Sometimes the client doesn’t know what they want. Or they know what they want but their limited experience leads them to an overly narrow range of solutions. And that’s fine.

It’s the consultant’s (my) job to help figure out their wants if they need that kind of help, and then help the client meet those wants with the best solution.

Case in point: A client recently requested training on certain aspects of his email platform. I pieced together and presented what I thought was the perfect step-by-step plan for getting the client up to speed on all the various moving parts of his email program.

He agreed we should move forward with the plan. But then came scheduling. We simply couldn’t connect. Or more accurately put, I had a heck of a time nailing him down. He didn’t answer my calls or my emails.

Was it something I said? No, actually. The client is a road warrior, constantly on the go. And email is a small part of his daily routine. His issue was time.

So I got to thinking: Is training on his current platform set-up truly what he needs? After all, even with training, email would still take up more than a justifiable share of what over the course of this project became clear was his scarcest resource.

Then it hit me. Rather than jumping right into training, how about we automate some of his existing email campaigns and then train him on the automation? The client agreed. We moved forward with the new plan. Problem solved.

Clients often come to meetings with very specific requests. They know their business and they know the issue they’re trying to solve. Often, they even have a solution. However, the solution also often comes from a perspective that is limited in scope.

As a consultant I will have probably seen whatever the issue is come up repeatedly with other clients. This doesn’t make me smarter than the client. It simply means I come at the issue with the benefit of having seen it successfully addressed many times — a major aspect of what makes consultants worth paying for.

As a consultant it’s my job to explain this, tactfully, and offer more appropriate solutions based on my experience with similar issues.

Over the years I have learned not to focus solely on the issue clients present, but to consider the bigger picture, learn how the issue fits into the larger program, learn the client’s daily responsibilities, their goals and their supervisors’ goals.

Often, the issue the client presents turns out not to be the actual issue, but a symptom of a larger issue. Fix the larger issue and the original issue resolves itself.

As a result, one way to assess if a consultant is worth paying for is to listen carefully to his or her questions and figure out if they’re aimed at understanding the larger picture. Because if they’re not, you’ll simply end up with one extra firefighter helping put out the same fires you’ve already been putting out rather than preventing them at the source.