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A Simple Question to Boost Your Consulting Firm’s Close Rate

A couple of decades ago in Pittsburgh, a small group of onlookers (including me) collectively gasped as the slender, young man we were watching wobbled at the top of his ladder.

He briefly looked like he was going to fall, then he deftly kicked out the ladder’s integrated platform and continued his home-show demonstration of the Little Giant ladder.

Ten minutes later, every single one of us paid an impressive sum to own the Rolls Royce of ladders.  That man could close! And so can you (and anyone else who makes rain for your consulting firm).

No matter how good (or mediocre) you think you are at winning engagements with potential clients, I guarantee you will close far more business by incorporating a single question into your sales process.

The prerequisite for this question is that at least four of the Six Pillars of Consulting Success are in place with your prospect: Know, Like, Need and Want.

Ideally, the two remaining Pillars—Trust and Value—should be firmly established too, but you’re allowed a little wiggle room because this question is going to cement those for you.

As I’m sure you know, when it comes to winning consulting business, it’s extremely helpful if you can put yourself in your prospects’ shoes.

That’s Right-Side Up Thinking, and it means you have a sense for what your consulting prospect needs, what will fan the emotional flames of desire, and what his objections will be.

How do you gain this perspective? First-hand experience helps and empathy is a necessity, but even if you’re lacking in the former and low on the latter, the tool you’re looking for is: questions.

Root your business development process in Discovery.

There’s nothing wrong with pointing out the benefits of your services, the unique aspects of your consulting firm’s approach and the pedigree of your staff, but that shouldn’t be the centerpiece of your dialogue. Pitching works for ladders, but not for consulting.

Consulting is all about asking questions, and one question in particular will turn you into a closing monster:

What concerns do you have about doing this project?

That’s the magic question. Simply ask your prospect that question and probe to get all his concerns.

Asking for your prospect’s concerns improves your ability to win business for three reasons:

It surfaces all the objections early in the process.

Most consultants are blindsided when the prospect responds to their proposal with something like, “I don’t think my engineering department will go along with this” or, “The fees are too high.” The consultant is back on his heels, defending his proposal.

But you’ve already talked with the engineering department, priced the project correctly and anticipated other push-back, because you discovered those concerns before you submitted the proposal.

It builds trust.

Consulting clients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. When you ask about their concerns then reflect those concerns in your Context Document and proposal, you demonstrate that you care and that you understand your client.

Trust skyrockets, and so do your odds of closing the consulting gig.

It builds value.

You can design your approach to obviate your consulting client’s concerns, which reduces the risk and boosts the benefits.

For instance, if your prospect is concerned his engineering department won’t cooperate, you could build a step into your process that co-opts engineering.

When your prospect sees that your approach seamlessly addresses all his concerns, he feels like your consulting firm is perfectly suited to help his company and you will provide far more value than other consulting firms.

Many consultants are afraid to bring up concerns and risks during their early conversations with a prospect. Those consultants believe it creates an opportunity to lose the project.

Quite the opposite is true. Your prospect is harboring worries and the only variable is when you find out about them—when it’s too late to recover and win, or early enough to use them to your advantage.

What are your concerns about this technique?


7 Comments
  1. David A. Fields
    June 26, 2019 at 2:15 am Reply

    Visiting a cork factory in the Algarve this week was fascinating. When I inquired about the impact of climate change, the tour guide revealed the company’s deepest worries. She hadn’t said a word about those concerns during the tour.

    Don’t be afraid to probe hot button issues.

  2. Sharon
    June 26, 2019 at 9:49 am Reply

    Good article David. I have always asked this question early in the process and before submitting a proposal. I can confirm it works. Not only did it help my customers see me as a trusted partner in helping them figure out how to tackle their biggest concerns, but it also helped my projects be successful because I had time to put a plan in place to remove potential land mines.

    • David A. Fields
      July 3, 2019 at 1:29 pm Reply

      You’re a smart cookie, as evidenced by your robust discovery process. Thank you for providing validation and a case study, Sharon!

  3. Carol
    June 26, 2019 at 6:19 pm Reply

    Great post, David. Sometimes, it is the simplest thing that can get you the prize…

    • David A. Fields
      July 3, 2019 at 1:30 pm Reply

      Absolutely, Carol. As I often say, consulting is a simple business. Not an easy business, but a simple one. The little things are what make it work.

  4. Rudy Miick
    June 28, 2019 at 1:11 pm Reply

    David, thanks as always for your ability to simplify. You get to the root of how to connect. Much appreciation.

    • David A. Fields
      July 3, 2019 at 1:31 pm Reply

      Right back at you, Rudy. Thank you for connecting here!

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