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If You Can Click-and-Drag, You Can Win More Projects

In 1980, my Uncle Neil dove into a search for new solutions to the two most pressing problems facing many entrepreneurs: how do I get more customers, and how do I camouflage my rapidly receding hair line? The extraordinary, new product he adopted didn’t do much to hide his shiny pate, but it did invigorate sales at his retail store. Thirty-plus years later, you can use the same device to lift your consulting practice to a higher level of performance.

franklin_into_wilson

What was this amazing new tool? The spreadsheet.1 Uncle Neil, an early adopter of the personal computer, picked up a new program called VisiCalc and used it to start tracking everything from inventory to customer visits to sales. Information that was previously impossible or impracticable to obtain was suddenly at his fingertips. With information came enormous power. Power to understand his business. Power to see patterns. Power to easily track the results when he changed his business processes and habits.

Most independent consultants are lackadaisical (at best) about tracking. Yet, a simple spreadsheet (or an even simpler tool which I’ll mention in a moment) will bestow the power to significantly improve your fortunes. I recommend you regularly tally the following data:

  • Size of Your Core Network – Your core consists of contacts who can steer business your way, and with whom you have a good relationship. If this number isn’t increasing, then your consultancy will careen off a revenue cliff at some point. The remedy for anemic, core growth is asking for referrals and using visibility-building approaches to become more connected.
  • Prospect Outreach – How many prospective clients do you reach out to each week? A steady stream of high-quality outreach fills the pipeline. Easy as that. High-quality means telephone or in-person (not email) to a warm prospect. Not cold calls and not a mass email.
  • One-on-One Conversations – Reaching out is one thing, but what if nobody calls you back? One-on-one conversations are the primordial soup of consulting projects. By tracking your conversion from outreach to conversations, you can judge the effectiveness and clarity of your outgoing messaging.

primordial-soup

  • Interest in Specific Projects – While most outreach conversations further the relationship, a subset end up with the prospect inquiring about whether you could help achieve a specific, concrete goal. For many consultants, converting from relationships to opportunities, which I call The Turn is challenging. How challenging is it for you? You’ll only know if you track the numbers.
  • Context Discussions with Decision Makers – In some mythological world, every conversation about a specific project opportunity results in a signed gig. In the real world, priorities change and contacts aren’t always the decision maker. Therefore, keep tabs on how often interest turns into a Context Discussion with the person who can actually sign a contract with you.
  • Projects Closed – Ultimately, of course, you want to track how many consulting assignments you win. Most consultants vastly overestimate their close rates. If Context Discussions aren’t turning into lucrative engagements then something is breaking down along the way: you’re either not talking to the right people, or not talking about the right problem, or not presenting your solution in clear and compelling terms.

The average, independent consultant is managing the practice on intuition and assumptions. Successful, wealthy consultants are tracking basic metrics—an easy task that relies on discipline, not brainpower.

Today, it’s even easier than in the Visicalc era of Uncle Neil to know how you’re performing. One of my favorite tools is an application called Pipedrive.com. Once you set up the pipeline correctly and apply the right filters, you don’t even need a spreadsheet. Merely click-and-drag your opportunities from column to column. That’s it. If you can click-and-drag, the built-in diagnostics in Pipedrive will deliver the power to transform your practice.

What data do you track about your business, and how have you used it to win more projects? I’d like to know – post in the comments section.

12 Comments
  1. Luda Fedoruk
    October 16, 2014 at 8:34 am Reply

    This is great! It sounds like any consultant could benefit from a data analyst and/or an office manager to do the scheduling and tracking. I have to try the tool, it sounds wonderful!

    • davidafields
      October 16, 2014 at 10:12 am Reply

      Yes, it’s helpful to have an office manager; however, it’s not required by any means. If you set up Pipedrive.com correctly, getting the stats is easy. I’m going to put together an instructional piece on Pipedrive for consultants. Scheduling is also very easy with scheduleonce.com. (Note, I do NOT get affiliate fees for these recommendations. These are tools I use myself.)

  2. V. Scott Holmgren
    October 16, 2014 at 9:47 am Reply

    Great! Presently as I am relocating this is vital!

    • davidafields
      October 16, 2014 at 10:12 am Reply

      Cool, Scott!

  3. Rocky Romeo
    October 16, 2014 at 9:56 am Reply

    Good advice however it is quite general. Learning what you should do is good. Learning how to do what you should do is even better.

    • davidafields
      October 16, 2014 at 10:14 am Reply

      Rocky, agree that “how to” is as important as “what.” That said, the metrics I advise you track are pretty specific. If you’d like even more “how to” I encourage you to browse the blog a bit. -David

  4. Kent Vincent
    October 25, 2014 at 9:28 am Reply

    I get the point, but extending the logic further, the Chicago Cubs should be able to improve their fortunes if they would just get better clipboards and maybe moneyball metrics next year in spring training to go along with their new amenities at Wrigley Field. Most would agree it’s the caliber of baseball and its personnel that needs attention.

    The support systems and metrics do matter and help bring focus, but the action “on the field” is still what drives business. I also hear from online marketeers who urge doing split tests on promotion campaigns to fine tune prospecting, and yet the difference between two single digit inquiry totals wouldn’t really make much difference in the business if the basic deliverables and underlying value offered all need a big overhaul.

    I realize I’m overreacting to the sound advice, but the “change your metrics, change your business outcome” bromide is a bit too facile for my comfort.

    • davidafields
      October 28, 2014 at 10:14 am Reply

      Kent, moneyball is a good analogy. You’re right that “it’s the caliber of baseball and its personnel that needs attention.” Which personnel and which aspects of the game are what the Cubs’ managers need to figure out, And how they do that? By looking at key metrics.

      The point of this post wasn’t that simply changing your metrics will change your business outcome; it was that the average, independent consultant is managing the practice on intuition and assumptions. A bit of moneyball would do wonders for most independents’ batting average.

  5. Jaime Campbell
    January 21, 2015 at 2:59 pm Reply

    We have higher teamwide adoption rates for Pipedrive than we’ve had for any other tool. We now have distinct pipelines for pre-sales funnel, engagement workflow, and administrative tasks.

    We focus most frequently on average days in the pipeline – companywide and individually. We’re working to get that number down significantly.

    • davidafields
      January 21, 2015 at 3:43 pm Reply

      That’s a great endorsement of Pipedrive, Jaime. (By the way, I’m going to be giving a webinar on using Pipedrive soon.) In terms of where to focus, cycle time is good; however, close rates and conversions from one stage to the next is equally (or more) important. Once you know you can convert interest to context discussions to proposals to closed projects, then you can speed up the process.

      • Anatoli Naoumov
        July 19, 2016 at 9:55 am Reply

        Has webinar on pipedrive become a reality? I use it daily to track numerous conversations with prospects, clients and network. Could use an expert advice on setting pipelines.

        • David A. Fields
          July 19, 2016 at 6:13 pm

          The Pipedrive webinar is in the queue. Quite a few products, webinars, etc. were pushed back to make way for finishing up my new book. What questions do you have about setting up the pipelines?

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