The Partner’s Question (Issue 417)

In which we see our value through the counsel we provide. "So, you've been working for a bank.... What the h*ll do you know?"

I was sitting on a low, uncomfortable couch facing, 12 feet away, the managing partner of a consulting firm with which I was interviewing for a job.  His voice was gruff; his eyebrows furrowed, head bent slightly forward. He waited, motionless, eyes focused on my nose.

I was 24 years old, completing my third year working at a very well known Chicago bank. I was prepared to answer the question, “what have you done at the bank?”, but not this one, this fastball thrown at my head, this pitch following me as I leaned back.

Silent, still, he sat. It was the question his clients would ask me or would ask him when he sent me out to a client. “So, he’s been working in a bank. What the h*ll does he know…. and why is he worth the obscene billing rate that you’re charging me for his time?”

He leaned back, just slightly. I began an answer. Winging it, piecing together elements from answers prepared for other questions.

It’s the same question that our clients and prospects ask themselves when we propose meetings with them. “What the h*ll does s/he know and why will this meeting be worth my time?”

One way to answer that question for ourselves is to ask:

  1. When I’m advising or counseling or sharing perspective with clients and prospects, about what are we speaking?
  2. What are my clients and prospects able to see or do differently as a result of our conversation?

For example:

  1. Focus: We’re speaking about industry best practices and alternative techniques for accelerating collection of payment from customers.
  2. Change: My clients are able to compare their collection methods to industry best practices and assess the value of change compared with continuing current practices.

On this basis, the answer to the question, “what the h*ll do you know?”, could be something like, “I help companies identity and quantify the value of opportunities to improve their collection of customer payments.”  Or, more generally, “I help companies accelerate cash collections by integrating industry best practices into their current systems.” Or, more generally, “I help companies balance collections and payments to maximize available cash.”  The products we sell are the tools we use to accomplish this outcome. Our “intellectual property” is the differentiating edge in the conversation.

We may have several, even dozens, of these responses, each appropriate in a different context.  It’s useful to have an “all purpose” statement or two, as well as some that are more specific to a particular instance.

I got the job, by the way. But the question has stayed with me and now defines a significant part of our consulting practice, the part I like best — helping companies and individuals answer the partner’s question, “What the h*ll do you know?”

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