Show Don’t Tell in Consulting

There’s a meme I saw years ago which made me chuckle enough that I still remember it. The caption read:

Consulting: if you can’t be a part of the solution, there’s good money to be made prolonging the problem.

While amusing, there are definitely consultants who think this way, which saddens me.

A lot of clients have been surprised at how much implementation I do when working with them (and after nearly a decade I’m still surprised that they’re surprised).

Most consultants, it seems, think they’re just there to point out things people should be doing, like they possess the world’s most acute 2020 hindsight.

"You should be investing in SEO to rank higher in google…
"You should add a landing page to your ad campaign flow…
"You should have an automated follow up sequence for all your enquiries…

It might seem like I’m casting the first stone, but I’ve been guilty of this before – those three "shoulds" are probably something I’ve said verbatim in the past. Probably more than once.

There’s a saying that’s usually reserved for marketing that I like to trot out with pretty much anyone who will listen: show, don’t tell.

Don’t just tell me your coffee is the best, show me.
Don’t just tell me your customers are satisifed, show me.

And this applies to consulting, too.

Don’t just tell me to invest in SEO: show me how.
Don’t just tell me to build a KPI dashboard: show me an example of one.
Don’t just tell me to have a dedicated landing page, show me how that would look.
Don’t just tell me I need testimonials on product pages, show me where they would go.

There’s an inevitable knowledge gap between a consultant and their client. Firstly, they wouldn’t hire you if they have all of your expertise.

But secondly, there’s a vast amount of what I call "back of brain" awareness that comes with experience. And after nearly 10 years, that adds up to a lot of intuitive understanding of nuance that your clients simply don’t have.

When you make a simple recommendation to "implement a dedicated landing page" your back of brain awareness automatically fills in the gaps and glosses over a huge amount of detail that you already just know. Your mind’s eye sees the whole picture. But the person receiving the recommendation – the client – has none, or very little, of this knowledge. And so all they see in their mind’s eye is a series of blank spaces and question marks.

The more complex the problem, the worse this becomes. Saying something like "you should invest in SEO" to you might seem elementary, but to your client is can feel like staring up at the north face of the Eiger.

The kind thing – nay, the expert thing – is to visualise suggestions for your clients.

If you suggest aggressively targeting SEO, a three page slide deck on the very basics of on-age SEO and linkbuilding will be enough to help show them what you mean.

If you suggest a dedicated landing page, a simple wireframe with elements in place will be enough to show them how it fits into the bigger picture.

Why This Works

I naturally started doing this over the years because I tend to hover in that uncomfortable area between front-end and back-end – able to speak human, and able to speak computer, too. And so some of the topics we end up discussing are naturally complex enough that the need to visualise and explain is self-evident.

But I started doing this with everything, and it made a huge impact on my clients

Firstly, it closes the knowledge gap. Many consultants, I suspect, want their clients to not understand. They want to come across like the gatekeepers of magic, that only they can be the conduit for. But long term this is fatiguing for their clients and leads to frustration. And the last thing I want is a frustrated client.

Secondly, it encourages discussion. Nothing great was ever created in a vacuum, and even though you’ve been hired to fix a problem, the solution will be a magnitude greater if you close the knowledge gap enough to faciliate a discussion everyone can be involved in.

Thirdly, this discussion allows for a greater sense of ownership from the team. One day you’ll be gone and your solutions will remain, and it’s important that you leave behind a legacy of ownership so that your solutions remain effective when you’re gone.