When I was younger, not long in business, I felt threatened by another public relations executive who was chosen to lead a coalition a client of mine had started. My client wanted to give me the business, but she was outvoted by the other two founders and their influences. I thought my world would implode because I saw this opportunity as lucrative because getting media coverage for the group would not be a problem at all. And since all the member schools would see the other PR executive banging out media hits, chances were, they would hire him for their own schools.
In the spirit of keeping my enemies close, I offered to take the other PR executive out to lunch. I wanted to learn more about what I was up against. He accepted. However, he saw right through my ploy. As our lunch was being served, he looked at me and said, “There is enough room in the sandbox for everyone in this city.”
He was right. And, I learned a valuable lesson that day that opened my eyes to the reality of competitors: they are not out to steal your clients as a best practice for business development. In fact, those who have been in the industry for much longer are often willing to help out newer executives with advice based on what took them years to learn. You can’t put a price tag on that kind of wisdom.
As a business owner or a consultant, it’s natural to view other consultants in your field as competition. However, this mindset can lead to missed opportunities and a detrimental attitude toward your peers. Instead of viewing others in your industry as enemies, it’s important to understand that they are not the real threat to your business.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t real threats, however. The more successful you become, the more the wolf is at the door. But the wolf is not likely your competitors–they are too busy managing their accounts and growing their organizations. What I have found, is that the real threat is other consultants who think they can do everyone else’s job. They are not as busy as you, because they lack the business to keep occupied. And so they have plenty of time to latch on to your client, sell themselves and their services as a solution to every problem, and they know how to point out your shortcomings in order to shadow their flaws.
These account-destroying consultants will stop at nothing. They come on as your friend. As strange as the following observations may sound, I have both witnessed these patterns, and others have validated the same. Let’s look at a few:
- Calling others “Team” too soon: Judas Isacariot-styled consultants almost always over-emphasize terms like “team,” and will begin emails addressing everyone as “Team, or “Teams [Fill in your client’s name such as “Team Smart School”]”. That’s not to say everyone who calls coworkers or employees “team” has betrayal in mind. Team a popular term because it represents an element of bonding, which is important in work settings. But the consultants at question start the “team” tactic way too early before they are assimilated into the group’s natural workplace culture.
- Using nicknames too early: The consultants in question will even be as audacious enough to use the client’s nickname, or even nickname the person themselves. Even by using seemingly innocent monickers like “Doc” if your client is a Ph.D. or Ed.D., the client is violating a privilege reserved for insiders who have bonded. Nicknames are usually given with a degree of appreciation stemming from bonds the group formed. To start calling someone nicknames like “Doc,” when the outside world makes no such reference to the person is as disturbing as a guy who goes on a date once, and then calls his new romantic interest parents “Mom” and “Dad” upon meeting them, when she’s not even his girlfriend yet.
- Grabbing the “honor seat“: Such consultants try to place themselves right next to the person in charge to send out a message about their “importance.”
- Make others look bad or uninterested: When such consultants become project managers, they will schedule meetings with less than a week notice and without consulting another person who they are targeting. These people will consult with those in the group whose jobs they can’t harm, but will not give you the same courtesy. For example, if the client’s attorney is part of the group, the consultant will make sure the lawyer isn’t scheduled for court or another matter. But the only thing the person who the consultant is targeting will hear about the meeting will be a calendar invitation with less than a week’s notice. These consultants might not need to plan their days like busy executives, and those like this one use that to their advantage so you look bad for not being able to attend various meetings because you are booked elsewhere.
- They pitch their families: These consultants are like gypsies: their entire family are “specialists” and some sort of snake oil or another. They will get their spouses involved, and even their children. I have seen one use terms like “PowerPoint specialist” for a high school child he wanted to get into the money grab–a blatant insult to the real specialist he was targeting. But that’s the nature of these types – they think either they or their family members can do whatever took you years to accomplish simply because they are “them.”
- They refer to the client’s organization as if they were part of it: The very nature of consultant is outside expertise. Insecure or ill-meaning consultants often refer to the client’s business in terms such as “our” or “us” as if they too work there. While this might seem a stylistic choice for some, in cases such as this, there is always a sinister, selfish, and manipulative reason behind the word choice. Coincidentally, their invoices do not reflect such feigned comradery.
There are some other realities we should look at that relate to this matter that I have learned since my much-needed “sandbox rebuke” and over time.
- Collaboration is the only way to serve clients
In the consulting industry, collaboration is key. By working together with other consultants, you can share knowledge, skills, and resources to better serve your clients. By viewing other consultants as potential collaborators, rather than competitors, you can create a mutually beneficial relationship that can lead to new opportunities and growth for both parties. You can’t have an appreciation for the gifts others bring to the organization if you think you and your family have the answers to every problem.
- Specialization is Important
One of the biggest threats you may face is when a consultant, who is convinced he can do everything, is given power over other consultants by the client. No one can be an expert in every field. Only arrogance can convince a person that he is the exception. Specialization is important for both consultants and clients. By focusing on a specific area of expertise, consultants can provide better service to their clients and set themselves apart from generalists who may not have the same level of expertise. A lead vocalist in a top band is willing to yield the spotlight to the lead guitarist when it’s time to solo. The band would be destroyed if such nonsense were permitted to occur.
- Referral Networks
Another benefit of viewing other consultants as collaborators rather than competitors is the creation of referral networks. By working with other consultants, you can establish a network of trusted professionals who can refer clients to you when they are unable to take on a project themselves. This can lead to an increase in business and new opportunities for growth. When we learn to appreciate other expert’s specialties, we are able to help others who need those services by means of a referral. And when the consultant sees a client needs your services, you can bet you’ll be referred. Life works better when consultants have each other’s backs as opposed to one who stabs others in the back.
- Learn from Each Other
Collaborating with other consultants can also lead to opportunities for learning and growth. By working with other professionals in your field, you can learn from their experiences, gain new perspectives, and improve your own skills and knowledge. A consultant who thinks he knows it all is a fool, and he always will be such because he refuses to learn from others.
Competitors are not our enemies in business. The real threat is other consultants who think they can do everyone else’s job. If you see other consultants as partners brought together under a common goal, you can build relationships that are good for both of you, develop powerful referral networks, and learn from each other. Additionally, it’s crucial to understand the importance of specialization and working with experts in their field. Don’t forget that working together and specializing can lead to better service for clients, more chances to grow, and a more successful industry as a whole. When true collaboration with the client’s best interests are kept in mind, everyone wins, every time.