19 February 2011

Consulting 101: Dead Wood and Deliverables

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC + Consultant to the Consultants

Deliverable (n.): Report or item that must be completed and delivered under the terms of an agreement or contract. — BusinessDictionary.com

Wise Guys

As wise men, they of course knew to come bearing deliverables.

Even though the United States has an increasingly service-based economy (meaning, “sorry, we don’t make things anymore”), clients still want products they can hold. They request the fruits of our education and experience, which we obligingly divulge in their offices or over drinks, yet all that mad science ain’t worth jack if they can’t touch it.

And it’s not because they’re tactilely fixated…

Here in post-industrial America, every other adult is a self-proclaimed consultant, coach, manager, agent, producer, director, strategist, facilitator, intermediary, advisor or (thanks to social media) guru. Some have MBA’s and JD’s, others fancy offices and $2000 suits. So what distinguishes the true experts from geeks bearing grifts?

You guessed it: deliverables. Pretenders chatter; experts deliver the goods.

In most cases, that means some kind of report – and not just an email filled with “action items.” To warrant our fees, we consultants regularly employ all the term-paper tools we thought we had left behind in grad school:

  • primary and secondary research all properly referenced with client-satiating footnotes and bibliographies
  • charts and tables and graphs
  • all the accoutrements: cover sheet, table of contents, executive summary
  • concrete, step-by-step recommendations
  • more charts and tables and graphs
  • a big juicy appendix filled with as much dirt on the client’s competitors as possible
  • did I mention charts and tables and graphs?
  • and a detailed timetable of actions and yet more deliverables

Ideally, this report should encompass all components of Microsoft Office: a Word doc, Excel spreadsheets, and a PowerPoint. But ultimately, what convinces clients that their dollar was well spent is a blood sacrifice – more exactly, a sap sacrifice: a tree must be killed, and a final report delivered on dead wood. That report may never get fully read, and it may spend eternity entombed in a steel cabinet, but at least they had the opportunity to feel it.

Now I say this mockingly, but in all seriousness, keeping clients happy – and compelling them to come back for more – involves going beyond mere advice. So in addition to reports, I often throw in creative content, such as a press release, fresh copy for their website, or a small Facebook ad campaign.

Why go to such lengths?

Since anyone with a Twitter account can (and does) call himself a “marketing expert,” I need to provide something that makes the pretenders blanch in horror: actual work.

Now “deliverable” isn’t the only verbal atrocity perpetrated by us business droids. We also turned the nouns “leverage” and “interface” into verbs, and the verbs “reveal” and “buy in” into nouns, for which we’re doomed to spend the afterlife with nothing to read but IRS manuals and academic business journals (the horror, the horror). The key point: all consultants use such jargon; the ones who earn their keep can turn those words into actions.

Or at least a nice stack of dead wood.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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