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How to sell innovation consulting? (4/10)

Clients buy innovation consulting when their careers are at risk. The innovation consultant needs to listen in order to collect as much information related to his client’s career dynamics. Here’s more how to sell innovation consulting?

Innovation as a career booster
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I/ Clients buy innovation consulting when their career is at risk

The most important element to understand is that a client will make a decision to call upon an innovation consulting firm if his/her career is at risk. This is the most important driver of getting to any decision. If this condition is not met, then, more often than not, decisions regarding starting on innovation project will tend to drag on, and on and on over many weeks, many months.  Today most French companies are primarily owned by investors that want to get out as much money as possible when they sell their stock. This creates, at every level of the organization, great instability.

  1. One time, in my career, I was working with a member of the executive committee on an innovation project. When we first met, we agreed to draft a proposal.
  2. But, by the time it was signed, he had been notified that he was out. Fortunately for me, the project was still on. So we started working with a new team until, 6 months down the road, this team was out, too.
  3. When we finally delivered the results, we presented our results to a new team, which was basically the third we had been dealing with since the beginning of our discussions.

I’m amazed to see how high the turnover has become at executive levels.

II/ High C-level turnover is cross-industry trend

Executive team turnover is high because of multiple consequences including:

In this kind of erratic context, where unpredictability seems to be the rule more than the exception, it makes sense that leaders focus more on surviving through all these changes, than working for the corporate good. I apologize if this sounds cynical. But this is the reality as I see it.

So to sum up : executive leaders don’t have the time to invest in understanding every single supplier expertise. Executives just need to know that the chosen supplier will help them :

So, my first point is the following: people make decisions if and only if they sense that their careers are at risk. They hire innovation consultants to help them survive on their job. Now, what is this mean about listening and what to listen to?


III/ Listening means collecting information on career dynamics

This means that when an innovation consultant meets an executive leader he needs to understand, beyond the facts, beyond the operational context, the career-related elements that are often conveyed implicitly and that deal with career advancement and internal rivalries. Often, when a client says that he wants to bring more value to the company, what this means for him and his career, implicitly, is that he wants to acquire more clout, play a more important role and enjoy greater C-level visibility in order to become indispensable to the corporation. If the client can achieve this, he’s almost assured to stay on the job, survive, and grow within the company. That’s why innovation consultants are hired, and that’s what innovation consultants must deliver to their clients. So I hope that this helps understand what listening ought to achieve.

In a forthcoming post, I’ll provide a more specific definition of what innovation listening means. I’ll show that it can be broken down into multiple categories.

In the meantime, why do you think clients buy innovation consulting? What are they looking for?


Further readings on how to sell innovation consulting:

  • For a discussion of how the corporate world has turned more and more erratic, please refer to Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Solution, chapter 1
  • For a discussion on why people buy innovation, please refer to this BusinessWeek article


Leave a Reply

  • Thanks for revealing some human motivations corporate managers pretend do not make up their psychology. To see and describe a cynical situation as it demonstrably exists is not itself cynical. So long as we don’t allow the view to seep into our ultimate service goals which are to make the business stronger. Explaining that end goal in the context of individual career advancement is a narrow but completely correct view.

    • Guillaume Villon de Benveniste Post author

      You’re totally correct, when you say that decision-makers don’t buy innovation consulting for career advancement only. And, I also concur with the idea that we shouldn’t let this view alter our fundamental goal, which, as you say, is to make the business stronger. I guess there are really multiple reasons why decision-makers buy innovation consulting: one pertains to their career and another to developing the business.
      Thanks for your comment!