Help Clients to Find the Real Problem

What is the problem? No, not that problem, that’s just a distraction masquerading as a problem. I’m talking about the real problem.

Consultants often find themselves so distracted with everything going on around them… and the continuous barrage of information and requests from their clients, that they lose sight of the real issues.

If you’ve got more than one or two clients this is something you’ve probably experienced.

What complicates things even further is that the longer you work with your consulting clients the more opportunities there are for things to go off course. You may still be providing ‘results’ for your client. The problem being the results you are delivering aren’t really moving your clients business forward.

Wake Up Call
Right now, think about your clients and projects. Is the work you’re doing directly focused on dealing with the biggest problem they have?

Don’t fool yourself here. Be 100% honest.

It’s easy to help clients build complex solutions, or offer them new technology. But we must first help them to find out what the real problem their business faces is.

Patch vs. Stitch
When you’re in your kitchen cutting vegetables, get distracted, and mistakenly slice deep into your hand, simply putting a bandage on it is not enough…even if you put 2, 3, 4, or even 10 bandages on…all your really doing is slowing the blood loss.

A deep cut requires stitches. So too is the case in business.

When a client has a problem you must make sure that you’re addressing the root of the problem, not adding more ‘bandages’ to the affected area.

Take a long hard look at the work you are doing for your client and think, “will this actually help solve the problem in their business.” If not, it’s time that you sit down with your client and get things back on course.

Maintaining focus and directing your efforts and work on the real problem not only shows your client a great deal of commitment on your part, it also demonstrates that you really are their trusted consultant and advisor.

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  • Michael, I wrote a post over at my blog very similar to this:
    http://www.tvcnet.org/2011/04/solving-problems-or

    As consultants, I don't feel we serve the client if we just "fix" the problem. I prefer to be a problem solver to demonstrate my overall value. I don't think we would be true to our craft as professionals if we just addressed the symptoms of a problem versus taking a hard look and finding the root-cause to a problem in a business that we were hired to serve.

    I often wonder if there is the subconscious fear that some consultants have thinking that if they solve the client's problem they won't be needed. They're only fixing problems out of the need for self-preservation.

    Would you agree?

    • Justin – great points! I'd say you're right on the mark re your last point.

  • David Taylor

    This is a very important point, both for the consultant and for the profession. Sadly, I think that there are several ways that we consultants sometimes do a disservice to the profession — allowing scope (and therefore fee creep), being "yes" men and even fixing symptoms rather than root causes to name a few. A certain degree of this may be inevitable in a environment where consultants are striving to make a living and clients are unsure of what they want or need. However, I would argue that this means that consultants need to double their vigilance to protect both present and future integrity of the profession.

    David Taylor
    Ohrn Consulting

    • David, thanks for your comment! Well said. There is a fine balance in the profession. At the end of the day it all comes back to your reputation and how you want to be viewed and talked about. The more you actually help clients get results the more they will trust you, talk about you, and refer you to other businesses.