One of the things that has always made consulting so interesting to me is the multi-faceted tasks a consultant performs. I’ve found that roles in non-consulting companies have a tendency to get pigeon-holed. This is your job and that’s what I expect you to do. People also tend to restrict themselves by saying things like “That’s not my job.”
But I’ve known a few people outside of consulting that love their jobs, never have a dull moment and enjoy a variety of responsibilities. They have never been interested in entering the realm of consulting.
They aren’t afraid of working hard and like to solve problems. They deal with difficult people and customers every day too, so dealing with the clientele isn’t a detraction.
There is one aspect of consulting and other professional services that people don’t like and that is the act of schmoozing the client. Most people see it as kissing up to the client to get them to like you so that you can sell to them.
I was reminded of this in a recent conversation I had with another colleague in consulting. He told me about how he hated networking. “We play this game where we introduce ourselves to each other and dance around that fact that we can both help each other in a business situation.” He said. “I’d rather just cut to the chase. What are your problems? Here’s what my firm does. No fit? Fine. Next!”
That seems like it would be more efficient. But it probably wouldn’t work in practice. I’m trying to imagine that approach on a first date. “I’ll mow the lawn and take out the garbage. You’ll cook. I want two kids and I’ll share in the diaper changing. Wanna get married?”
The art of schmoozing
Early in my career, I was dissatisfied with my job. I called a former boss in an effort to network with him and see if he had any suggestions. He recommended that I call a friend of his. I knew the person, but not well. So I called the mutual contact and, being a little nervous about small talk and not being a good schmoozer at that time, the conversation went something like this:
“Hi Bill. It’s Lew Sauder.”
“Hi Lew, how have you been?”
“I’ve been good. I just talked to our friend Steve and he suggested I call you. See, I’ve been looking for a job and he thought you might be able to help me.”
No small talk. No schmoozing. And the biggest problem is that I didn’t show an interest in him. No interest in how he is doing, how his career is going or how the wife and kids are. It’s all about me and how you can help me.
Although somewhat dated, Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, first published in 1937 is an excellent book to learn how to take an interest in others and make them feel important.
It also shows that there is a difference between kissing up and developing a relationship. Schmoozing may sound kind of sleazy, but it’s really about developing relationships.
You can go into a client’s (or prospective client’s) office and totally kiss their ass. You can tell them how important they are, laugh at every lame joke they tell and take an interest in their kid’s ballet recitals as if it’s the most interesting story you’ve ever heard.
But that’s kissing up, not schmoozing. Most executives will see right through it.
You may call that schmoozing, but it’s disingenuous. Genuine schmoozing is the process of developing a respectful relationship with someone. You can get to know them, find out their interests and seek out what you may have in common with them.
A good schmoozer will tell someone they disagree with them in a diplomatic enough approach that they aren’t hurt of offended.
A skilled schmoozer strives to become a trusted advisor. She will learn as much about the client’s business as she can and provide meaningful advice, even if it goes against the client’s beliefs. If the client pushes back, the schmoozer challenges back to engage in debate rather than giving in just because they are the client.
An artistic schmoozer knows how to do all of this without offending the client. She lets the client know that she has the client’s best interests in mind.
True schmoozing is about developing a relationship. You can cut to the chase to try to save time, but what you will be doing is wasting your time – and theirs. You can insincerely stroke their ego, but the relationship will not be based on a solid foundation of trust.
The art of schmoozing is about developing a relationship with someone and becoming their trusted advisor. It’s about developing the type of relationship that they eventually turn to you for advice and contract for your services without getting competing bids.
It’s like dating, once you develop trust with them. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. With any luck, you’ll eventually get to the discussion on diaper duty.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.