The Disease of Expertise

If you’re like most consultants you love to provide great answers to your clients. And after all, isn’t your expertise what clients are paying you for?

Well, yes and no.

In our work with some of the largest Professional Service organizations in the world as well as smaller start-up companies, we’ve found a problem we call “the disease of expertise”: consultants like to give clients their best answers before they have even heard the client’s full view of the problem!
This is counter-productive for two main reasons:

  • Clients are more defensive and less likely to accept your guidance when they feel you have not fully heard their point of view.
  • Your solutions likely will be off target when you rush to judgment.

In our view you should only give clients your best answers and guidance after you’ve walked them through a thorough and focused process we call open inquiry.

Being “too quick with the fix” can be a problem whether you’re selling an engagement or doing it. In sales, too many consultants sell the quick deals or push for a demo and never realize that they are leaving potentially much larger deals on the table.

Many problems during an engagement could be solved easily with the right mix of inquiry and problem-solving skills. When consultants take the time to listen before they give answers it leaves room for solutions that incorporate clients’ concerns. The result will be fewer escalations and more satisfied clients.

The road to crafting great delivery or sales solutions starts with curiosity and inquiry.

We are usually asked at this point: Don’t you sometimes have to demonstrate your expertise and tell them how wonderful you are? Yes, of course. You need to establish technical credibility both during the sales process and during the engagement. But be aware that technical credibility isn’t the same as relationship credibility, and you’ll get more cooperation and bigger sales when you learn to create a partnership with your clients that allows them to craft solutions with you.

In our “Power of Partnership” training we teach our clients how to ascertain client’s real needs, and their business requirements, fears, business strategies and much more. Using these skills, the solutions you provide will be a much better fit for the particular needs of your client.

The bottom line: The issue isn’t whether to give clients your expertise; it’s when. The time to give your solutions to client problems is when you fully understand them.

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Authored For S3 Solutions by Marty Friedman

Marty FriedmanMarty Friedman is one of the architects of the “Power of Partnership”, a training course for consultants and solution sales professionals who want to sell bigger deals and have smoother projects. He has co-presented this training for clients such as HP, Accenture, and Bell Canada as well as many mid-sized companies and start-ups. Find out more at

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