One of the best ways to provide value as a business consultant is to ask really stupid questions…
I have a love-hate relationship with the legal name of my business.
It’s “Fresh Look, Inc.”
Which actually comes from the idea of me coming into your business and taking a fresh look at your marketing and business-building systems.
And from that perspective, I love it.
Because often what a business most needs is a fresh look at what they’re doing. An outside perspective that’s slightly-removed from the everyday. A perspective willing to ask stupid questions, because being an outsider they haven’t realized the questions are stupid, yet.
That kind of fresh look can create huge breakthroughs.
On the other hand, when you think of “Fresh Look, Inc.,” you might think I’m a designer. Or something else like that. Plus there are enough other Fresh Look businesses that sometimes I get random calls or emails from their clients that I absolutely don’t want to deal with.
But let’s get back to asking stupid questions…
How one stupid question doubled my client’s per-sale profits…
I’ve told the story of the backup solar generators before. But what I haven’t emphasized in the past was how it was really just one stupid question that made nearly all the difference.
I flew out to my client’s offices to meet with them. To see where they assembled these backup solar generators, and shipped them out to clients. To meet the engineer. And to meet the team.
And after the tour of the facilities in the morning, we had an afternoon meeting to talk about selling the generators.
I let them give me the spiel, then I started asking the stupid questions.
I don’t remember all of them.
But there’s one I’ll never forget.
“This seems really under-priced — why are you selling these for this price?”
Turns out they had a reason. But it wasn’t a very good one.
The earliest generator was what you might call a “minimum viable product.”
That is, they put together a really basic model of the generator that they figured was good enough to sell, but not in line with their final vision for the product.
They set a price for those, and they sold well enough to keep selling them.
As they went, they kept improving. Because they were doing in-house, on-demand manufacturing, they could switch out a component on the next order. And when a customer called in to order, they’d learn about the “free upgrade” they were getting.
This was AWESOME for customer service.
But with every upgrade, the cost of goods would creep up a little. And the margins would shrink.
Then they made a big upgrade. They switched out the plastic case for a custom-fabricated metal housing. That housing added a huge selling feature — it was a form of Faraday cage, offering resistance against electromagnetic pulses, or EMPs.
All of these upgrades had put the product into a class of its own…
It went from being a decent backup solar generator, to a completely unique and differentiated model that was unparalleled on the market.
This was literally THE first and only EMP-resistant backup solar generator available for purchase.
And because they’d never raised the price, customers were getting it for less than any comparable model generator without the EMP resistance and other value-adding features.
Until, that is, they brought me in — and I asked a stupid question.
I asked why they were selling them for the price they were…
And they basically gave me the story above.
So I started Googling, as if I were shopping for a backup solar generator.
And when I found far inferior generators selling for more…
I recommended they test a higher price.
I don’t remember the exact numbers — and I don’t necessarily want to go dig them up.
But if I remember right, the new price tested was about 30% higher than the old price. And the margin over cost on each sale roughly doubled.
But all those numbers assume it actually sold well at the higher price.
Now, I probably wouldn’t be fondly reminiscing about this if I didn’t look like a hero…
So you probably know what happened.
We sold just as many generators at the higher price — and doubled profits!
I estimated that this one stupid question added about $500,000 to the client’s bottom line over the next 12 months.
And the long-term impact is even bigger.
Because that one stupid question led that client to focus more on developing high-end products for the survival market. With higher price points. And higher margins. Serving a higher-end clientele.
I went on and wrote a new promotion for that solar generator as well — and we sold well over $1 million worth of generators in a very short window.
My royalty checks were made significantly fatter because of the stupid question, too.
Here’s the takeaway lesson for consultants…
Sometimes experience is a curse.
If you come to a client with a huge pile of assumptions about what works in their business or their industry, you risk missing the really obvious breakthroughs.
Often it takes asking the really stupid questions to find spots where you can make a huge impact…
— “Why are you doing things this way?”
— “Is that what your customers really want?”
— “What have you tried that worked, that you’re not doing anymore? What are you continuing to do even though you have clear evidence it’s not working?”
— “If you could wave a magic wand over your business to fix any one challenge or issue, what would that issue be? What would it look like if it were fixed? What do you imagine the fix looks like?”
— “Have you ever tested [idea]?”
… And so on.
In every single one of these cases, experience matters little. Being willing to ask questions that might look stupid matters a lot. (If your ego is too fragile to ask these directly, you can pre-frame them with, “This may be a really stupid question, but…”)
Then listen. And ask more stupid questions.
Mirror your client’s statements back to them. “If I’m hearing you right, what you’re really saying is that you don’t have any real reason for this except for, ‘it’s the way we’ve always done it.’”
An expert consultant can have value. Someone who has a ton of market intelligence to point their client to the best path. But as often as not, the client actually knows the best path already. Your job is more of a coach, to get them to recognize it as the best path, and to get them to take it.
And all that takes is being able to ask the stupid questions, and applying common sense in interpreting their answers.
What this means for newer consultants…
And here you can include any outsider that takes on a consulting role coming into a business… As well as any new employees or contractors coming into a business with an outside perspective.
Your value is probably much higher than you think.
Sure, you should know a bit about marketing and selling.
It’s good if you have experience or at least know case studies from multiple industries, pointing to what works.
But even if you’re brand new to a business, you could provide immense value. Simply by being willing to ask those questions nobody else is asking — especially the stupid ones.
You may just find a breakthrough…
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,