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A New Area for Your Consulting Firm to Take a Stand

Rejection stings. It’s not fun when a prospect says “No” to your consulting firm. Should it? Maybe, maybe not.

If your consulting firm targets woman-owned manufacturing startups in Minnesota, and Miranda’s Minnetonka Millworks rejects your consulting firm’s proposal, you have a right to pout. But after Carlos’ California Cookery respectfully declines… so what?

When you try to please everyone, your consulting firm isn’t particularly attractive to anyone and you still invite rejection.

You already know that, and it’s an easy lesson to apply to target markets. You hear all the time about the value of choosing a niche for your consulting firm.

But most consulting firms are afraid to implement the same lesson to the myriad other aspects of their  business where it can apply.

Don’t shy away from turning off some prospects in the pursuit of the clients you want most.

You’ll probably hear “No” more often. But those are stings that don’t have to hurt.

My team and I quickly counted over twenty areas where your consulting firm can take a stand—where you can overtly promote a point of view, a process, an approach, or a way of doing business that will gain your consulting firm ardent followers and eager clients while inevitably making you less appealing to others.

A subset of the list we compiled is shown below:

9 Areas Your Consulting Firm Can Proudly,
Loudly Take a Stand

Your Pricing

Your Fee Structure

Your Success Metrics

Your Recommended Solution

Your Consulting Engagement Structure

Your Client Experience

Your Proposal Design, Format or Structure

Your Marketing/Promotion Approach or Cadence

Your Relationship-Building Approach

Stop being afraid of rejection. Focus on pleasing enough prospects, and totally disregard the prospects who turn up their noses at you and sniff, “That’s absurd. I’d never hire you.”

Where does your consulting practice boldly proclaim a stance you know some prospects won’t appreciate? I’d like to hear.

Alternatively, what questions and concerns do you have about your consulting firm taking a stand? I’d like to hear them too!

  1. David Zhao
    August 10, 2022 at 10:07 am Reply

    David, how do we highlight our differences and educate potential clients? It’s not like they have a mental model of the realm of all possible pricing, fee structure, success metrics, etc., that are available across all potential consulting firms.

    • David A. Fields
      August 10, 2022 at 11:09 am Reply

      Great question, David. The simple answer is you don’t. Meaning, don’t focus on highlighting your differences vs. other firms. The point of taking a stand isn’t to take a stand versus something (we’re different from others), it’s to take a stand for a point of view that will be important and/or valuable for clients. That particular stance may not even be visible until you’re engaged with a potential prospect.

      An example: My firm has a particular stance toward our goal when we’re helping consulting firm leaders grow their business. We say, “We’re not helping you build a firm to sell; our goal is to help you build a firm you want to keep! (Along the way, it will become more salable).” That stance turns off certain firm owners whose interest is to sell their firm quickly for the maximum value. Yes, we lose those prospects. So what? Virtually nobody knows that’s our stance unless they’re in discussions with us already, and we educate them to our point of view with that one, simple statement.

      Does that clarify for you, David? Thanks again for your question!!

      • David Zhao
        August 10, 2022 at 11:23 am Reply

        Thank you! Really interesting perspective.

        So, it’s almost like you are competing against a doppelganger firm that has almost the same offering as yours, but targets firm owners looking to sell.

        I’ll have to try this out, such as, “I’m not going to provide you a recommendation and just say, Good Luck! I’ll work with you to implement the strategy.”

        So, this will turn off companies that are only looking for the strategy, but that is not my target audience.

        • David A. Fields
          August 10, 2022 at 11:57 am

          Absolutely right, with one slight nuance, David: you’re not competing against any firm–even a “generic” firm. You’re showing you have a valuable point of view and skill set that applies to an urgent, expensive problem for a client. Don’t worry about competing. Don’t worry about being different. And, as you deftly summarized the point of this particular article: don’t worry about the companies you turn off as long as there are enough you’re turning on.

          I’m glad you took the time to continue the discussion, David.

  2. Michael
    August 10, 2022 at 7:16 pm Reply

    “Stop being afraid of rejection.” Reading this from almost anyone else wouldn’t have resonated with me but because it came from you, it did resonate, because of how kind you are and how much it’s clear to see you want all of us to “win” in consulting.

    This was the antidote to the frustration: “Focus on pleasing enough prospects, and totally disregard the prospects who turn up their noses at you and sniff, “That’s absurd. I’d never hire you.” Muchas gracias. I have to read and re-read and speak it out loud.

    The graphic in this post and your approach help communicate welcomed guidance with clarity. Love it. The graphic made me stop and think about my focus and messaging. I selected 3 or 4 areas to communicate and exhibit and amplify.

    1) “Where does your consulting practice boldly proclaim a stance you know some prospects won’t appreciate? I’d like to hear.”

    I’m not accepting opportunities and requests if the “ask” is unethical or if all decision makers are in agreement on what needs to be accomplished, how and at what investment in success.

    2) “Alternatively, what questions and concerns do you have about your consulting firm taking a stand? I’d like to hear them too!”

    Concern: how I can show them that, in certain circumstances, yet certainly not all, if I’m not leading the strategy and they’re not following that lead, I cannot offer the guarantees of success they have expressed they expect and want and I want them to own, in the time frame they need. I get them across the bridge yet they have to find a way to let go a little and follow me through the difficulty.

    P.S. … Your book, “Guide to Winning Clients,” arrived in the mail this week. I’ve started it and am hungry like the wolf to consume it, learn, apply principles and guidance and succeed.

    • David A. Fields
      August 10, 2022 at 8:02 pm Reply

      Michael, kudos to you for reading the article in the most constructive way possible. (And thank you for correctly inferring my intent–you’re right that I do want you to win in your practice.)

      Your stance on the projects you won’t take is excellent. I bet you can take more, even bolder stands in other areas.

      Re your concern, you have cleverly given yourself the answer. Since you know what will facilitate your clients’ success and what will hinder it, tell them! You can express honestly and confidently what works, and clients can’t ask for anything better from their advisors.

      I’m glad you took the time to post such a thoughtful reply to the article, Michael. Enjoy the book!

  3. Ritmeen
    August 11, 2022 at 11:13 pm Reply

    Hey David, I am an ardent follower of your blog. To this article i must say, we in our consulting firm follow this philosophy with grace and it is not that we invented it but the previous experiences with our prospective clients during negotiation and working together, we somehow learnt it.

    One of this is, we don’t ever take a consulting assignment without negotiating for prior assessment on it even if the consulting solution is apparent and the problem definition is clear….. we just don’t take assignments without assessing it first. And it has really set us apart from others in the eye of our clients.

    We do have a unique success metrics, proposal design (we have added few of your recommendations as well, recently :)), recommended solutions, engagement structure, and pricing.

    I thank you for pointing it out so eloquently.

    • David A. Fields
      August 12, 2022 at 7:39 am Reply

      This is a beautiful phrase, Ritmeeen: “We just don’t take assignments without…” You’ve elegantly, concretely illustrated exactly what it can look like to take a stand.

      Holding a firm position on the parameters or client obligations that must be in place for your firm to take on a project is totally valid and valuable stance, particularly if your firm is in the IT implementation/integration space.

      Thank you for contributing your experience to the conversation!

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