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How to Win the 1st Project with a New Consulting Client

Capturing follow-on business from current clients is relatively easy. But how does your consulting firm win that crucial, first project at a new client? By offering an irresistible PIE.

The most powerful force in any type of employment, whether contract (i.e., outsourcing or hiring a consulting firm), part-time or full-time, is the trust cycle.

In the world of consulting, the trust cycle consists of…

…producing outstanding work for a client, which…

… enhances trust in the consulting firm, leading to…

… more, large, lucrative consulting projects… [return to top]

How do you enter into that trust cycle with a new client? This is similar to the lament of fresh-faced college grads: “How can I gain experience if no one will hire me because I lack experience?” (Or, more frequently, “What do you mean I have to do my own laundry?”)

Let’s unfold the trust cycle for a moment. If you start your conversations with a high level of trust, then moving the prospect directly into a large, initial project is fairly easy.

If your starting point with a new prospect is moderate or low trust, one strategy to capture a large, initial project is to bolster confidence in your consulting firm. While this strategy is mandatory to practice, it’s also difficult, time-consuming, and yields mixed results in terms of actual clients won.

Here’s the important part: if your starting point is low trust, an alternative strategy is to reduce the trust necessary to secure a project. In other words, lower the risk of engaging you the first time. And the way you do that is by offering an irresistible PIE.

PIE is your Prospect’s Initial Experience.

Your irresistible PIE is a low cost, low risk, high value project that can jump start the Trust Cycle. You might think of this as a sample of your capabilities, or a pilot project, or a trial engagement.

Do you have a scrumptious PIE all baked and ready to serve? The ingredients for an irresistible initial experience are:

Ingredients for an Irresistible PIE

Fast – A short-duration project anywhere from one hour to a few weeks. Finish up quickly so you can move onto the high-value issues while they’re burning.

Simple & Repeatable – Value that is easy for prospects to understand and efficient for you to deliver. If it takes you too long to explain your PIE, your prospect’s appetite will wane. And if you create a new PIE from scratch every time, it will be horribly inefficient to deliver tasty results.

Clear, Immediate Value – Delivers an obvious win, with concrete, easily recognizable value. Assessments aren’t the greatest PIEs because increased understanding isn’t concrete and the value isn’t immediate.

Direct Experience with You – PIEs should be in-person, high-touch engagements if at all possible. The whole point is to give your client a taste of working hand-in-hand with you.

Connected to Follow-On – There’s an obvious path from your PIE to the next engagement with your consulting firm. Don’t make the mistake of selling during your PIE; however, before and after the project runs, clearly define how the initial project fits in with a broader stream of work.

Low Fees – Easy to digest financially. Do not discount your fees. Your PIE shouldn’t be the same work at a lower fee. It’s different work at, if anything, premium fees relative to the amount of effort. For many consulting firms in many industries, a price tag of $15-25k makes your PIE very attractive.

Have you had success offering an irresistible PIE to prospects? Please share your experience in the comments below.



  1. Ian Tidswell
    October 11, 2017 at 6:34 am Reply

    Excellent David – a really simple and clear synthesis of how to construct offers for new prospects. Thanks!

    • David A. Fields
      October 11, 2017 at 8:43 am Reply

      Glad this is helpful for you, Ian. I stripped out the parts on trust-builders and pricing to keep it simple. Have you tried this approach in your business development efforts? I’m glad you shared your reaction to the article.

  2. Matt Moore
    October 11, 2017 at 8:39 am Reply

    I love this! It’s really got some ideas churning in my head. Love your stuff!!

    • David A. Fields
      October 11, 2017 at 8:45 am Reply

      Step 1: Add ideas.
      Step 2: Churn in head.
      Step 3: Bake in oven.
      Step 4: Try out yummy PIE with new prospects.

      Sounds like you’re in the right kitchen, Matt. Let me know what you come up with.

  3. Simon James
    October 11, 2017 at 8:53 am Reply

    Thanks David.
    So if I offer an audit of a prospect’s Google Analytics, or AdWords, account (my ultimate goal being to get the reconfiguration and ongoing management of the account), with cost saving or revenue generating recommendations, would that qualify as a PIE?
    And if I’m expecting to charge $2K per month for the account management, what should I charge for a 1-2 day audit – bearing in mind that they could just take the audit recommendations and do their own amendments/implementation?

    • David A. Fields
      October 11, 2017 at 10:30 am Reply

      Simon, in your case I would consider creating a diagnostic that supports your reconfiguration approach. (You may already have such an approach.) Let’s say your diagnostic rests on 10 scores, or principles or levers, or whatever you want to call them. An irresistible PIE might be a quick assessment and delivery of four of those scores with–and this is important–a live discussion of you explaining the gaps. You wouldn’t necessarily explain how to close the gaps (though you could).

      This sort of PIE contains all the ingredients.

      As for the fee, the fact that they could take your recommendations and implement them using internal staff is mostly irrelevant. Let’s say working with you is $24k for one year of account maintenance. [Not my favorite pricing model, by the way, because it doesn’t take into account anything about the client.] The quick, 4-score audit I just mentioned might be free (it’s a teaser). The full, 10-score audit might be $2.5-5k, including a 1-hour results review call with you; the investment can be applied to the $24k annual contract.

      How does that sound?

      • Simon James
        October 11, 2017 at 1:28 pm Reply

        Thanks very much David.
        And I take your point about the pricing model, but it’s more ethical than what most AdWords agencies do, which is to charge a percentage of ad spend. But as my business grows, I’ll work towards a pricing model consisting of a retainer and a percentage of profit.

  4. Debbie G
    October 11, 2017 at 10:01 am Reply

    What are some examples of PIE engagements?

    • David A. Fields
      October 11, 2017 at 10:35 am Reply

      Debbie, I’ll give examples from my own practice with consulting firms: For boutique consulting firms I offer a 2-day Firm Growth Lab as well as 1-day business development training sessions. Both are <$20k, super-high value and high touch. I also occasionally offer the Client Acquisition Formula program, which is six weeks, crazy value, and some touch. They're all designed to make the prospect's initial engagement (PIE) low risk, easy to purchase, and a powerful experience. Does that help?

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