One of the things I appreciate about the consulting business is that it’s full of surprises-like when a client sends the global consulting firm packing in favor of the upstart boutique firm. Or the client who chooses the premium-priced consultant, instead of a less expensive, competent competitor.
What’s intriguing is that the consultants whose businesses do well whether times are good or bad aren’t always the ones with the best price, top industry position, or the longest track record of success. Yet, they still thrive.
So what sets these consultants apart from the rest? What you will find is that winning consultants prevail because they have higher quality conversations with their clients than their competitors do.
Not the Usual Mindless Chit-Chat
Most of the successful consultants I know are good communicators. After all, at its core, the consulting business is about conversations-with clients, colleagues, competitors, partners, and others.
Part of that is schmoozing, which is not unimportant in this business. But if you really want to up your game as a consultant, find ways to elevate the quality of the three substantiveconversations you have with clients on a regular basis: diagnostic, sales, and consultative conversations.
Those are the interactions that build your credibility with clients and matter most to your business.
Diagnostic Conversations: Seeking Mutual Gain
Any consultant can listen to a client’s description of the situation and offer up a potential service solution. It’s not hard, given that most clients pre-qualify consultants before they talk to them. So clients know ahead of time who can help them with the pre-defined issue. The result: the consultant talks to the client, hears a familiar problem, and offers a predictable solution.
This approach to a sales opportunity may fit the bill in some cases. But in most competitive situations, you’ll find at least one consultant who doesn’t suggest the obvious solution to the client’s self-diagnosed problem. That consultant will ask more diagnostic questions, delve into the matter more deeply, and resist the urge to “solve” the problem immediately.
The inquisitive competitor withholds judgment, gets the facts, and identifies the client’s need-as opposed to just agreeing with what the client wants.
Before you try to sell anything, invest time and energy in diagnostic conversations to build trust, establish your credibility, and make sure that the client’s project would be mutually beneficial to you and the client.
Sales Conversations: Answering the Big Questions
Effective diagnostic conversations set the stage for productive sales conversations in three ways. First, they help you write a more compelling sales proposal that has greater clarity. You won’t have to rely on the typical boilerplate; you’ll have enough detailed information to write a highly-focused, thoughtful project plan.
Second, your sales discussions will include fewer assumptions and more certainty about how you would conduct the project. Assumption-free proposals and sales presentations inspire confidence and demonstrate your competence.
Finally, your client will experience what it’s like to work with you, providing an opportunity to answer the big questions about the personal chemistry between you and the client’s team, the rigor of your work style, and the depth of your expertise. Once the client can draw conclusions on those questions, the project should sell itself.