“What time is it? What time would you like it to be?”

There’s an old joke about consultants that I’ve never liked.  It goes, “If you ask a consultant what time it is, he’ll ask you, ‘what time do you want it to be?’”  I don’t like this joke very much because a good consultant should do just that, find out from clients what it is they want and then sell it to them, or solve the problem.  To do this well, the consultant must learn what the client is trying to accomplish, what the goals are, and then try to help the client succeed.  What could be easier than this?

If you look at all the models and sequences for conducting discovery, or “needs identification,” in all cases the first question ought to focus on this area.  Here are examples:

“Rather than give you a dog and pony show about my company, I’d rather use our time wisely and focus on what you’re trying to do.  Tell me, within the context of financial services partners, what is most important for you to gain? What do you want from a relationship partner?”


“I can think of a number of value propositions for our company and its services, but I’d rather discuss those that mean the most to you.  So as you consider your relationships with other providers, what is it you most value from them?”


“It isn’t my goal to simply sell you insurance.  Insurance is just a financial service. I want you to get the coverage, premium and professional help that is most suitable to you.  So let’s begin by talking about the things that mean the most to you.  We can discuss product issues later.”

In my post of April 6 I gave you a model for conducting discovery, which begins with “Optimals and Actuals.”  This is the same premise.  Get your prospect to talk about optimal performance or the desired scenario first.

Once you know what’s most important to your prospect, then you can start to narrow down your value propositions, so they’re relevant to the prospect’s business issues.  Here’s a useful formula:

1)       We can help you do X much faster than you are doing it now  (Resonate!)

2)      Because we have this unique or superior Y  (Differentiate!)

3)      Which I can prove to you with Z  (Authenticate!)

In all cases, X is defined by what the prospect told you after that first question about optimals, that is, what the ideal world looks like. The trick is not to get sidetracked, as the prospect will often try to get you to make a presentation first, which can lead to objections, dismissal, or “we’ll get back to you.”

Once you know what’s important, the value statement might sound like this:  “So you’re telling me that you place a lot of value in a hands-on relationship, and have concerns about partnerships with geographically remote companies.  I completely understand.  That’s why our distribution centers are so widespread, to be close to our customers, see them more frequently and provide a lightning-fast response when they have a need.  Let me share a couple of testimonials with you that I think you’ll appreciate….”

So it’s not a joke to ask “what time would you like it to be?”  It’s good consulting process to learn from customers what they think is important, and then sell it to them.  That’s being customer-centric, and shows that you know how to

Think Like Your Customer!

About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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