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3 Steps to Win Consulting Projects Even When Circumstances Change

You’re a happy camper. Why? Because you’re (hypothetically) on the brink of signing a doozy of a consulting project with PlumCo.

Then, outta nowhere, PlumCo’s sales nosedive and your buyer informs you, “Sorry. We can’t do anything right now – all discretionary spending has been cut.”

Apparently you’re discretionary. Now what? You roll with the punches.

Don’t Do This:

“You’re in luck, Professor Plum, because we can take care of your sales problem. I’ll pull  together a new proposal.”

Approaches like that come across as insensitive and opportunistic at a time when your prospect is super stressed and probably a bit embarrassed.

3 Steps to Win Consulting Projects Even when Circumstances Change

1. Empathize:

“Gosh, Professor, that’s a bummer. You must be really frustrated with the downturn in sales.”

2. Set a Trigger:

“Clearly the current circumstances don’t support the project we’ve been discussing. Fortunately, the crisis is likely to pass sooner or later. Let’s set up a concrete trigger, so that when the time is right we can flip the switch and kick off the project immediately.

How will you know that the sales slump is over? What’s the signal that we can dive back in?”

That simple statement accomplished three goals:

  • By implicitly dismissing all objections other than the current circumstances, you’ve increased the odds that the project will sign when circumstances permit;
  • The process of working with your prospect to paint a picture of a brighter future creates a strong, positive connection;
  • You’ve anchored your project to a well-defined, future moment. Without that, the urgency to tackle your project may drift away permanently.

3. Brainstorm an Immediate Solution:

“Professor Plum, having set our original project aside, let’s spend a few minutes brainstorming solutions to your immediate challenge. What do you think we could do together that would help you, given your current situation?”

It’s quite possible no project will emerge from this impromptu powwow. However, it’s often productive to work with prospects on the fly to develop solutions in these sticky spots.

After all, when a prospect develops the solution, he’s far more likely to buy it!

The example I gave you was a downturn in sales, but there are myriad reasons your high-priority project might unexpectedly drop off the radar. No matter what the cause, the winning approach is: empathize, set a trigger, brainstorm a solution.

What are the “Sorry, we can’t do your project” excuses you hear?

  1. Paula
    June 14, 2017 at 6:07 am Reply

    People often say they are just too busy to take this on right ow, even when the work is designed to eventually make them less busy! They get anxious. They start spinning and it is very difficult to calm them down. How does one handle this?

    • David A. Fields
      June 14, 2017 at 11:16 am Reply

      Paula, you’ve brought up a perfect example where the three step approach applies. The fact that your project should make them less busy isn’t any more compelling in the moment than the situation described above, where the consultant could help with the sales problem. “We’re too busy” is actually one of the circumstances where the 3 steps work best. Here’s how it could play out:

      You: Gosh, Professor Plum, you must be up to your eyeballs in work. that sounds stressful.
      Plum: Yeah. We just have a ton going on and a zillion fires to fight.
      You: Fair enough. So, now may not be the right time for our project. Let’s set up a concrete trigger, so that when the time is right we can flip the switch and kick off the project immediately. How will you know that you’re not too busy to jump into the important initiative we’ve been discussing? What’s the signal that you have time.”
      Plum: Hmmm… we pretty much always have fires. We’re always busy. So, I guess the signal would never come. Maybe we just need to commit to this project even though we’re busy.

      Note that you’re not trying to convince Plum you have a solution to his woes. You’re empathizing and letting him think through the trigger. In the case of “no time,” the prospect often realizes that there will never be a good time, therefore, there’s no time like the present.

      Great question, Paula.

  2. Chris Doig
    June 14, 2017 at 8:08 am Reply

    In Paula’s comment, explain they are so busy shoveling snow they don’t have the time to learn to use a snow blower. When you phrase it like that, it can help them get the idea.

    • David A. Fields
      June 14, 2017 at 11:41 am Reply

      Chris, a good metaphor can pack a lot of power. Make sure you’re communicating Right-Side Up. It’s about the client and what’s going on in their world, not you and your desire to sell a project.

  3. Debbie
    June 14, 2017 at 10:57 am Reply

    One comment I heard recently is “We don’t have the internal resources we need to execute the proposal and we don’t have money in the budget to hire the person right now.”

    • David A. Fields
      June 14, 2017 at 11:45 am Reply

      That’s an interesting challenge, Debbie. Of course, you’d hope that particular objection would have arisen during the Context Discussion so you could have developed an approach that is less time intensive. The issue you’re raising sounds more like an existing challenge than a change in circumstance. However, let’s say the excuse is, “we lost our Director of Plum Pitting and he was critical to handling your project.” Then all the steps above apply. The obvious trigger is when a new Director is hired.

  4. Alex Carter
    June 21, 2017 at 1:25 pm Reply

    Well that is some nice approaches and an excellent example. These approaches can turn upside down of any project if applied in corrective manner. I found this post informative and of value and thank you for sharing.

    • David A. Fields
      June 21, 2017 at 1:30 pm Reply

      Indeed, Alex, even projects that seemed to have gone off the rail due to unforeseen circumstances can be brought back on track when handled with these three steps. Thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion.

  5. Joseph Wayne
    July 20, 2017 at 11:09 am Reply

    I totally Agree with these three approaches: empathize, set a trigger, brainstorm a solution. These three approaches are really important for a consultant if he/she wants to win a project for their company. As a consultant, we all have to face this kind of a problem and we need tackle the bear by applying these winning approaches. I personal have secured many projects by doing so.
    Winning Characteristics of a Great Consultant!

    • David A. Fields
      July 20, 2017 at 11:12 am Reply

      Nice endorsement, Joseph. Even better, kudos to you for using these approaches consistently to win projects. Good on you!

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