There are a few things you know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, about the process of generating revenue for your consulting firm:
- Relationships are essential to winning consulting engagements, even if your consulting firm plays in the world of RFPs.
- Prospects can be suspicious of your relationship-building overtures, even if your intention is to nourish a personal bond.
- Sending small gifts can inject energy into your business building process. (Particularly if the gifts are chocolate covered almonds… and you send them to yourself to reward your successes.)
Are there times or situations that are particularly ripe for building relationships, for avoiding skepticism and for sending chocolate?
Yes there are.
They can be neatly wrapped up in the pithy saying your 2,000 year-old grandfather used to offer: amicus certus in re incerta cernitur.
Or as your parents would translate around the family dinner buffet:
A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed
In other words, the best time to build a relationship with a contact isn’t when you need more clients, it’s when your contact needs a friend.
It’s when he’s struggling. When providers that used to claw and scrape for 15 minutes on his calendar have abandoned him because the odds of him delivering business are longer than on a donkey in a horse race.
Two specific examples. (I’m sure you can come up with more.)
A Friend in Need:
When your contact loses his job, his confidence is shaken, his finances are in doubt, and he certainly can’t promise you a consulting project.
By the third month of his job search, few people are calling him to check in, offer support, encourage his efforts, and lend an ear. You can, though. You can advise, console, role play, and more.
When he does land a job and he does need consulting help, who will he turn to? You. Your consulting firm.
What if he never pays you back with a project? You’ll still feel richer.
A Friend in Need:
When your contact’s employer is being acquired, his future is in jeopardy, his spending authority has been curtailed, and he worries every statement he utters could dissatisfy his new overlords.
Most providers play it coy, waiting to find out who comes out on top in an acquisition. They don’t expend valuable time on your prospect, when he could be out on his ear in a few months.
You, however, can be the patient, external, safe ear your contact desperately needs during his turbulent transition.
Maybe he survives the inevitable purge, maybe not. Either way, you were a safe shelter in the storm, and that’s irreplaceable relationship capital.
Being a friend indeed epitomizes the long play. It’s betting that relationships you invest in, despite no chance of near-term payback, will deliver consulting jackpots five, 10, or even 20 years down the road.
In truth, it doesn’t matter whether your decision to step in when others have walked away yields lucrative consulting rewards. You’ll be a wealthier person where it counts most: your relationship bank.
James Taylor lyrics and singing cherubs notwithstanding, there’s a practical truth too: consultants who give deeply, generously and unselfishly when their contacts are in need achieve (or exceed) their consulting goals.
I’ve offered two, extraordinary, Friend in Need situations. Are there others?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.
Being support focused to our clients is not just a strategy it is a mindset.
You are so right, Tom. Prospects (and anyone else) can sniff out when you’re insincere in your outreach overtures or you’re offering help because, when you get right down to it, you’re hoping for reciprocity.
The key to putting other people first is truly believing in Right-Side Up thinking; in knowing in your heart and your head that being of service to others will enrich you.
Thank you for underscoring that point so eloquently, Tom.
You can count on me! I’ll even go to the *semi* finals with you!
Excellent advice, as always!
See, public demonstration of friendship. Love that.
(Even though “my” teams are dropping one by one, I’d love to hit a Bruins/Carolina game. Heck, I yell and cheer at high school hockey games… and my sons aren’t in high school and don’t play hockey!)
Thanks for adding your support, Dan, which is always appreciated.
Hey David – great article; this is actually something I’ve done for a long time, which has created serial clients through their employer journey…. sometimes they also become great referral resources too. This turns a business relationship into a personal business relationship.
Exactly, Randy. “Personal business” relationships are the best type. Thank you for providing a case study of success.
Hi David: Very good article. Best time to build relationships, in my experience, is not when you need more business, but anytime you care about your client or prospect and are truly interested in their situation. I like to share best practices, HBR articles, or just be there to listen. Sometimes a small suggestion can make a big difference.
You’re absolutely right. I’d amend your excellent advice to “any time you care about a client or prospect and they’re interested in receiving support.” Sending information can be helpful and, as you elegantly pointed out, simply lending a listening ear can be enormously valuable.
I’m glad you contributed your experience, Lon.
Last week I did an outreach call (as you suggest in your book) and I left a voicemail. He called me back and we talked for nearly an hour as he was debating between to job offers. He was definitely in need, and the relationship was strengthened. I’m sure he’ll contact me when he needs consulting help. Thanks, David!
Good on you, Liz! Your investment into the relationship will pay off, whether it turns into a project or not. Your contact will remember he could turn to you during a time of need. Thanks for the example.