For a consultant, there’s nothing more frustrating than a prospect who clearly needs you, but doesn’t realize it or has less urgency than a stalagmite. How do you shake sense into the decision maker? How do you knock the project loose so a rich opportunity falls into your lap? Diagnostics.
Over a decade ago I wrote a whitepaper for my corporate clients claiming, “In sales, nothing you say matters.” My point was that customers act based on their internal dialogue and feelings. A prospect turns into a customer at the Aha! moment—the critical, emotional tipping point when the customer “gets it.”
That emotional breakthrough results from an experience. If you were selling shoes (which I did in my youth) you could let a prospect feel the warm embrace of Italian leather and see the sexy styling on her foot. But you’re neither a cobbler nor a crispin. You and I are consultants.
As consultants, we’re often selling the intangible. Giving a “trial” may be impractical or impossible. Therefore, we have to guide our prospects’ internal dialogue by creating a mental experience. And one of the most powerful tools to accomplish that is…
… a diagnostic.
Virtually every consultant I work with develops a diagnostic. Why? Because a well-crafted diagnostic shows your prospects where they are and what they should do next. And what a prospect should do next is work with you!
The essence of a diagnostic:
where you are and what you should do next.
If you were a physician, you might use a thermometer as a diagnostic tool. It shows temperature on an easy to read scale (degrees). If your patient’s temperature is 98.6, they’re healthy. If it’s 105, they’re in trouble. If it’s 37, you pushed the Celsius button.
Your diagnostic can be as simple as a thermometer and still be extraordinarily effective. One consultant I work with, Rick Maurer, developed the Energy Bar—a deceptively simple, 7-point scale that helps leaders build support for change. Rick has generated interest around the world with that simple diagnostic.
Effective diagnostics excel at the two tasks mentioned above: showing prospects where they are and what to do next. In other words, the secret of your killer diagnostic that will win clients is nailing…
Distinctions & Implications
The three steps below will guide development of a great diagnostic that exposes your prospect’s need.
Step 1. Brainstorm Distinctions
Distinctions are a way of saying, “You are here. You are definitely not there.” For example, I often show ambitious consultants that they don’t need more visibility, they need more impact. I tell my corporate clients that there are only three consulting outcomes that add value, then we explore which one they need most.
The following questions will help you generate a list of distinctions:
- What separates clients who succeed from those who don’t?
- What do your savviest clients know that run-of-the mill clients don’t?
- How are the clients who will succeed in five years different from clients who are succeeding today?
- What steps did some clients take to overcome an issue?
- What’s the #1 indicator that a prospect has a problem you can solve?
Step 2. Select the Best Distinctions, Assign Implications
Look at your list from Step 1. Which distinctions are most likely to make a prospect say, “Aha!” and give them the direction they desperately need?
The best distinctions are those that clients haven’t considered in advance but are blazingly obvious in hindsight. The best implications give total clarity on the path forward.
Every result from your diagnostic should have an associated step forward. If the thermometer says you’re fine, then get back to work. If it says you have a fever, take two aspirin and go to bed.
Step 3. Develop a Simple Communication Framework
You can always fall back on the classic, 2×2 matrix. They’re easy to draw and explainable in about 15 seconds. But there are plenty of other possibilities.
Rick Maurer’s Energy Bar defines simplicity with a single line, and is easy to self-administer. The oft-used Myers Briggs assessment assigns four letters that are surprisingly straightforward to understand. (Whether they’re right or not is a separate conversation.)
The right diagnostic, deftly administered, will induce the Aha! moment that invariably leads to a consulting sale. They take a bit of thought and practice; however, developing an outstanding diagnostic will serve you in excellent stead.
What’s the best diagnostic you’ve ever encountered (inside or outside of consulting)?
The Energy Bar and Energy Bar diagnostic are property of Rick Maurer, and used with permission.
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.