The purpose of being a consultant is to provide expertise to the customer. The purpose is to add value to what the customer is doing.
Thus, a consultant is required to come up with opinions and to freely state them. If a consultant does not have a clear point of view based on their expertise, then there is no advantage to using that consultant over someone else. Before we go too far into this, let me clarify that my customers will clearly hear me say “I don’t know” fairly regularly. Part of my job is not just to give advice, but to give USEFUL advice. Making things up to make myself seem like I do actually know everything might be good for my ego and public image but it would do a disservice to my customer. Thus, if I don’t know something, I will freely admit it.
However, the point I want to get to is that, as hard as it might be to develop the expertise and opinions to be able to give this kind of advice, what is even harder is to have your advice not be taken. Many consultants get bent out of shape when customers don’t jump to take the given advice. Giving advice and not having the power to force someone to take it truly is the hardest thing to learn as a consultant. It is probably the one thing that separates the novice consultant from the experienced consultant.
At this point, someone will jump-in to say that, as the industry expert, if I know best, I should force my customer to do whatever it is I think they should do. I absolutely disagree with this. While I will say that it is my job if I feel strongly about something, to try to show the customer why my opinion on a specific matter is important to them, to present it in different ways, or to keep after them about a specific issue that I think is important, it is not my job to make them do anything they feel strongly they shouldn’t do, either.
Let me also take a moment to point-out that there’s a big difference between a customer who brushes off everything you tell them and the one who selectively takes your advice. The former is possibly just busy or not taking the advice seriously, but the latter is probably actually thinking about what they were told. That is the person we should want to work with — the one that thinks about what we said. If you want someone to blindly take your command, buy a dog and take it to training. I’ll take a smart person who understands the issues to work with, any day.
I would also like to add that the outsider doesn’t always have all the facts. The customer is not required to justify their actions, either. If the consultant really suspects the customer didn’t properly understand or is making a mistake, I agree that you have to seriously consider pursuing the matter. But, when the customer seems to understand and has made the decision, the consultant has to have at least some respect that that person is not a total idiot and has thought it through. Do you see where I’m going with this? What I mean is this: consultants sometimes feel upset that the customer didn’t respect their opinion, but the opposite is also an issue — the consultant must also respect the customer’s opinion.
And, finally, as I like to remind everyone: the person who thinks they know everything cannot possibly be an expert. They can call themselves experts, but only out of true ignorance of the vast issues at-hand.,