With a sigh and subtle shake of your head, you send one more outreach email to Pippi Burntkernels, the co-founder and COO of Plumper Popcorn, Inc. A few months ago, you and Pip had a great conversation about their operations, and you gave some advice on effectively instituting a better butter beater process.
You know that if you and Pip keep talking, there’s a consulting project at Plumper for your consulting firm.
But she doesn’t return your phone calls, nor has she responded to any of your emails. What’s going on?
Jangling between your ears is the fear that Pippi’s thinking:
“Isn’t it obvious I don’t need or want consulting advice? I wish he’d stop contacting me.”
That would bite. And that fear makes you hesitant to pick up the phone or to shoot Pippi another email.
It’s possible your fear is correct. However, it’s irrelevant.
Let’s go back to the most important, fundamental rule of consulting:
Consulting isn’t about YOU, it’s about THEM
“Them,” of course, refers to your prospects and clients.
That’s why your fear is irrelevant—your fear is about you.
Ignore the fearmonger in your head so that you can pay attention to the voice in your prospect’s noggin. That’s the important one.
Below are a handful of possible stories Pippi has been telling herself the last couple of times you’ve reached out. (I’ve also included my guess of the likelihood of each story.)
- Huh. Another message from that consultant. I’m impressed with his persistence I really don’t need him now. I’ll just delete this. (40%)
- Man, I can’t believe I’ve never returned his call. I really should have, and now I feel awkward and a bit embarrassed. (4.5%)
- Yikes, I never followed the great advice that consultant gave me last time we talked. If he asks about that, I’ll look like an idiot. (4.5%)
- We have too many blackened puffs… I have to get the fryers sorted out. (50%. Sorry, your outreach didn’t even register in Pippi’s head. She’s totally focused on her burning issues.)
- What a jerk that consultant is. I can’t believe he called me again. (1%)
The chance Pippi has reacted negatively to your follow-up attempts is pretty remote.
Far more likely is that Ms. Burntkernels is so focused on fighting fires that she’s not paying attention to you. The other likely alternative is that she’s paying attention, has decided that further discussion with you isn’t warranted, but isn’t polite enough to let you know.
You can try to break through to a preoccupied prospect, of course, but unless your consulting firm solves her immediate problem, you’re puffing against a stiff wind.
Much more interesting is the roughly one-in-ten chance that Pippi’s not returning your calls because of her fears.
You can noticeably increase the number of prospects who respond to your outreach by addressing their potential discomfort and awkwardness.
Offer Pippi a safe space to overcome her reluctance to call you back by:
- Demonstrating that she is valuable, despite any minor missteps.
- Normalizing any self-perceived “failures” on her part.
Practically speaking, this means your email or follow up to Pippi should sound something like this:
“Hi Pippi. Can we connect for a few minutes? You’ve probably been insanely busy, which I totally get. Anyway, I hope we can grab a quick phone call because you always have interesting insights, and I really value them.
Also, you could give me an update on whether you were able to take any steps on the better butter beater we talked about or whether that fell by the wayside. (Everyday fires have a way of crowding out good intentions!)”
That entire message is Right-Side Up. It’s about Pippi, making her feel appreciated and useful, and excusing any lack of progress.
There’s still a good chance Pippi’s gone dark because she’s busy or disinterested. But by allaying her fears of looking bad, you’ve increased the likelihood of luring Pippi back into conversation.
And, as you know, conversations are where most, new consulting engagements pop up.
Have you ever hesitated to call someone back because you were embarrassed at what you’d have to admit to them?
Text and images are © 2021 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.