The Perfect Story to Win Consulting Projects

I’m a sucker for a good story. Most people are.

Fortunately, that trait makes selling consulting projects more enjoyable and easier. I use a simple template to craft the persuasive story that I tell consulting prospects. It’s astoundingly effective. 

The type of story I’m talking about isn’t a tale of your derring-do, or even a case study presenting your success with other clients. I mean the simple story of your client’s problem and what you can do to help.

Alas, most consultants present a dry, dreary, logical narrative that doesn’t compel prospects to sign on the dotted line. An injection of life and emotion is needed. As you know, emotion fuels the decision to engage a consultant, drives the choice to hire you over competitors, and coaxes up the fees you’ll receive.

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The essence of emotional persuasion was captured succinctly by Blair Warren in 27 words: “People will do anything for those who encourage their dreams, justify their failures, allay their fears, confirm their suspicions, and help them throw rocks at their enemies.”

Blair’s apothegm fits neatly with the 3-part story template I use:

Part 1: Describe and Vindicate Today’s Pain.

Example: At Consulting Associates’, your growth has slowed precipitously. Unfortunately, your firm is saddled by inconsistent approaches and lack of a cohesive vision. This is extremely common in consulting firms that have expanded to multiple offices, particularly with strong, independent practice leaders heading the different locations.

With only a few words I have confirmed suspicions about the problem (inconsistent approaches and vision), have justified failures (extremely common in firms like yours), and thrown rocks at enemies (those darn, independent practice leaders)

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Part 2: Paint the Desirable Future

Example: Working together, we can create a growth blueprint for Consulting Associates that opens the door for $25 million/year in revenue or more. You will be positioned to open offices across the country while maintaining a unifying vision, and one-firm look.

Two sentences is all it takes to encourage dreams (aspirational revenue, multiple offices) while allaying fears (unifying vision, one-firm look).

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Part 3: Reveal the Irresistible Path from Here to There

Example: Your Growth Blueprint will be anchored by a two-day work session, during which all eight partners will collaborate to work through our robust, 80-question diagnostic. The output of the diagnostic shows the team exactly which growth levers to focus on first… <description of approach continues.>

Note that my concise overview of the approach doesn’t just outline the steps. I actively connect my prospect’s desires to a concrete plan of action, further encouraging dreams and allaying fears.

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Asking about risks and concerns (a.k.a. fears) is a routine part of the Context Discussion, as is uncovering desired outcomes (a.k.a dreams) and catalytic events (suspicions and enemies). Your groundwork during the Context Discussion pays off in spades when you develop the perfect story for your prospect.

Remember, consulting is a human business. A gut-driven business. The three-part framework above will allow you to connect with your prospects’ emotions, where the decisions are made. And that’s the starting point for your own, astounding revenue story.

What story has worked for you?


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Text and images are © 2016 David A. Fields, all rights reserved. 

By | 2017-08-07T12:42:08+00:00 January 6th, 2016|10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Jim Lewis January 6, 2016 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Really good post. Story telling is a powerful influence method, and the guidelines in this post are very helpful to anyone who wants to use the method for marketing.

    • David A. Fields January 6, 2016 at 8:34 am - Reply

      Agreed, the right story helps with your marketing, it helps you close the sale (as outlined above) and more. I’m guessing that as a project management expert you also teach your clients the right story structure to keep their projects on track. Thanks for the feedback, Jim.

  2. Bob Hatcher January 6, 2016 at 12:58 pm - Reply

    Your step three is backwards. People don’t want to endure an 80-question diagnostic. It can be stated much better if you invert your points.

    • David A. Fields January 6, 2016 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      Bob, thanks for the input. Setting aside the fact that quite a lot of business has been sold with the phraseology in the example, the order of benefits misses the point. The example simply illustrates the connection between the story you tell your client and the emotional triggers that spark their desire to work with you. Those are the same regardless of the order.

  3. Zach Schaefer January 6, 2016 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    “Effective storytelling is 2 parts emotion and 1 part logic” – Ron Howard. The key to a memorable story is to be audience-centered by using language, analogies, and metaphors that ring true to them. Being audience-centered inherently involves asking lots of questions during the context development phase and listening to what your clients say…this is where the building blocks for captivating stories come from. Good stuff David.

    • David A. Fields January 6, 2016 at 4:33 pm - Reply

      You totally nailed it, Zach. Well, you and your friend Ron! Thanks for posting that quote; it’s a good one.

  4. Kenneth Majer, PhD January 7, 2016 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Great job on breaking down the storytelling into easy-to-follow steps. You validated my storytelling nicely and provided a framework for making my “selling stories” even better. Many thanks!

    • David A. Fields January 7, 2016 at 8:07 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome, Ken. Clearly you already have a strong structure in place for your selling story, and I’m glad I was able to enhance it. Thank you for the feedback.

  5. Jo-Ann Daddio January 7, 2016 at 7:12 pm - Reply

    David, while I agree with your story telling components, the recipient also needs to be prepared to receive/accept your story. I recently created a program for a client to help their sales force learn how to use story telling in their sales calls. What we found was that most wanted to jump right in with the story at the beginning of the call. But the customer may not be ready yet. You should definitely prepare your story in advance. But where you will use your story in a call should depend on when the client/prospect is ready to be emotionally transported. Now, I think we would all agree that good consultants and/or salespeople should do more listening, than talking, especially when in information gathering mode…so stay in the moment, watch like a hawk, listen like a what? a dolphin? a bat? (LOL!) and use what you see and hear to reshape your story as needed for the recipient to receive it when they’re ready.

    • David A. Fields January 7, 2016 at 8:05 pm - Reply

      Jo-Ann, information gathering and listening definitely has to precede development of your selling story. Otherwise, how would you know what to say to meet those emotional triggers? I totally agree with you.

      Just for clarification, the type of story I’m referring to in this article is the overall message to the prospect. It’s not the type of tale or case study or colorful anecdote that salespeople are typically taught in “story telling in sales calls” courses.

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