"No prophet is accepted in his own village." -Jesus (Luke 4:24)
I had an interesting discussion today with a friend of mine who is a whiz at software sales. We were talking about our "home court" of Des Moines, Iowa. When I first became an independent consultant, I marketed myself quite heavily here in the Des Moines area. To no avail. The market is saturated with cubicle-dwellers who call themselves consultants. Alas, most of what is termed a local consultant around here is merely resource extender, a sort of "consulting Hamburger Helper" meant to make their existing resource budget go a little farther. For true consulting, local companies bring in people from other cities. (NOTE: this assessment comes from many of the other consultants themselves; I just happen to concur with their observation. So, no, I'm not labeling my colleagues.)
We all know the definition of a consultant: anybody carrying a briefcase who comes from more than 100 miles away. My one active consulting client right now is out of state, and I like it that way. A lot of other service providers (software, marketing, financial services) have noticed the same thing. When local companies did want my services, they wanted them for (ahem) free... and well, I'm not that cheap. When one of the major "big box" employers in town was putting on a professional development day for their internal project managers, not only did they want me to come and speak (without a fee), but also they asked if I'd give away books. I politely declined. There was no follow-on business for a "deal" like that. Plus, I'd consulted for this company enough to know what their bottom line looked like... they could have afforded my normal speaker fees.
But a really weird phenomenon has been happening since I've been acting like I'm no longer interested in pursuing consulting (or speaking or training) business here in Des Moines. Local companies have suddenly been contacting me. Inviting me to train. To speak. To consult. Am I now considered the outsider? Or is this relationship something like college dating? Since I'm acting disinterested, have I suddenly becomeo irresistably desirable (at least as a consultant)?
My lunch comrade and I discussed others who had experienced similar situations. We sat over our dessert and coffee, dissecting the local market like two anthropologists stumbling upon the ruins of an odd little tribe in the wilderness.
What do you think causes these kinds of relationships? Is it just weird office politics gone awry? Is it some kind of twisted mental game that companies play on consultants and service providers? What do you think?