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Failed Best Intentions

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I keynoted recently for the Institute of Management Consulting’s Confab convention in Reno. About 225 consultants gather to learn and share best practices. It’s a great crowd and I was warmly received. (I’m actually a pussycat. Well, maybe a cheetah.)

As I left the hall, a woman asked me a fascinating question, one that I’m rarely asked. “How many of these people,” she queried, “will actually join your Mentor Program, or attend your Consulting College?”

I had to think about that, and finally guessed that perhaps 10 (4.4%) would become mentorees, and 2 or 3 (1%) might attend the Consulting College. Then she said, “Why do you think that is when you have splendid testimonials and almost everyone here has read several of your books or heard you speak before?”

I think it’s not about me, because the same phenomenon exists with most strong development potential in the marketing and selling of professional services simply not exploited by the people who need it the most. Think about it. I go after very successful companies because, well, that’s where the money is (with apologies to Willie Sutton who first make the observation when finally caught robbing banks). Similarly, the best consultants and professional services providers avail themselves of the best opportunities around.

That’s why they’re the best of the best.

I think people have the best of intentions when they make a commitment to change, to improve, to become more disciplined, to break a paradigm. But that intent attenuates as they leave the motivational nexus. That is, very few people maintain the same level of energy and focus to effect change once the motivational influence is removed. That’s why so much motivational speaking, outdoor experiences, self-talk, positive affirmations--you name it—is like a sugar donut. It tastes good at the time, but there is no real nutrition the next day. (I remember someone chanting, “They can knock me down but they can’t knock me out!” after a session he attended. I’ve got news for you: They CAN knock you down and they CAN knock you out. The point is not to get hit.)

When people express an interest to continue working with me in some formal manner, I tell them to call me in the next two business days. That allows them to consider and discuss the move with family and friends, and it means they have to make a relatively immediate commitment. I know that if they do call they are an excellent candidate. But if I don’t hear from them, I never follow up. It’s pointless. As Robert Mager was fond of point out, “Ya gotta wanna.”

This carpe diem vs. “maybe later” philosophy has nothing to do with current earnings or immediate past success. It has everything to do with having what I call “positive intent.” This carries over to client relationships. You want to create positive intent and not allow prospects to procrastinate or delay, and your own intent can often provide the impetus for your prospect.

There are relatively few formal developmental opportunities for professional consultants. You can find them here at RainToday, at Kennedy Information, at the IMC, at the American Management Association, and with me. (My apologies to anyone missing from my list, but I know it’s a short one in any case.)

Dentists, doctors, CPAs, engineers, architects—you name the profession and you’ll find not just an abundance of in-service training, but the absolute requirement for in-service training if the professionals are to remain at a state-of-the-art, competitive edge position. Since consultants have virtually no such formalized accreditation granted by academia or government-sanctioned bodies, it would seem to be all that more urgent to engage in the formal development of marketing and sales skills.

If you leave $100,000 on the table every year—fees you could have collected but didn’t, clients whom you could have expanded but failed to—in ten years that would be a million dollars which you will never, ever recover, no matter what. How’d you like to have an extra million in your bank account, or distributed to charities, or improving your life?

I’m not suggesting that you sign up with me or anyone else tomorrow. But I am suggesting that very, very few consultants engage in any formalized development over the course of a year. Most of us are lone wolves, by definition not engaging in regular dialogue or development with colleagues. (Meeting and kibitzing at chapter meeting is not exactly tough self-development.)

You can’ t “wing it” in this profession, and you can’t make up a marketing plan on the fly or create a sales dynamic on the spot. You can, however, engage in developing the skills you need, breaking old habits, improving your business, and enriching your life.

But you don’t get there by telling me or anyone else that “you’ll be in touch.” You get there by actualizing your best intentions.

Alan Weiss, Ph.D., is a contributing editor to and has been cited by the New York Post as “one of the most highly respected independent consultants in the country.” His clients include The Federal Reserve Bank, Hewlett-Packard, Mercedes, JP Morgan Chase and over 200 similar world-class organizations. He has written 25 books which appear in 7 languages. He conducts a global mentoring program. You can reach him via his web site:

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