This is a special edition of this series and talks about Selling Consulting Services (internally or externally)
The Transformation & Change space has many consultants and vendors. They are either solo
consultants, thought leaders, boutique consulting companies, professional services companies, or larger consulting firms.
We all have been on one or both sides of the table. Either being sold to or doing the selling.
Selling consulting services as a solo consultant or as a consulting company
In my many years in transformation & change consulting, I can say that I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly in sales. Unfortunately, and sadly, much of the malpractice of selling is still common, and unfortunately, when the sale happens, the outcome is not what is expected.
This article is for you if you are:
- A solo consultant, advisor or thought leader selling your services
- Working in pre-sales, account management or a partner in a consulting firm
- A boutique consulting company founder, C-level, or lead consultant.
- Already have a client project and want to expand your reach to the same client
- An internal capability, practice or program engagement function that is selling services to internal business sponsors
Below are the best practices that I have developed and the pitfalls I have observed over the years and are sadly still happening across the board
Sell what they want, not what you have
This is the most common malpractice I have observed over the years. There is this belief that if I offer what I have/have done, the client will get it and choose what best suits them. This cannot be further from the truth.
This can be true if you are in retail (even so, this may not be 100% true) but not in the complex services consultancy business.
Flashing case studies and available resources on the bench does not solve the client’s wants. With the increased complexity of today’s problem, the need for speed, and the need for personalized solutions that understand the client’s landscape, ways of working and aspirations are critical in concluding a successful sale that then becomes meaningful that moves the client forward.
Getting into the space of aligning what you have with what the client wants in the pursuit of creating a meaningful connection requires a few things. It takes time, effort, thought leadership, market understanding, diverse and open mind thinking, and much listening and empathy.
Tap into what the customer wants, and don’t preach what they need
You might have been in the industry for a long time, got many years of experience and been there and done that. However, that still does not guarantee a sale.
While many years of experience in the arena might be your superpower, it can also be your blind spot. Your experience allows you to see through the noise.
You know what the client is going through and see how their situation will cost them if they don’t address the issues immediately. However, you might find that your sales pitch will focus on what you know they need and not much on what they want now.
Understanding that the client may not see what you see, they may not resonate with what you are pitching; the client might feel that your approach or insights may or may not work for them.
What is needed is to solve the problem the client is seeing now. Then, later, when they are ready to hear more and have their perspectives expanded, you can pitch for that next step. Take them on a journey.
Your baby is ugly!
You may not call it this way; however, you might hint at it in your words and between the lines when conversing with a potential client. Of course, the client will sense that, which would be enough to cut the sales process short.
In the selling process, I have seen one category of consultants pitch from a place of superiority that they know best. In this case, the sale won’t happen, and if it happens, it will likely end badly.
The second category is those who are trying to be empathetic but can’t help themselves, especially under pressure and in the presence of potential competition, but call the baby ugly to showcase the consultant’s ability to fix the problem,… But, again, in this case, the sale is lost.
The third category is those trying to ignite internal views about what might have gone wrong by talking to multiple sponsors and leaders in the organization. The aim is to ignite conversations behind closed doors that would hopefully open doors to creating opportunities. Again, this is playing with fire; it may or may not work. But what matters is that if the sale is sealed and done, this might be a problematic project.
Too bland, too vanilla
If you don’t know enough about the client and their landscape, you risk offering and pitching what the client has heard many times. You might risk oversimplifying the client’s situation, not getting what they are genuinely going through or struggling to achieve.
This also presents a problem for the sale process as you end up competing on price against other vendors simply because you have not anchored the client in your unique value and deep understanding of their situation.
From the client’s side, they think, “if it were that simple, we would have done it by now”.
If it doesn’t serve the client, walk away
After two decades of experience in this space, I have rarely seen consultants (solo or as consulting companies) walk away from a potential sale. Instead, most would try to cook something in the kitchen, quickly adjust the proposal and the approach and franticly hire that resource that can do the job.
Many clients find it commendable when consultants decline the opportunity and respectfully walk away. This can be for the following reasons:
- It is not what the consultant or consultancy company can do or can help with (they might refer someone else).
- The program or project will not be set up for success due to a lack of critical success conditions.
- The client dictates how the program should be run in a way that would not allow the consultants to design and deliver successfully.
- The client is just not ready.
Walking away is hard, but it is also not. If you are confident of the value you bring and have conviction in your ability to create value for the client, you won’t think twice about this. You won’t even engage in conversations you know would not lead to a good outcome. Eventually, you will know what clients you don’t want to work with.
Relationship building, done the right way
Everyone in sales will tell you that relationship-building is what matters. But saying it is one thing, and doing the right thing, the right way, is another.
Booking meetings with leaders and potential sponsors to “hunt for the opportunity” by
- listening attentively to the pain points
- jumping at it with what you can do about it
- offering options and creating proposals.
This is far away from what clients need now. It is also the reason why many clients shy away from talking to consultants because they know they are here to primarily sell.
Trust is inherently gone and hard to build unless you are in the mindset of serving and creating the space this requires. Now, what does this mean? It means giving it time. It means doing your homework. It means to listen more than you talk. It means going deeper and discovering what would make people change their emotions (yes, emotions) towards a challenge they have and what future they see for themselves. It’s an act of co-creation that allows for higher level conversations and for you to shape up your ways to what would work for the client (or not and walk away).
Your job is to create that vision with clarity and allow the client (not you) to see themselves in that future. Only then will they come asking for your help without you selling (it’s the art of selling without selling)
Conclusion: Selling is serving
Unfortunately, many consulting companies (with even big names and brands) are becoming a resource augmentation arm for the clients’ organizations offering FTEs (Full Time Equivalent and billable resources) with partial and superficial solutions that lead to adding more noise and creating an incomplete solution that may look good on paper. Yet, if you look deeper, those solutions have a negative return on investment and will lead to painful changes ahead, which the client will need to undergo if they want to stay relevant in a crowded market.
People of Transformation & Change (PTC) Mastermind Community
You will need to sell one way or another, internally or externally, and you need to be equipped with what it means to sell, how to do it, do it well, and craft a meaningful program that will lead to the outcome.
In my 25 years of experience, I sold and pre-sold over a billion dollars worth of deals worldwide, never having a sales title. I am passionate about serving clients and seeing them take the next step in their journey to a meaningful future, and mastering how to sell is necessary.
I am incorporating a series of masterclasses on selling without selling: how to scale your impact and increase your income without feeling salesy.
These masterclasses will be under the mastery pathway in the PTC mastermind community (People of Transformation & Change).
I am opening up the expression of interest in PTC. If you are interested and want to be the first to know when it launches, register your interest using this link
Thank you, and looking forward to your feedback and insights
When you are ready to take your Change and Transformation career & impact to the next level, here are a few ways I can help:
1. Land an impactful and successful change & transformation program and make a bigger impact today. Lock in a Free 30-minute Impact-Maker Call to discuss how I can be your behind-the-scenes one-on-one consultant, mentor and advisor. I help leaders elevate their transformation & change practice mastery, expand their perspectives, be visible and respected, build high-performing transformation teams, elevate their leadership, accelerate their career progression, and bring their authentic voice and true expertise to the table. Message me to book your Free 30-minute Impact-Maker Call.
2. Ready to take your influence and impact to the next level. Join EMERGENCE, my group coaching mastermind program – for ambitious leaders, consultants, professionals and advisors already working on or in charge of change & transformation programs who want to get it right, earn a seat at the table, and elevate their leadership, all without the burnout, guesswork, or losing opportunities. If you are interested, reach out, as the next cohort is now open for registration
3. Express your interest in joining the PEOPLE OF TRANSFORMATION & CHANGE (PTC) mastermind community program as an early-bird founding member. The PTC community focuses on 5 different pillars:
- Build incontestable Mastery of world-class change & transformation practice,
- Be an effective and purposeful Leader,
- Show up, be Visible and make a dent,
- Accelerate your Growth and Career,
- Earn your Seat at the table.
Send me a message to learn more and express your interest by signing up for the waitlist here
Links to the published episodes of “The top 10 things to double down on in 2023” series for change & transformation leaders:
- Link to episode 1: Focus here
- Link to episode 2-Part 1: Doing the Work (The Job) here
- Link to episode 2-Part 2: Doing the Work (The Inner Work) here
- Link to episode 3: The need to know more to move forward here
- Link to episode 4: Sell your Expertise here
- Link to episode 5: Creativity in Business Transformation here
- Link to episode 6: Don’t be That Person here
- Link to episode 7: Shaping your Role here
- Link to episode 8: Originality over Credibility here