Setting up your value conversation: agreeing a resolution

12boxes diagram showing position of solution exists
A solution exists

Before you engage your client in a value conversation, they must believe that a solution exists, but they don’t need to know what it is.

Before going any further, we need to be clear about the difference between a resolution and a solution.

An example of a solution is ‘changing an electric lightbulb’. An example of a resolution is ‘a way of restoring electric light to the room, so that I can complete my work this evening’.

Provided you have a replacement handy, ‘changing an electric lightbulb’ is a simple solution. And, assuming everything else electrical in the house is working properly, it’s the most obvious one. In comparison, the resolution sounds complex and unwieldy, even though it accurately reflects the need of a person unable to work in the dark.

But, in consulting, solutions can be complex and expensive to implement. If you spell out a solution before you have discussed value with a client, their mind is likely to be focused on the cost, and anything you say after that will sound like you are trying to justify their expenditure.

In comparison, resolutions are easy to express and carry with them the hint of value. Compare and contrast the following statements:


It sounds like you need to implement a digital adoption platform.


It sounds like you need a way to ensure that your people can quickly adapt to the introduction of your new digital systems of working so that service levels improve, and you achieve the return on investment you expected.

To the consultant, the first statement might seem elegant and descriptive because it carries a lot of meaning. For the client, the term might need explanation and the more detailed the explanation the more expensive it sounds.

The second statement describes what your client wants to happen, and strongly suggests that a solution exists. From your point of view, it opens the way to ask your client about the difference the resolution would make to their situation without getting you bogged down in the details of the solution.

A simple formula

A simple formula for a resolution is to express it as

‘a way to – so that’.

A resolution statement is not about concealing the cost of the project from the client. It’s about ensuring that the value is discussed first, so that the cost of the eventual solution is seen by the client in its proper context.

There is another reason why it is better to express the client’s need in the form of a resolution. You may not know what the solution is, or what scale of solution would be appropriate.

Let’s take the first case. Imagine you are a consultant visiting a potential client. During the conversation, you discover their situation is more complex than you first thought. To address it you need to call on the expertise of colleagues in another discipline. But they are busy and will take some convincing to justify diverting their attention to your referral. You know that you will not have the opportunity to deliver your expertise unless they clear the way for you.

If you can express your client’s need in terms of a resolution, you can go on to have a value conversation with them, and then speak to your colleagues with a clear idea of the value to the client.

Even when the opportunity is within the scope of your expertise, there may be several approaches that you could adopt. For example, if the client’s need is simple and the payoff from resolving it relatively small, a proprietary application may give them most of what they need. On the other hand, if it is complex and large, with a potential payoff to match, it might justify the development of a bespoke system. Until you have the value conversation, it is hard to decide which way to go.

What you don’t want to do is to frighten off the client in advance by talking about inappropriately large-scale solutions or lower their expectations on cost by appearing to indicate something too simple for what you eventually decide they need.

Another trap to avoid is displaying your technical competence by thinking aloud about options. Clients will often assume these are proposals. And even where they seem receptive, this can create problems. It is not unusual for a consultant to think of one technical solution when with a client and on reflection realise that another approach would be more appropriate. Once you have sown a seed in your client’s mind it is difficult to un-sow it.

12boxes diagram showing position of solution exists
A solution exists

When you look at this 12boxes diagram you will see where discussion of the resolution sits. This suggests that you need to do quite a bit of work to get there if you are starting at the bottom left.

The high-energy resolution

Turning to the energy shape, the resolution sits just before the path turns orange. The energy level is high, and the client should be emotionally engaged in the conversation with a sense of expectation.


So, let’s summarise where we have got to so far (Each of these points will be covered step-by-step as we go through the course):

      • Bringing value to your client, as opposed to acting as a contractor, is likely to result in higher perceived value for your client and better returns for you as a consultant. The challenge is to get your client to see the value.
      • The value proposition has two elements: the change in your client’s situation in terms of what people are thinking, saying and doing, and the observable and measurable outcomes that flow from that change.
      • For your client to sign up to the value, it is better that you draw it out of them as opposed to trying to push it into them by telling them. If you do it right, your client ends up with a narrative that they not only tell themselves but tell other key people who were not present at your conversation.
      • Once your client has recognised the value you are bringing, it changes the tone of the conversation. Your client becomes genuinely interested in an exploration of how the value can be achieved.
      • Before your client can have a value conversation, and you can explore their vision of success, your client needs to believe that a solution exists. But getting into the specifics of a solution can get you bogged down in costs without the context of value. (And you will not even know the most appropriate solution at this stage.)
      • It is better to indicate that a solution exists by suggesting a resolution expressed as ‘a way of – so that’. This reflects your client’s needs and hints at value, leaving the way open for you to explore the vision of success with your client.

All this implies that to succeed in bringing value to your client you have two major staging posts:

    • The first is to agree on a resolution.
    • The second is to hold a meaningful value conversation.

Next

Before we look at how to agree on a resolution, we need to look at how people create a narrative when they decide to make a change.


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The client engagement process

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Click on a unit title to go to another unit.
Module 1 Bringing Value
Unit 1 Start here  - Preview
Unit 2 Bringing value to clients
Unit 3 Your value proposition and the vision of success  - Preview
Unit 4 Setting up your value conversation: agreeing a resolution  - Preview
Unit 5 People create a narrative when they decide to make a change
Unit 6 The narrative structure for a consulting opportunity
Unit 7 Converting your client’s interest in your proposition into a firm order