You are Not a Doctor, so Stop Pretending to be One

I spend a lot of time problem solving, because that’s what I’m paid to do. Sales are down? Develop a tactical sales program. Leads are weak? Rework the marketing plan. Leadership not getting the job done? Create a performance improvement plan for an individual or the entire team. These are all outputs that deliver results.

Really, anyone can create a tactical sales program — but it won’t be effective if it doesn’t address the core issues needed to boost sales for the particular company. Plans without appropriate content can be dangerous. What most people don’t realize is that the value a good consultant contributes to the situation may not be as much the problem solving so much as it is the problem finding.

Let me explain a bit more about what I mean by that. Let’s say a client comes to me and says, “Sam, we’re not getting enough leads these days. We need to have higher organic SEO. Will you help us with that?” Now, it may be the case that SEO work needs to be done to improve performance in that area. But why should I believe that that’s the real, root issue? What kind of skill and experience does this particular client have to know what the solution is for the problem they’re having? The chances are they don’t.

Would you go into the doctor’s office with a rash on your back and flu-like symptoms and, having consulted WebMD, you tell the doctor the exact drug you need her to prescribe for your illness? Of course not! Instead, you’d sit on the table and she’d examine you and ask you questions to identify the likely range of culprits. Then she’d put together a diagnosis with a plan to attack the issue with you.

So why do you think that as a business owner — especially those who are new to owning the business — can diagnose everything that’s wrong with your situation? Wouldn’t it help to bring in a specialist, someone who can provide expertise in the area(s) you need it in?

Just like a doctor, the value that a consultant brings to the situation is largely based on how good he is at discovering the real problem. In our hypothetical case, here, the symptom is that we have fewer leads than before or than are desired. That’s something that a consultant can work with to frame the issue. The client’s suggestion that SEO might need attention could be accurate (though in my experience SEO can always use a little work so it’s pretty hard to say that and not be right!).

It’s the other questions and information that a consultant looks into that makes the work he does so effective. Perhaps during the probing period with the client the consultant finds out that there’s been a staffing shortage and the hours of sales operation are shorter? Or maybe the sales manager has had to fill in to service more accounts and can’t return all the calls in a timely way? Maybe the SSL certificate expired, and now people see a warning come up on their screen at the time of purchase saying the site might not be trustworthy and so they are now nervous about sending in a form with private information? And so on…

Problems require more than just solving. They need to be framed and reframed for what you really need to achieve. Don’t take the first problem as the final one to solve. This is almost always a sure-fire way to address the wrong issue. Instead, you can use something as simple as the “five whys” to get at the core of the issue.

Also, remember that if you have a limited area of expertise, seek out someone who has more knowledge and skill than you do when implementing solutions for important obstacles. People who have a limited skillset tend to find solutions that range in what they know, not always what is right or best or most effective to address the core issue. This is especially important for solopreneurs, because they do everything when they are expert at only a few things. If you’re an interior designer and having challenges with sales, you rearranging the client meeting space likely isn’t going to solve the real problem for you.

Abraham Maslow once quipped, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Don’t be a hammerhead. Get help when you need it. Call someone who knows.