Guerrilla Intelligence Do Your Homework

It pays to do your homework. In a meeting about a project to help a national retailer improve its product return system, a consultant pointed out that the retailer was accepting return merchandise that it didn't even sell—goods that other vendors had sold. When the client challenged the assertion, the consultant left the room and returned rolling a worn-out truck tire. As the consultant hoisted the tire onto the conference room table, the retailer's return tag was clearly visible. Since the retailer didn't sell tires, the point was made. That demonstration sealed the deal, and the consultant was hired to improve the client's merchandise return system.

the professional expertise, poise, and ability to make intelligent observations. Don't include anyone who can't make a substantive contribution to your understanding of the proposed project.

5. Forget the canned questions. Sales textbooks frequently suggest that you ask silly questions to induce clients to talk about their most pressing issues. But clients have heard some questions so often that they simply give cliché answers. Don't ask questions like "What keeps you awake at night?" or "If you had a magic wand and could make the problem disappear, what would be in its place?"

Instead, ask questions that relate directly to the project, such as "What new issues might surface once you solve the immediate problem?" and "Where do you anticipate that it will be most difficult to overcome resistance to change?"

6. Find out who's who. It isn't always clear how people fit into the decision-making process within an organization. But it's usually possible to tell whether someone you're meeting with can make decisions. Through the discovery process, you must identify the buyer, even if a committee is handling the selection process.

7. Recognize the client's priorities. As you take part in discovery meetings with clients, accept that their first priority is to solve their problems. They don't care about your situation, your long history of service to the industry, your eye-popping brochure, or the bulletproof methodology you promised to customize for them. They want to know if and how you can help them, so focus on comprehending the full extent and ramifications of proposed projects.

8. Ask thoughtful questions, then listen. Incisive questions demonstrate your ability to quickly grasp and diagnose problems and offer viable solutions. Ask astute questions and listen fully to show clients how you assimilate data and think. Pour your energy and creativity into the discovery process so clients will get a preview of the vigor with which you will attack the project. If you find yourself talking more than 30 percent of the time, stop. You aren't listening or learning and, you're probably talking yourself out of a job.

9. Create value. As you learn more about the client's environment and issues, consider giving the client at least one preliminary idea that could help with the problem. Providing value during the qualification process will strengthen your

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