Beware of Brain Pickers

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Author : Pierre Guimard
Published: April 21, 2012

If you've been in the consulting business for more than a year, it is very likely that you were at some point the victim of brain pickers. Brain picking is the practice of gathering ideas from several people without paying for the advising you get. Brain pickers entice their victims by the promise of large consulting contracts. At the end of the day, they will hire a cheap free lance to implement your brilliant ideas, wasting your time and giving away your precious ideas to competitors. The outcome if often negative for the client as well since the ideas are wasted on poorly managed projects. Here are some advices from my experience to avoid this consulting defect:

Spot them early on

Some signs don’t lie :

• The prospect doesn’t seem inclined to meeting you before receiving a full blown proposal. What kind of client chooses a consultant solely on a PowerPoint presentation anyway? • A strong interest on methodology is shown. "Our decision will be based mainly on methodology so make sure to go in depth on that matter." If you hear that, there is a 90 % chance that the prospect is planning on running the project on his own. • Prospects requires you to answer specific questions on a given topic. • The brief is not precise or simply inaccurate. • The prospect is very vague when it comes to their budget. • Business perspectives are too good to be true. "We will have a lot of projects for you in the future". • The prospect has a well established brain picking reputation.

Outsmart them

Several tactics may be used.

Bring up the question of their budget as soon as you can. Ask for precise deadlines and a time line of their decision process. The answers you get will allow you to clearly assess their buying intentions.

Also try to know if the prospect has any prior experience with consultants. If not, that may be a bad sign. Least but not last, listen to your guts. Looking back, whenever I had any doubts about the prospect’s intentions of buying, my intuition was right.

When business is scarce, you may be tempted to overlook these signs but if you are 80 % sure the person you're talking to is a brain picker, be strong and decline the offer.

Give enough but not too much

When luring consultants into delivering more ideas, brain pickers benefit from our burning desire to help clients and develop our business. We constantly feel the need to prove just how brilliant our ideas are, no matter the risk... When in the end your ideas won’t even get to be implemented the right way, know you are plainly wasting your time.

Let's be clear. If the prospect thinks he got enough from you, he will not buy from you; as simple as that. To showcase your talent choose to focus on a specific issue. If the prospect is serious about doing business with you, a sample of the value you can bring to his firm will suffice. Giving away too much will never increase your chances of closing the deal.

Use brain pickers' curiosity against them.

Simply mention what you can do. A fellow consultant once told me: show them the food, allow them to smell and have a bite, but never ever feed them - let alone give away your recipe.

Consultants need to obey similar rules than strippers: never show everything right away and don’t allow clients to touch. Building up frustrations is a terrific way to sell more.

Tar and feather them

If you think that you were the victim of a brain picker, first wait a little. Some time people just take time to make a decision. Do not waste too much time either. I remember a brain picker who was too much of a coward to say he did not want to buy. I had to call him 10 times at least before I could understand he would simply not sign. One year later, I discovered that a competitor had a similar story with that same prospect.

The only thing you can do at this point, is to learn from your mistakes and for the sake of our trade, spread the word out to your peers.

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