Category Archives: Credibility

Why Consulting Firms Fail

By Lew Sauder

Imagine that you have a leak in your bathroom faucet that keeps your significant other awake at night.  As a result, your SO’s insomnia has spread to become your problem as well.  When it comes to plumbing, you invoke the “two-suit rule” – as soon as you own two suits in the closet, you have reached the level of success in which you hire certain tasks out.  You call a plumber who schedules to come to your house at 9:00 the next Friday.

You arrange to take that Friday morning off, but he arrives at 11:00 instead of 9:00, stating that his last job took longer than expected.  You wonder to yourself what he might have scheduled before 9:00 and still allowed time to drive to your house, but you don’t say anything.

After showing the plumber the faucet in question, you leave him alone to do his work.  From your office, you can hear him talking on his cell phone to another customer. There is obviously a dispute and he is using foul language -and lots of it- to make his point.  After ninety minutes of plumbing work and phone conversation, he comes to you and states that he is done.  He presents you with a bill for which he wants immediate payment.  You write him a check to get rid of him and watch him drive away.  When you go into the bathroom, you see that, although the leak is fixed, he did a sloppy job.  The washer is visible and doesn’t look very good.   He also left the bathroom a mess.

Now imagine a different scenario.  The plumber showed up on time and spent the entire time he was there addressing your problem – not talking on the phone. Before fixing the leak, he showed you the cause of the problem, gave you some of the options for fixing the leak and the cost of each, followed by his recommendation for the best alternative.  After following your direction, he made the fix, cleaned up after himself and charged you what he said he would charge.  Additionally, he noticed that the toilet ran longer than it should and made a recommendation to fix it that would cost you less than five dollars.

Which plumber would you hire next time?  Which would you recommend to your friends and neighbors?

Consultants and how they treat their clients are very similar.  There are some consultants like the first plumber that are out to make a fast buck, who will arrive at the client site, do suboptimal work, charge them for time that they deal with other clients’ issues, and leave a mess of issues behind when they leave.

A legitimate consulting firm develops a relationship with the client. Like the second plumber, they do the work right the first time, focus only on the current client’s issues, and keep the customer’s interests in mind at all times.  Whether they provide a solution that costs the client very little, or they get additional billable work from it, the solution is provided in an effort to help the client improve their business, rather than finding situations to make more money.

The second scenario may be more expensive in the short run. But in the long run, you get more repeat business and more referral business.  Consultants – and plumbers – who do it right, realize that it costs a lot more to get a new customer than it costs to keep an existing one.

To some, it seems logical.  Do what’s best for the client and the revenue will eventually come in.  But some are less disciplined and go for the immediate gratification, constantly asking, “What is our margin on the current project?”

Which philosophy does your firm follow?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (   He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.


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Filed under Business, Consulting, Consulting Sales, Credibility, Customer service

Can Consultants Have a Sense of Humor?

I’ve always had a pretty good sense of humor.  I can find irony in a lot of things and have used it to my advantage.  In my school days it would get me in trouble occasionally when the teacher thought I was auditioning for class clown.  As I’ve grown into adulthood, I’ve tried to mature only as much as necessary.

As a consultant – and in any business – you spend a fair amount of time in meetings.  Meetings can be long and tedious.  Business people always seem to be concerned about their professional image and joking around can give the impression that you are not serious about your work.

But an appropriate joke placed at the right time can lighten up the environment and refocus people from being glazed over from statistics on endless PowerPoint slides.

The timing and content of a joke must be appropriate.  Some guidelines to follow are:

  • Don’t overdo it.  Telling a joke and giving a stand-up routine are two different things.  The point of telling a joke in a meeting or any professional situation is to lighten things up, not to entertain the troops.
  • Keep it appropriate.  Although I hate the term ‘politically correct’, it describes the approach fairly well.  If there is any question of it being offensive, don’t say it.  Avoid references to politics, religion and sex at a minimum.  Michael Scott can get away with saying “That’s what she said” on The Office, but it’s not advisable in a business setting.
  • Don’t put people down. People can be very sensitive.  Telling a joke at someone else’s expense, particularly in front of their colleagues or their boss can have serious ramifications.  If you tell a joke at anyone’s expense, it should probably be at your own.  But doing that too often can give the impression of a lack of self-confidence.
  • Read the audience.  Some people have no patience for people joking around in a business setting.  If you try to lighten things up with a joke and get no response or a cold stare, back off.  Taking them as a challenge to make them laugh will most likely backfire on you.  If they want to be serious and all that their consultant seems to be focused on is joking around, your chances of success at that client are low.
  • Beware of a double standard with the client.  Some clients have a set of acceptable standards for their own employees and another set for consultants.  This stands to reason to some degree.  They’re usually paying a lot more on a per hour basis for their consultants and they want them to be as efficient as possible.  You may see client employees get away with joking around and having fun, while you get reprimanded for not being serious enough.

Having a sense of humor can be a great asset.  Much of success in consulting is about building relationships and much of that hinges on just being likable.  The ability to make people laugh can endear them to you. It can also make your own work day more pleasant.  But everyone has their own idea of what is funny and what’s not.  Make sure that you don’t turn a client off with your sense of humor.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.


Filed under Business, Communication, Consulting, Credibility, Etiquette, Meetings, Morale

Accountability vs. Blame

Everyone makes a mistake on occasion.  I’ve seen the smartest and most meticulous people write down the wrong time or date for a meeting.  It happens.  And as long as it’s not habitual, most people tolerate small mistakes.

Then there are major screw ups.  Perhaps someone didn’t anticipate a key risk on a project or realized during step 9 that step 3 in a process was skipped, causing major rework and embarrassment with the client.

The real issue is how organizations deal with mistakes of this nature.  Many organizations talk about not focusing on blame.  Certainly, when a major faux pas is made, the first thing to focus on is how to make amends. 

Once corrective actions begin, you start to hear people saying things like “We have to determine who is responsible and hold them accountable.”  To me, that sounds a lot like “We need a scapegoat to shoulder the blame.”

I’m all for holding people accountable.  But people have different opinions of what that means.  Some see it as identifying someone to punish while others see it as a teaching moment.  Some see punishment as a form of teaching, assuming that if an employee knows they’ll face a severe punishment for messing up, they will be extra careful.

This negative reinforcement may make employees cautious, which can be good.  But it may make them too cautious, causing them to avoid any type of risk that could help them – and the organization – excel.

Performance evaluations tend to start someone with the expectation of perfection, and then ding them down to their realistic level after identifying everything they did wrong.  This can create a negative environment, where people either cover up errors or begin passing blame on other people as soon as things go south.  In this type of environment, people learn that the sooner you can pin the blame on a co-worker, the quicker you can save your own ass.

There are positive environments that have tolerance for errors, some that even encourage people to take risks and make errors in the interest of learning.  This creates an environment of honesty and accountability.  As soon as someone realizes something is wrong, they feel confident going into the boss’s office and saying “I made a mistake that could cost us (time, money, credibility, all of the above)”. 

A good leader will both work with an employee to help figure out how to correct an error, and hold them accountable in a positive way.  They will help them identify lessons learned – what they could have done differently to avoid this happening again?

Organizations like this tend to be more transparent with their employees and with their customers, creating an environment of trust within the organization and with everyone that interacts with them.

How does your organization hold people accountable?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting ( He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Accountability, Business, Communication, Consulting, Credibility, Mentoring, Morale

3 Ways to Establish Consultant Credibility

By Lew Sauder

Something that a consultant always strives for with their client is credibility.  That’s why client sales proposals almost always include things like the history of the firm and their previous clients.  Consulting firms want the client to know that they’ve been around the block a few times and have experience.

The same goes for consultants when they get to a client site.  The client may trust the firm, but how do they know this new person has the knowledge and background to deliver the quality that the client expects.  Firms often provide the client a firm-branded resume of their consultants and even let the client interview and approve people for key roles.  For the most part, the client gets the team the firm provides.  The client can always ask the firm to remove a consultant from a team if they don’t fit in well (more on that in next week’s blog). 

It’s up to the consultant to establish their own credibility.  Here are three ways to establish trust and credibility when starting as a new consultant:

1)      Listen.  Too often, new consultants want to spew out everything they know to let to their new client know they are legit.  The client is usually more concerned with their own business issues, which is why they hired the consulting firm.  Focusing on the client’s issues with the goal of resolving them will impress them more than touting your accomplishments.

2)      Talk, but not too much.  Most clients will start out trusting you unless you give them a reason not to.  By hiring the firm, they are assuming the firm has done their due diligence in hiring their consultants.  The client will most likely observe you for a while and may eventually ask you to speak.  It most likely won’t be an interrogation; they may ask you something about the project or what you are working on.  When it finally becomes your turn to speak, answer the question, provide enough detail to help them understand your answer and let them know what you’re doing, but avoid droning on about every detail so that they’re sorry the asked.  Provide a high-level summary.  If they ask for more detail, provide it, but watch for signs that they have enough understanding.  Every manager has their own threshold of detail that they want.  Try to stop before their eyes roll to the back of their head.

3)      Complete your tasks correctly the first time.  Nothing proves credibility for a new consultant more than just doing your job well.  You may be labeled as too talkative or too quiet by the client, but doing high-quality work is like a Hawaiian shirt on a middle-aged man – it hides a lot of sins.

So, in a nutshell, know when to shut up, know when to talk and do a good job.  Easy, right?

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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Filed under Business, Communication, Credibility