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Great Consulting Challenges: And How to Surmount Them showshow consultants can use the wisdom gleaned from Weiss's ownpractice and from other seasoned members of the profession to helpovercome persistent problems and next-level challenges. Weissexplains that as consultants' careers develop and become moresophisticated and complex, so do the challenges they encounter. Forexample, the question of price competition occurs at every level ofthe consulting business, yet the techniques for astutely resolvingthe issue can be vastly different for the veteran consultant ascompared to the novice who is merely trying to establish a newbusiness. In this book, Alan Weiss discusses the great consultingchallenges in key areas such as marketing, selling, delivery, andpractice management and offers practical advice for overcomingcommon problems and learning to thrive as a consultant.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
"Those of us in the practice of consulting to management recognizethe continuing "consulting challenges" in today's sophisticatedworld of management. Alan Weiss has done a superb job in his latestbook. The road map he gives, Great Consulting Challenges and Howto Surmount Them, constitutes the foundation for an impressivegrowth pattern for each of us in management consulting." —Vito A. Tanzi, founding chairman, National Bureau of CertifiedConsultants

"A must-read for the seasoned consultant. Alan's usuallycounterintuitive lessons learned from his experiences make usrethink (again) our own approach— based on our experiences. Ifound some significant improvements I can make, and you will, too."— Norman R. Eckstein, president, Eckstein ManagementConsulting and chairman, Institute of Management Consultants

"Once again Alan Weiss has given us an engaging, colorful,entertaining, but above all, practical book for the seriousconsultant. As Weiss takes us through his real-world personalconsulting challenges and how they were won or lost, we build ourown consulting strategies for success." — E. Michael Shays,past chairman, Institute of Management Consultants

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787955106
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 12/26/2002
  • Series: Ultimate Consultant Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 7.26 (w) x 9.70 (h) x 1.18 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Weiss— author, international consultant, and high-demandkeynote speaker— is the founder and president of Summit ConsultingGroup. His clients have included Hewlett-Packard, State StreetCorp., Fleet Bank, Coldwell Banker, Merrill Lynch, American PressInstitute, Chase, Mercedes-Benz, GE, and American Institute ofArchitects. He is the author of twenty-one books, including TheUltimate Consultant (Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer, 2001) and GettingStarted in Consulting (John Wiley & Sons, 2000). Weiss resideswith his wife Maria in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

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Read an Excerpt

Great Consulting Challenges

And How to Surmount Them
By Alan Weiss

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-7879-5510-8

Chapter One

Lack of Industry Experience

Aren't You a Stranger in These Parts?

One of the most chilling challenges that consultants face at any stage in their careers is the high-potential, mouthwatering, fully funded prospect who says, "You know, I like you and we're ready to move, but we've decided that we must hire someone with experience in our industry."


We all started somewhere. Many of us began our consulting careers in the industries from which we became refugees to join the consulting profession. Some of us had a fortunate first contact, a friend, or lucky timing to enter into another industry or market. The question is: How do we continually expand our industrial and business base?

My belief is that you specialize and die or you generalize and thrive. The world is too full of whirlpools and quicksand for the specialist. In the blink of an eye, for example:

A new technology can render your niche obsolete (vacuum tubes)

A larger competitor can establish a dominating brand (McKinsey and strategy work)

The relatively few clients consolidate, grow old, or disappear, providing less opportunity (U.S. television production)

An overabundance of competitors forces the small market into a price-sensitive, low-margin position (IT consulting)

Governmentregulation and/or societal pressure collapse the industry (tobacco)

Only generalists have the opportunity to stay light on their feet, pursue the true targets of highest potential, and effectively deal with depressions and blight in some markets by shifting quickly to others. With rare exception, the wealthiest solo practitioners and most successful small firms I know have expanded out of narrow niches onto broad playing fields.

And that can be accomplished at any stage of your career (which helps many veterans escape the "success trap" that causes them to plateau with "no growth" strategies).

You are not a content consultant, but a process consultant.

Few consultants are what I call "content-based." That is, most of us are not automotive experts who help a company develop better brake linings, nor are we insurance experts who help determine risk ratings on policies. Although we may be working predominantly in one or two industries, I submit to you that the expertise we are applying is far more widely applicable than we think.

We all have processes that we use to derive the results we promise to the client. Whether we are working on better teamwork, a future strategy, improved decision making, conflict resolution, faster time-to-market, enhanced knowledge management, or any number of other "routine" assignments, we are utilizing process skills that are immediately transferable to other environments, industries, and cultures.

The examples of the processes I'm alluding to include

problem solving group communications

decision making strategy formulation

planning risk and opportunity analysis

innovation organization and reorganization

priority setting interviewing

focus groups testing

workshops/seminars facilitation

coaching evaluations

trend evaluation benchmarking/competitive analysis

surveys and instruments behavior modification

You get the idea. Take a pencil and underline the processes above in which you have been engaged at some time in your career. My guess is that you've selected at least half of my list, and those are simply twenty examples I'm using for my illustration. Are you skeptical?

Well, then here are twenty more:

presentation skills listening skills

running meetings anger management customer service telephone techniques

sales skills telemarketing

influencing others entrepreneurship

boards and governance crisis management

public relations international marketing

diversity regulatory conformance

ethics leadership

price setting and value benefits and compensation

Take out your pencil again. Of these forty categories of process skills, how many have you engaged in? How many more would you feel perfectly comfortable undertaking?

Once you realize that you're a process consultant and not a content consultant, you've made the breakthrough that combats the horrifying objection at the opening of this chapter.


Here's how to combat the "industry expertise" objection with process skills:

"You know, I like you and we're ready to move, but we've decided that we must hire someone with experience in our industry."

"Well, that could be adding fuel to the fire. You have industry experts falling from the rafters and tripping over each other in the halls. The last thing you need is another one adding to that cacophony.

"The challenge you're facing is overcoming sluggish product-to-market time, which is putting you at a competitive disadvantage and costing you money as we sit here. I can immediately bring to bear my expertise in cross-functional collaboration, team structure, knowledge utilization, and front-line empowerment to begin changing things tomorrow. And I can bring to you, uniquely, the experience of how that worked successfully at Boeing, Wal-Mart, and Microsoft. Who else can bring that power to bear for you immediately?"

The great power in a successful career-and, presumably, most of the readers of this series are already highly successful-is that you can leverage your past strengths and triumphs. But that leverage is best utilized only when you mentally free yourself up to expand prior borders. Most of those borders are our own, self-imposed restrictions, which have been formed by our success in a few industries, or our contacts in those industries, or our mistaken belief that we are actually content experts bound to those industries.

If you do nothing else as you read through the other thirty-nine challenges in this book, understand that your abilities transcend companies, industries, and markets, and that your basic process strengths are applicable in most environments. Whether you choose to broadly pursue those environments and prospective business is your decision.

But you should never again be in the position of squirming uncomfortably when the buyer says, "But you have no experience in our industry." Because then you can use my favorite line, supported by what you've read above:

"Ah, but that's exactly why you should hire me!"

Chapter Two

Too Narrow a Niche

Is It Me, or Are the Walls Getting Closer?

We are often done in by our own successes. Some of us, through good fortune or good planning, are able to penetrate a profitable industry or master a specialized technology. We become masters of the trade and quickly develop a brand without even trying (or realizing it, in many cases).

And so certain consultants become known and sought for their expertise in refinancing, telemarketing, expert witness testimony in automotive liability cases, insurance sales training, and pharmaceutical reimbursement strategies. They grow larger and larger in narrower and narrower niches until there is barely room to breathe deeply. (There is a BMW sporty car called a Z which is very small. When a large man drives the convertible, it looks more as if he's wearing it than driving it. This is the image I conjure up when I think about a consultant in a niche so small he carries it about with him around his waist.)

Breathing is an apt metaphor, because, ironically, the longer one is successful within a narrow niche, the higher the probability that the day will come when there is no more oxygen (potential income) because the environment has been strip-mined of life.

It's tough to take this seriously when the requests are rolling in, but the best time to plan to get out of the closed loop is exactly when the requests are rolling in and you have a solid financial base to use as a springboard.


There are clear, ineffable signs of the road leading to the dead end. For example:

Same old clients: The same small number of clients constitute the great preponderance or even lion's share of your revenues. Your client base doesn't change by more than one or two clients from year to year, and is always within the same industry.

Same old methodology: You've been doing the exact same thing almost forever. Your methodology is as intractable and predictable as tomorrow's sunset. No matter who hires you, you go through the same nine (or four or sixteen) steps without any variation at all. Your website, collateral materials, and even business conversations haven't been updated substantively in years.

Known/unknown duality: Within your industry or specialty you are very well-known and perhaps even a minor celebrity. Your brand is strong and your repute enviable. Outside of your industry or specialty it's as if you're wearing a disguise. You are not known within the consulting profession as a whole, nor by organizations outside of your niche. Your brand is not recognized. Exploring more about less: When you do grow, engage in innovation, and/or improve your techniques, it's a case of drilling farther down to explore narrower and narrower passageways, rather than exploring new horizons. For example, you might attempt to add follow-up disciplines to your tele-marketing approaches, but you're unlikely to expand your phone sales expertise to in-person sales or catalog sales.


I've never been in favor of taking bread off the table, so there's no reason to abandon your specialty. The key is to use that success to leverage your business in other directions. The scope and range of those directions will depend on your flexibility, competencies, and willingness to accept risk.

For example, let's say that your niche is life insurance sales made by agents face-to-face with prospects. Here is one way to view expansion:

1. Closely related: Other financial services, for example, securities or mortgage financing

Other personal life decisions, such as real estate sales Other field force consumer sales, for instance, vacuum cleaners

2. Somewhat related:

Large-ticket sales, such as computer equipment

Telemarketing sales techniques, regardless of industry

In-house store sales, for example, retail or auto

3. Stretch:

Conflict resolution

Negotiation skills

Interpersonal communications

The true degree of "stretch" depends on your own proclivities, but the point is that sales techniques always involve negotiation, sometimes conflict, and always communications techniques. The degree to which you can isolate those competencies and introduce them in "new" environments will dictate the relative comfort you will have enlarging your current niche.

All of us tend to be more pessimistic about the transfer of our competencies than is actually the case, and this myopia is often exacerbated by our early success, which we mistaken associate strictly with our market or specialty and not with ourselves.


The trends I'm observing are clearly those leading to a more catholic and comprehensive form of consulting. Narrow niches are counterproductive for both client and consultant, so escaping them is simply good business in any case.

My rationale:

Clients no longer tolerate legions of consultants. The client would rather place trust (and education about the business) in the hands of a few people who can help broadly rather than with a plethora of people who help narrowly. This is simply good business. There are fewer organizational disruptions, an economy of scale, fewer opportunities for inappropriate disclosures, and fewer chances of someone making a major error.

The business world is so increasingly complex-technology affecting knowledge, customers talking to each other directly, job latitude influencing retention, and so on-that a narrow specialty ignores the very factors that tend to affect the specialist's issues. Try changing the compensation system, no matter how adept a compensation expert you are, without taking into account feedback, evaluation, hiring, retention, career development, and succession planning, just to name a few key interrelated elements. It can't be done effectively.

High-level buyers are impressed by business acumen, not by technical prowess. You can still sell narrow expertise at purchasing manager and IT manager levels (where budgets are constrained), but not at executive levels. An executive wants to see a businessperson sitting across the desk, not someone who should be talking to a subordinate five levels or six floors below. Executives want to talk about business outcomes, not tasks and inputs.

The good news is that it's never too late to enlarge a niche. The competencies and potential business are omnipresent. The bad news is that we're often blinded to the need until our own volition to change is so weak that the move is impossible.

Look around you. Are you driving the car or wearing it?

Chapter Three

Relative Lack of Resources

How Does a Lone Wolf Create Galloping Herds?

At this writing I have been working out of my home office for almost seventeen years. The homes have changed and the offices improved, but my commute is still only about twenty feet from the bedroom down the hall. Occasionally, I hit traffic.

I'm not talking about lack of financial, intellectual, or support resources, but rather the fact that even highly successful ultimate consultants have deliberately decided not to build staff, offices, technology, and other infrastructure components that, under most conditions, are overhead that burn money twenty-four hours a day. Early in my career, I feared that this would be seen as a weakness by prospects, and so I engaged in some creative fabrication. That is, I lied. I "built" a staff and office, and even, in one of the more embarrassing albeit brief ventures in my career, had a recording of a secretary answer my phone!

I found out later that most clients don't give a darn. This is a relationship business, not an appraisal of a physical plant or a head count.


Excerpted from Great Consulting Challenges by Alan Weiss Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents



PART ONE: Marketing Challenges.

CHAPTER 1: Lack of Industry Experience.

Aren't You a Stranger in These Parts?

How to Apply Process Skills in a Sales Situation.

CHAPTER 2: Too Narrow a Niche.

Is It Me, or Are the Walls Getting Closer?

The Signs of "Nichedom".

Escaping the Niche Without Destroying It.

The Generalization of Specialization.

CHAPTER 3: Relative Lack of Resources.

How Does a Lone Wolf Create Galloping Herds?

Virtual Infrastructure.

Client Preparation.

CHAPTER 4: The Cost of Distant Marketing.

Where, Exactly, Is Lower Kumquat?

Ten Reasons to Go No Matter What.

When Can You Charge for the Privilege?

CHAPTER 5: Poor Name Recognition.

If You're So Good, How Come I Never Heard of You?

What Is Name Recognition?

Why Bother with Name Recognition?

Five Techniques to Achieve Name Recognition.

CHAPTER 6: Pipeline Dry.

Doesn't It Ever Rain Around Here Anymore?

Understanding the Pipeline.

Five Ways to Fill the Pipes.

CHAPTER 7: Economic Downturns or Uncertainty.

Sailing Through Conflicting Winds and Tides.

Economic Downturns.

Uncertain Times.

CHAPTER 8: No Interest After the First Contact.

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

Why Don't People Return Your (Frantic) Calls?

What to Do When There's Just an Echo of Your Own Voice.

CHAPTER 9: Differentiation Difficulties.

If It Walks Like a Duck....

The Progression of Differentiation.

Ongoing Differentiation.

CHAPTER 10: Poor or Outmoded Positioning.

Too Much Same Old, Same Old.

How To Get into a Really Comfortable Position.

How to Detect and Recover from Poor Positioning.

PART TWO: Sales Challenges.

CHAPTER 11: Price Competition.

I Can Name That Song in One Note.

The Ten Deadly Sins of Creating Your Own Price Competition.

The Dimension of Price.

CHAPTER 12: Requests for Proposals (RFPs).

If This Is a Request, Then What Would a Demand Be?

How to Circumvent RFPs.

Winning the RFP.

CHAPTER 13: Intimidation.

Killing Me Softly with His Song....

The Secrets of Self-Esteem and "Unintimidateability".

CHAPTER 14: Getting Business at the Wrong Price.

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?

The Dreadful Causes of Under-Pricing.

Arcane Science: How to Recover from a Fee That's Too Low.

CHAPTER 15: Gatekeepers and Blockers.

Or Why Ayn Rand Was Right All Along.

How to Avoid the Gatekeeper Altogether.

Three Ways to Get Past Gatekeepers.

CHAPTER 16: Elongated Closing Times.

How Long Is It Till "the Cows Come Home"?

Accelerating the Close.

When Time Drags on Remorselessly.

CHAPTER 17: No Response/No Return Calls.

Hello, Earth...Hello, Earth....

Ensuring a Response.

When to Hold and When to Fold.

CHAPTER 18: Poor "Pitch".

ANY Pitch Is a Poor Pitch.

What Do You Say After You Say, "Hello"?

What to Do if the Pitch Is Required Anyway.

CHAPTER 19: Relegation to Lower Levels.

The Ones That Get Away.

Never Voluntarily (or Involuntarily) Leave the Buyer.

CHAPTER 20: Poor Follow-Up.

Keep a-Knockin' but You Can't Come In.

Establishing Effective Follow-Up Strategies.

The Most Surprising Tactic with Leads.

PART THREE: Delivery Challenges.

CHAPTER 21: Undermining the Project.

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies?

Co-Opting the Buyer.

When the Buyer Is the Saboteur.

CHAPTER 22: Scope Creep.

There's a Fungus Among Us.

How to Stop Scope Creep.

Some Other Aspects of the Fungus.

CHAPTER 23: International Challenges.

He Must Be Happy; He's Shouting at Me.

The Most Critical Challenges.

Advantages You Might Not Have Thought About.

CHAPTER 24: Abrupt Client Change and Trauma.

Come On, Let's All Sing "Kumbaya".

First Response (Get the Emergency Vehicles Rolling).

Subsequent Responses (Organize the Resources).

CHAPTER 25: Project Failure.

Uh, Oh.?

Why Projects Fail.

What to Do when the Project Fails.

CHAPTER 26: The Client Doesn't Implement.

What Was It About "Don't Do That" That You Didn'tUnderstand?

Why Bad Things Happen to Good Consultants.

Leading the Client Through the Swamp.

And if the Client Doesn't Implement Anyway....

CHAPTER 27: Political Agendas.

Welcome to the Front Lines, and Keep Your Head Down.

The Hallmarks of a Political Maelstrom.

What to Do About Overwhelming Political Agendas.

When Politics Emerge Suddenly.

CHAPTER 28: No Agreement on Progress or Contribution.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?

The Surprising Origin of the Challenge.

How to Handle a Derailment.

CHAPTER 29: Lip Service Support.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

Why Lip Service Managers Act That Way.

How to Change Lip Service to "At Your Service".

The Hallmarks of Lip Service.

CHAPTER 30: Project Management Challenges.

What Now?

When Bad Things Happen to Good Projects.

ADifferent View of Project Management.

PART FOUR: Practice Management Challenges.

CHAPTER 31: Cash Flow.

If You Took the Risks, Reap the Rewards.

Maximizing Personal Margins.

Disappearing Profits.

The Bottom Line on the Bottom Line.

CHAPTER 32: Learning and Growth.

If You're Not Moving, Someone's Passing You.

The Elements of Lifelong Learning: Process.

Four Dimensions of Continual Learning.

CHAPTER 33: Slow Payment.

Try to Tell the Bank That the Mortgage Payment Will Be ThereEventually.

Ten Steps Toward Educating the Bill Payer.

Additional Air Cover.

CHAPTER 34: Overhead and Margins.

It Ain't What You Make, It's What You Keep.

Overhead Is Anathema to This Business.

Why You Should Never Hire People.

How to Subcontract Successfully.

CHAPTER 35: Theft of Intellectual Property.

Imitation Is the Sincerest Form of Flattery andFraud.

What Is Rightly Ours?

The Rudiments of Protection.

When to Protect and When to Share.

CHAPTER 36: Illness and Disability.

I Think I Just Fell Off the Treadmill.

Insurance Tactics.

Business Tactics.

CHAPTER 37: Travel and Quality of Life.

See the Pyramids Along the Nile....

How to Travel Like a King.

Selfishness About the Quality of Your Life.

CHAPTER 38: Tax Problems.

They Keep Telling Me It's a Good Problem to Have.

The Absolute Need to Spend Pre-Tax Dollars.

Specific Tax Recommendations.

CHAPTER 39: State-of-the-Art Changes.

Where Did You Get That Stuff?

Fad vs. Trend.

The Halls of Shame and Fame.

CHAPTER 40: Life Goals and Balance.

Work Supports Life, Not Vice Versa.

There Is No Perfect Balance.

The Road from Here.


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