for a share of the spoils. PWC dealings saw them cash in 16pc of one Welsh council’s cost cutting. (McKinsey’s were also given a kicking so it’s not solely a PWC malaise). The sector’s spokesman is Alan Leaman;
“There are more and more people in our industry who say to clients, ‘what you really want to do is buy an outcome. You want to buy a result. And how we’re going to do that, well we’re going to share some risk. So, okay, we might take a basic fee but on top of that we’ll be paid by the results we deliver for you.”
Buy an outcome. Like a sort of guarantee. As if low fee-plus is better than a straight fixed cost commissioning. There are other ways of mitigating risk. There are other ways of incenting. Both fine and useful.