Solve for reality

3rd March 2020

Don’t convert a client problem to match your usual methods. Solve for reality.

After years in business in a solutions provider role, we often have tried and tested approaches, and of course, it can often help to have some guidance for how your organisation should provide its offerings, particularly as you grow. But don’t forget: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Experience is at its most valuable when it feeds into the selection of an approach and allows for flexibility in that approach to match the team, scenario, available technology and skills. Experience adds much less if it comes packaged in a strict 31 step method. That’s not to say that we should not continue to productise our offerings to benefit the marketing function and to demonstrate background knowledge, structured thinking and team cohesion. But when it comes to planning and delivery when in role, the core skills of requirements extraction and analysis honed through years of best practice are what adds the most value when it comes to getting the best result.

So how can we demonstrate those skills? One technique is to use storytelling. When engaging with a prospect show your understanding with short examples of how you managed similar challenges in a similar environment but crucially point out where the present scenario and the story diverges. Be prepared to be challenged on these – another benefit of storytelling is that it shows your present understanding and a client then has the opportunity to confirm or correct you. Welcome these adjustments to your understanding with humility, and accept them as you continue your conversation or seek further clarification if you don’t perfectly understand.

People in my network will sometimes say that they can’t think on their feet to this degree, but the preparation is actually done during delivery elsewhere, not in the moment in front of your new prospect. The preparation comes out of thinking in this way when working, learning the narrative whilst creating it. It’s a different use case, but the STAR format recommended for use in interviews might help some way: step back and look at the work you’re doing and consider the situation you find yourself in, the task at hand, the action you are taking to resolve the issue, and the positive result which should come of it. Then, in the conversations that you have elsewhere, mention it if it is relevant to the new scenario.

This flexibility of approach is what can give smaller consultancy and partnering outfits an advantage over tier 1 consultancies. The bigger the firm which is engaged, the more likely there will be a top-down management style (“partner plus graduate team”) which is totally at odds with what is recommended by that same team: a example of “do as I say, not as I do”. Smaller outfits can make the avoidance of this incongruence a genuine competitive advantage – by analogy, a smaller, hard-working, listening team can engage more surgically with the real issues in the client’s space, rather than dropping in a panoply of tired PowerPoint decks and hammering the assessment of a client’s problem into the shape which the strict approach could solve.

Solve for reality, not for what you’ve seen before.


  1. Bonnie Truax - 20th November 2022 at 1:50 pm - Reply

    I love this. This approach leapfrogs your team beyond the rigid methodology many companies buy into. Treating each client as unique and understanding their specific complexities is something that seems to be lost in much of the corporate world (at least in the States). In losing our uniqueness I believe we lose our ability for the greatest innovations.

  2. jdv - 20th November 2022 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Thanks Bonnie. And I’m writing a proposal right now where I’m applying what I said in my article after a very successful call last week. I think they’ll bite!

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