Are You Really a Consultant?

When I used an example of a hairdressing product representative giving expert advice in a previous article on this site, one reader commented ‘are we all consultants now?’

The term ‘consultant’ is very loosely defined and its meaning has become open for interpretation. The general definition of the word is “one who gives professional or expert advice” which suggests that anyone who receives payment for giving advice can be deemed a professional.  A professional is someone who “follows an occupation as a means of livelihood or for gain” – in other words, to get paid.

On that basis, Sue, the hairdressing product representative is acting as a professional consultant because she is getting paid to provide advice to a consulting client about a product that will address a problem that client has.

Sue’s remuneration comes from Acme All Natural Hair Product who pay her for making recommendations to clients on the basis that sufficient of them accept her recommendations and buy enough products from Sue to cover their costs and profit margins. If Sue fails to meet her KPI’s, Acme would doubtless let her go.

In business, one sells either a product or a service. Those who sell services do so on the basis that they are either asked what to do, or told what to do.

A consulting engineer is asked how a bridge should be designed and built and uses their professional expertise in providing a solution, for which they are paid. In turn, they ask construction companies to provide prices to perform a specified scope of works in order for the bridge to be built. The engineer is asked what to do; the construction company is told what to do.

Now take a look at what you do. If you’re selling a product, are you selling it using a consultative approach to those who have a problem, or are you simply peddling it to all and sundry? If you’re doing what Sue did, you’re a sales consultant. If however, you were simply calling hairdressers if they wanted to buy hair treatment products, you’re not a sales consultant.

If you’re selling service, is it in response to a question or request, and does it provide a solution that your client can implement?

If you’re not offering solutions, you may be a coach. And that’s a totally different game. Coaching is not consulting. A coach is a guide, instructor, mentor or educator. A coach will explain the theory behind a principal, and then will watch you apply the information, critiquing you as you go. A coach does not solve the problem for you. They let you do it.

Consultants tell you exactly what to do, and are accountable for the result. That’s why they carry hefty liability cover; because if their solution is wrong; if the bridge collapses, they can get sued. You wouldn’t hire a coach to design and construct a bridge.

Getting back to my opening question; are you really a consultant? From reading this article you should know if you’re a consultant, a coach or a peddler. It doesn’t matter which you are, all I ask is that you have it clear in your own mind.

James Yuille is a 35 year plus sales and marketing veteran based in Brisbane Australia He runs Mediaglue, a marketing services company. His book, “Are You Getting Enough?” is available at JamesYuille.com

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  • Jason

    Okay this is understandable. Thank you for the article.