How do you consistently tip the scales in your favor when your prospect is considering a number of consulting firms? Beyond the obvious—experience and expertise—there are a number of tactical, actionable drivers of choice. Below I highlight seven factors that will elevate you above any competition.
- Responsiveness. The first consultant to reply when a prospect is looking for help, the quickest consultant to respond in general, and the most attentive consultant has a huge edge over the competition. You cannot overestimate the impact this factor has on prospects. A more responsive consultant will often get the nod over a more experienced competitor.
I respond quickly. At least half the time clients and prospects call they reach me immediately. If I can’t pick up the phone at that moment they receive a call back within a few minutes. Two hours is my guaranteed turnaround time. Context Documents and proposals are turned around in one day, not two weeks.
- Demonstrate the Trust Triangle. In a prospect’s mind, you’re trustworthy if you’re thinking about his best interests, you’re not going to harm him and you’re going to help him.
I demonstrate my regard for the prospect’s best interest by openly raising his misgivings (see this post) and by frequently making suggestions that could reduce the scope of a project. I minimize the fear of harm by asking about risks and concerns during the Context Discussion.
- Relatability. Consulting is a human endeavor and clients will choose the consultant with whom they experience the best rapport over a consultant that is objectively more qualified. If you easily remember names and details about others and are naturally charismatic, you have a big head start. The rest of us have to work harder.
Three steps I’ve taken: Made a conscious choice to be interested in people; Practiced attending to the person I’m conversing with (rather than multi-tasking); Thrust my quant-geek predilections into the background so emotional aspects of a conversation take precedence.
- Direction vs. Precision. Prospects are generally seeking a solution to their problem, not the solution. Further, in most cases the roughly right answer today is better than the precisely right answer next month. Consultants who are detail oriented, in love with their own processes or passionately absorbed in their area of expertise often forget that the extra decimal place and the dotted-i don’t make any difference in the client’s real world.
I promise rapid transportation to Tahiti rather than more complicated, rigorous, drawn out routes to Nirvana. And I constantly ask, “Will delving even deeper on this solution make a meaningful impact on the client’s results?”
- Good vs. Different. Similar to the factor above, prospects want a solution that works, not a solution that’s different. Too many consultants are focused on their point of difference and what makes them unique.
When I suggest to a corporate prospect that they use a certain consultant, I highlight the consultants’ track record delivering the desired outcome, not the features, attributes, or processes that make them different.
- Clear Message. Whether it’s your value proposition, your proposal or your final deliverable, lucidity counts. The consultant whose communication is concise, and easily understood will win the gig. Abstruse, jargon-laden marketing materials and proposals make the prospect work too hard. Rather than making you look smarter, they just leave the impression you’ll be painful to have on the team.
One of the best lessons I learned during my early consulting years was to always know my story. In other words, what handful of words will communicate the point I’m ultimately trying to make? I always know my story before I talk with a prospect.
- Confidence & Passion. In the comments on one of my recent posts, a savvy consultant remarked that clients are unlikely to trust (and choose) a consultant who seems nervous or unsure of their offering. Obvious, but true. Let’s say a prospect is faced with two consultants: one says, “I’m comfortable I can deliver your outcome.” The other gushes, “I can totally do this. I love these types of projects.” It’s obvious who will be chosen.
I have organized the work I do for corporations and consultants around my passions. As a result, every conversation with a prospect is an exciting opportunity. My team also tracks our testimonials and has organized concrete examples of our good work into a compendium. With that grounding, it’s easy to communicate unwavering belief in my offering with sincerity, not braggadocio.
I constantly get emails from consultants saying they learn from other readers’ comments on my blog. Therefore, please post your thoughts below. What action will YOU take to improve your performance on one of these factors?
Text and images are © 2015 David A. Fields, all rights reserved