{Insert Listening Skills Here.}

As owner of www.HostMamas.com, a web hosting and design firm, I have a lot of conversations surrounding the term "Consultants." But what exactly does that mean and how is it defined? I have learned through conversations with folks in the industry that it can mean different things to different people. I think my favorite definition so far is,

"The consulting role is very focused to an engagement, which is written in a particular way to solve particular problems in an organization." - Julia King, ComputerWorld

Pretty vague, but a good start to a long line of questioning, listening, and learning on my part. Being in my role and engaging with prospects, it is important for me to understand how my clients view consulting and their reason for looking into engaging with a Consultant. Before having a conversation about their initiatives or what gaps they are experiencing or talking about my organization, I found that asking them what a Consultant would mean to them needs to be defined in order to determine if I can help them and how I will help. Because in the end, being an IT Consultant doesn't mean you are an expert at 1000's of things, it means you are specialized and laser focused on a few things. Getting this clear definition of what focus the client, department, and organization is looking for gives me an expectation. And knowing expectations means everyone can start on the same page.

I think this can be true for many first conversations. Before jumping into a "pitch" or trying to solve a problem, know what you are pitching and why the problem is there to begin with. Don't assume anything and ask lots of questions followed by listening...really listening. People appreciate that more then I think we know because it happens few and far between. Understand what happens if things continue status quo and no change is made. Having a client say this aloud can be a great turning point. So don't jump into you before you learn about them. The more you can listen, absorb, and take in as the person across the table means the better you can cater a solution for them. Unfortunately, sometimes a sales person's worst enemy is their mouth. Listen before you speak and it will help you create a thoughtful message, perhaps even provide *gasp* a true solution and change agent. Now THAT would be a good use of everyone's time and you would be a super hero (for that day anyways).