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Closing New Consulting Deals: How to Win Faster

If your consulting firm’s proposals take much longer to close than they should (or never close at all), a couple of techniques will dramatically reduce your post-proposal wait time.

When Buddy Badideya, CEO of Bridecycle reached out to your consulting firm a couple of months ago, he seemed extremely interested in engaging you.

Bridecycle’s “Wedding on Wheels” campaign had inexplicably fallen flat, and Buddy thought your consulting firm could steer his company in a better direction.

Now, though, weeks after you submitted your proposal, Buddy is ghosting you. You’ve emailed, called, texted, reached out via LinkedIn. Silence. No reply. No rejection. Nothing.

Why? What happened?

Buddy isn’t pumped up about your project. He isn’t feeling any urgent desire to move forward with your proposal.

Dormant proposals indicate a lack of Want. In most cases, you’re not surfacing the burning, emotional driver that overcomes a prospect’s natural resistance to hiring your consulting firm.

For many consultants—particularly those of us who are logic-oriented, data-and-measurement geeks, uncovering the soft benefits of a project isn’t easy or natural.

Fortunately, if you employ the two techniques below during your discovery process (a.k.a. the Context Discussion) with every prospect, you’ll be awash in emotional information. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it’ll be sappier than The Bachelorette

Technique #1: Push Back

Politely offer resistance throughout the Context Discussion. It sounds like this:

“I hear this is important, but is it really? Bridecycle must have much bigger hills to climb.”  Or,

“I get that the latest campaign derailed your revenue projections, but why don’t you straighten out your course on your own?”  Or,

“Okay, but what’s the impact if you don’t do this?”

Then Buddy says, “If we don’t get back on track ASAP, the Board’s going to crucify me.” Bingo! Buddy’s anxiety is now clear. You could even force the issue again:

“Really? What’s the worst that the Board could do?”

When you question your prospect’s rationale, the emotional drivers start to bubble up. More logical skepticism from you leads to more emotional justification from your prospects.

Technique #2: Ask a Routine, Personal Question

During the Value section of the Context Discussion, after you have walked through the questions that surface the rational value of the project (which may be quantitative, subjective or both), ask the following question:

“What’s the value of this project to you, personally?”  and/or

“How will this benefit you personally?”

Yikes! Aren’t those deep personal questions that could feel intrusive? Don’t you need to have established a strong, trusting relationship before digging into your prospect’s heartfelt desires?

Not really.

You can ask a prospect any question about anything as long as your question appears relevant and routine.

If you’re uncomfortable asking a question, or if your question appears to be spontaneous, inappropriate probing, Buddy will hit the brakes on emotional sharing.

Conversely, when your question is obviously a routine part of your standard discovery process, the barriers fall away.

Standardized processes feel bounded, contained and safe. Consulting prospects who experience you asking sincere questions as part of a robust, purposeful approach, will answer with extraordinary candor.

Do you uncover the emotional drivers that close projects faster?

If so, what has worked for you? If not, any thoughts on what’s in the way?

  1. William J. Ryan
    May 31, 2023 at 7:17 am Reply

    I already use the “what happens if we don’t do this” with clients once on a project (many want a large group “trained” when the focus is usually much narrower) but never thought about it from the prospective conversation. Hmmmmm, tune in later!

    What I have done is reach out with a resource as a “share”. Had a ghost experience, after 90 days or so I dropped a note with a link to their CEO who had spoken on a podcast on a relevant topic and they responded with an update that they had been reorganized and were still in the midst of being restructured. At least I knew.

    • David A. Fields
      May 31, 2023 at 9:07 am Reply

      You’re not alone in the “Oops, we restructured and your contact is no longer the decision-maker” experience. The good news in restructures is that, ideally, your prior contact has a new role, new challenges and new opportunities to bring you in, while the old challenge still exists. More room for you to create value!

      I appreciate your contributing, Bill!

  2. Terry "Doc" Dockery, Ph.D.
    May 31, 2023 at 7:31 am Reply

    Hi David,
    I hope you enjoyed your vacation! My experience matches Zig Ziglar’s–“People buy on emotion and justify with logic.” The only potential modifier is the buyer’s preferred communication style (e.g., analytical vs. intuitive), but even then it’s still the “gold standard.” Punny, right?

    • David A. Fields
      May 31, 2023 at 9:04 am Reply

      Totally agree, Doc. That’s why four of the Six Pillars of Consulting Success (Like, Trust, Want and Value) are emotional, and those are the triggers for action. Know, Need and Value are the rational pillars that must also be in place to support the decision to act.

      Always good to hear your point of view, Doc, and bonus points for puns!

  3. Steve Wunker
    May 31, 2023 at 8:06 am Reply

    A separate angle you’ve taken in other posts is to get at the full decision-making process (and I realize you can’t cover everything in one post). What’s the process for getting a project like this agreed to? In larger organizations, I’ve found that what leads to radio silence isn’t a clear “no”, but rather stakeholders not being aligned and taking forever to give their view, if they give it all. The worst is when I don’t even know who these stakeholders are and what their agendas might be. So, in a discovery call I try to book a good hour, and to spend a decent amount of that time understanding these details. Repeat clients will tell me right away and that’ll help, but newer clients might require a bit of discussion to draw this out if I can. I’m often not able to meet with these stakeholders, but at the very least I can try to provide materials that will reduce their friction points.

    And, I’ll salute this post as going into your punning Hall of Fame. You exceeded your own high standards, David!

    • David A. Fields
      May 31, 2023 at 9:01 am Reply

      You’re absolutely right, Steve, that the decision-making process also has a big bearing on deal timing and that if you don’t uncover that early, you’re undermining your odds of winning the project. The misalignment between stakeholders is most acute and most damaging to the BD process when you’re not talking with the ultimate decision-maker. That’s why gaining agreement to the Context from that person before submitting a proposal is so important.

      Thanks for your wise observations, Steve. (And yes, freshly back from vacation I must have had some extra pent up punniness to relieve.)

  4. Christin Marvin
    May 31, 2023 at 9:14 am Reply


    Thanks for sharing this. I am currently dealing with a large dormant proposal and this has helped me realize I did not take time to understand the value of this project to the client nor understand the emotional drivers of the project.

    Do you have any sample questions for the part of the conversation around identifying the rational value of the project that you could share?

    • Lauren Tyson
      May 31, 2023 at 10:47 am Reply

      Christin and all,
      Somehow I stumbled across Chris Voss and his You Tube videos. He was the FBI’s top hostage negotiator, author of the book, Never Split the Difference, and is downright amazing. His company, Black Swan Group, trains people on negotiating, including sales people, of course. I can’t get enough of watching his videos. He teaches , among other things, that an effective response for being ghosted (e.g., Christin’s dormant proposal), is “Have you given up on the idea of XYZ?”. Try it and please do check out his body of work–all based on neuroscience.

      • Christin Marvin
        May 31, 2023 at 1:22 pm Reply

        Thanks Lauren! I will check it out.

      • David A. Fields
        May 31, 2023 at 5:05 pm Reply

        Many of Chris Voss’ recommendations for negotiations are excellent, including the one you’ve surfaced, Lauren. A lot of negotiation best practices for consultants are covered in other articles on this site, which you might enjoy perusing.

        That said, even better than responding to a client who ghosts you is not getting ghosted in the first place. That’s where uncovering emotional drivers kicks in!

        Thanks for jumping into the discussion, Lauren!

        • Lauren Tyson
          May 31, 2023 at 6:30 pm

          Good point! And I will check out your other articles on negotiation, thank you, David.

    • David A. Fields
      May 31, 2023 at 9:45 pm Reply

      Large dormant proposals aren’t fun, Christin. I hope this one lands for you! Re your question about uncovering the rational value: the sequence for asking about the value of a project is laid out in detail in The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients and also in The Executive’s Guide to Consultants. Since it’s a bit more in-depth than can fit in a comment, I’d suggest looking there first. Let me know if you still have questions.
      Thanks for asking your question, Christin.

      • Christin Marvin
        June 1, 2023 at 7:38 pm Reply

        Thank you!

        • David A. Fields
          June 2, 2023 at 8:13 am

          You’re welcome, Christin. I appreciate your interaction.

  5. Joe Gregory
    May 31, 2023 at 12:48 pm Reply

    Here’s an example from my world. I was meeting with the owner of a company who was interested in my services. After doing a deep discovery with him and his team, I was one on one with the owner and he said to me, “The sad thing about this Joe is that it’s been going on for several years.” Now the typical impulse is to quickly reply, “That’s why you need to hire me! I can fix this!” Instead, I looked him in the eye and asked, “I’m curious, how do you feel about that?” We were locked, eye to eye, which seemed like forever. I could see his wheels turning and he said, “Guilty.” I then asked, “What would you like to do next?” He replied, “Hire you.” And we put the deal together. It was a two year engagement. He was buying relief from guilt. That’s a powerful, personal motivator.

    • Christin
      May 31, 2023 at 1:23 pm Reply

      Love this story! Thanks Joe!

    • David A. Fields
      May 31, 2023 at 5:10 pm Reply

      Wow, Joe, that’s a great case study. You did an impressive job moving past the obvious, logical rationale and homing in on the deep, emotional driver. If you hadn’t, your client probably would have lived with his guilt another two years.

      Outstanding addition to the conversation, Joe. Thank you!

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