The Single Best Question

Tuesday, 12 May 2015 05:01
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Many of us function as consultants, either as an internal corporate resource or as an external service provider. When one speak with prospective clients about their needs, we should ask them to describe success. It may be the single best question any consultant can pose to a customer. Curious to learn more? Read on, dear friends...

The Single Best Question

I strongly believe that service providers should always ask prospective clients: "What will success look like to you?" I feel that "the success statement" is a constructive build on to a problem statement.

To demonstrate, the following approach can be taken with any type of consulting challenge. As an example, let's consider a technical one. A client's problem is the quick, easy and inexpensive removal of recurring graffiti on concrete highway bridges and walls. While this is a pretty clear problem statement, alone it is insufficient to serve as the basis for engagement. On the other hand, when a consultant asks his customer to describe success for this problem, it should spark discussion that elicits essential details such as (among others):

- Specific "tagging" materials that the treatment must repel,
- Absolute and or comparative performance requirements,
- Treatment longevity (for a single application), This discussion might yield the following "success statement":

Successful candidates will enable existing concrete highway structures to remain totally free of all applied graffiti for a period of at least 1 year between treatments, and will require no special application equipment or manpower training. A tough challenge, to be sure...and quite possibly the basis for some negotiation between the parties. The more specific the success definition, the better both parties will be able to judge degree of difficulty and success prospects. Coming to clear, unambiguous and mutually agreed definitions of what will and won't constitute acceptable deliverables is vital to any successful consultation effort. importantly, a clearly crafted success statement doesn't guarantee success...only that both parties will recognize it when they do (or don't) see it.

The next time you are tasked to provide service, consider taking the time to work with your client to define and agree specifically upon what success will look like to them. Doing this will help ensure that you are both aligned on expectations and deliverables before a problem solving mission is undertaken.

Since 2005, BFS Innovations has helped its Fortune 500 clients with technology scouting, new business creation and development services. Contact Michael today at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at
614 937-2408 to discuss your company's needs.


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