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How to Convert a Stranger into a Prospect in 10 Steps

  1. Stranger asks, “What do you do?” Clearly, for this step to work you need to be in some sort of situation where talking about business makes sense. In America, that means pretty much anywhere any time.

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If your target isn’t jumping onto the first step without prompting, a good bet is for you to lead the discussion with your own query about their business. Ninety-nine percent of the time they’ll reciprocate by asking about yours.

  1. Consultant replies with the “Fishing Line.” Your fishing line is a handful of words you toss out to see whether you get a nibble (or bite). Its sole purpose is to generate interest. A truly great fishing line manages to encapsulate a specific target and a precise issue or aspiration in ten-to-fifteen words or less. For instance, “I help consultants win more projects from more clients at higher fees.”1
  2. Stranger reacts: “That’s interesting, tell me more.” If the person you’re talking to doesn’t have this reaction, then they don’t need what you offer. They’re not a candidate. Shove them off the road (politely, of course) and be on your merry way.
  3. Consultant’s savvy response: “I’m happy to. But to make sure I give you examples that are relevant, it would be helpful to understand a bit more about your business and what’s going on with you.” This is a surprisingly difficult step. Most consultants fall into the trap of talking about themselves—after all, if the prospect doesn’t know what you do, how can they choose to work with you? That’s a fair point, but the timing is off. To phrase your offering in the most compelling terms, you must first know your audience.
  4. Conversation. This is the critical step during which you ask inspired questions and offer game-changing insights. (Download 20 excellent questions at this link.) Important note: your insights are about their situation; they’re not thinly-veiled advertising for your services. The conversation is about them, not you.
  5. Consultant inquires, “I may be able to help you with <a specific issue prospect raised>. Is that something you’d be interested in talking about at some point?” Notice that you don’t assert that you have the ultimate solution. You don’t launch into an explanation of your personal and professional awesomeness. Instead, you gently suggest a possible benefit, and give them the option to continue the conversation. This is critically important on many levels. Putting them in control slows the conversation down, generates trust, and ensures they are actively choosing to talk with you.
  6. Stranger replies: “Yes!” Other acceptable responses include, “That would be great” and “I can hardly wait.” If they say, “No” then shove them to the side and move on. If they give you a tepid reply, a la, “Uhm, sure, I guess.” Then push back a bit. Don’t waste your time with folks who have no interest and are just being polite. Seriously. Give them the option to say they don’t have much interest.5-minutes-free
  7. Consultant suggests the next step: “Excellent. Let’s set a time to chat. (At this point you set a firm date and time for a follow-up conversation.) In the meantime, I’ve written a couple of articles on this subject. Would you like me to send them over to you?” Do you try to sell the stranger on the spot? No. You slow the conversation down and you create an opportunity to send materials. These follow-up materials are your opportunity to show off your mad skizzles.2
  8. Stranger agrees: “Yes.” We had to have a no-brainer step in here somewhere. Your chances of getting a negative response to free articles or white-papers is virtually nil.
  9. Consultant and Prospect meet for follow-up, Context Discussion. Now that a bit of time has passed, you can have a pointed dialogue about a specific project. The Context Discussion is a six-part conversation that is detailed in many of my articles and in my book.3

At this point, the stranger has revealed a specific problem you can help solve, and is open to the possibility that you could solve it. In return, you’ve presented your credentials at the right time and in the right way. You haven’t rushed the process. Instead, you’ve cleverly transformed a stranger into a prospect.


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1 Comment
  1. Raymond W. Suarez
    May 16, 2014 at 12:34 am Reply

    Excellent guidance, David. I have come to understand that one of the most impactful skills for a consultant or change agent is the ability to ask the best questions. While some questions are a product of specific knowledge of a situation, it seems sometimes that formulating good questions is a competency apart to itself.

    Your list captures mightily some of the intrigue I find in some of the questions I sometimes hear others ask. (Where did they get that from? What made them ask that?) Like everything else, practice and preparation make professional. These five questions in particular project the kind of power I’d like to add to my field kit:

    (1) How does this fit in with the bigger picture?

    (2) How will _______________ affect ____________?

    (3) How will this affect your efforts to ______?

    (4) If you had additional resources, which initiatives would you invest them in?

    (5) What else are you working on that’s related to this?

    They are fundamentally important enough to make a contribution in almost any circumstance, but feel as if they have been dragged out uniquely by the conditions and context of the conversation being had.

    Great guidance once again!

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