We like to pretend (almost) all of our pursuits end in success. Every project yields a delighted client. Every speech inspires the audience to a standing ovation. Every breakaway culminates without an embarrassing fall to the ice with a goal scored. But, of course, it ain’t so.
Consultants often crow, “Once I’m in front of a prospect, I virtually always close!” And yet, the actual close rate on proposals that are submitted is under 70% for most consultants. Under 50% for many.**
That’s three out of ten projects lost, or more. But what if you could improve your track record? Just one more success would be a 15-20% increase in business. That can be the difference between anxious and confident, between financially insecure and flush with cash, between Hershey bars and Knipschild truffles.
What’s stopping you? Let’s take a look at why opportunities fall by the wayside. Below are the most common roadblocks that halt consulting proposals in their tracks.
Common Obstacles to Closing
Lack of Desire
The biggest cause of unsigned proposals isn’t lack of value, it’s lack of urgency and desire. Not yours. You have plenty of desire. But you haven’t created (or tapped) sufficient desire in your prospect. As a result, either your #1 competitor—inertia—wins, or internal staff nibbles away at the problem slowly.
There are three counters to this obstacle:
First, only move forward with prospects who display an urgent desire to move forward.
Second, make sure you have uncovered the emotional, driving force behind the project so you can fan those flames when the client is distracted by a problem du jour.
Third, ensure the consequences of inaction and delay are brutally apparent.
The second most common cause of lost projects is insufficient belief that you’ll deliver the desired outcomes. This is often referred to as a lack of trust. However, you could also call it a lack of credibility or reputation.
In most cases, this stems from you trying to be the answer to too many problems for too many targets. When you’re a chameleon, you end up operating outside of your wheelhouse. As a result, your depth of experience and understanding is weak.
Your two primary solutions in this case are:
Focus. Stick to your knitting and become a Picasso at your craft. (No, Picasso was not known for his knitting.) That’s when you credibility becomes unimpeachable. Conversely, it’s tough to develop a stunning reputation when you flit across industries and problems.
Listen better. Credibility and trust are often built less by what you say than by what you hear and reflect. Clients trust consultants who understand them. What’s the heart of understanding? Listening.
Desperation shows up as too many proposals submitted too early and to the wrong people. You don’t win business that way. When you’re chasing business, prospects can sense it and it shakes their confidence.
I’m not suggesting you play hard-to-get. That’s silly in our business. I’m suggesting you always submit proposals to decision makers, and only after they’ve agreed to the Context; i.e., only when you’ve done sufficient discovery to become the obvious choice.
Many consultants simply respond to whatever their prospects request. This is especially true of consultants who focus on RFPs, but other consultants fall into this habit too. Unfortunately, when you’re in this reactive mode you end up being commoditized and dampening your appeal.
Most clients want to be led through the process, at least partially. After all, if they already knew how to solve their problems, they wouldn’t need you.
The solution to this is to commit to inquiry with every prospective client. Inquiry consists of asking question, listening, reflecting and reframing. You can’t reframe unless you’ve listened, and if you don’t reframe, you’re just reacting.
My analysis included some other major obstacles, but I’d like to have your help fleshing out the list.
What else gets in the way of you closing business? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.