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If Your Consulting Firm’s Offering Isn’t Attracting Enough Clients, Try This…

If your consulting firm’s offerings aren’t generating gleaming stacks of revenue, it’s time to develop a Level 3 Offering.

You’re not alone if the projects that sustained your consulting business in the past have recently become difficult to close.

Prospective clients are confused about how to please their own customers, or are caught in the grip of uncertainty. As a result, they no longer view your consulting firm and your solution as an obvious, easily-justified choice.

New times, new conditions, new market reality.

Or, perhaps you’ve realized that you need to change up your offerings in order to elevate your consulting firm to the next level of success.

Either way, your consulting firm needs to revamp, or craft from scratch, your offering to achieve your ambitions.

The Basics of Building Offerings

Every consulting firm leader understands the basics of crafting a consulting offering:

  1. Identify a market need.
  2. Develop a solution.
  3. (Optional, but helpful) Pinpoint advantages versus competitive solutions.

Those basics plus a handful of M&Ms prompt the following three offering-development questions:

  1. What’s the pain experienced by our target market? (If your consulting firm doesn’t target a tightly-defined market, this question is harder to answer.)
  2. What’s a compelling solution to that pain?
  3. Is there anything that would differentiate our consulting firm’s solution from competitive alternatives?

The new offering you develop by answering those questions will either pivot you to a higher level of success or spin you down the path of frustration. The difference is determined by one factor:

Who answers the offering-development questions.

There are three levels of consulting firm offering that correspond to who answers the offering-development questions.

The Three Levels of Consulting Firm Offerings

Level 1 – Firm-Driven Offering

Level 1 is based on the 3GR approach to product development. (3GR = Three Guys/Gals in a Room, brainstorming ideas)

It’s easy and fast. You and one or two (or a few more) people you trust reframe the offering-development questions:

  1. What do we think the market need is?
  2. What’s a solution we could offer that interests us and fits our capabilities?
  3. As we look at competitive offerings, how could we make ours better or, at least, different?

You develop your best answers based on your collective knowledge, experience and expertise.

What you develop should work because, after all, you’re all smart and well informed.

Level 1 offerings tend to under perform expectations, though. The 3GR approach leads to the consulting equivalents of these spiffy products:

Meat shredder claws

Umbrella hat

No matter how savvy your 3GR group is, you’re still developing your offering by looking inside and answering the questions yourself. You’re upside down. (Right-Side Up vs. upside down is explained in this book.)

Level 2 – Market-Informed Offering

Level 2 adds a dose of Right-Side Up thinking into the mix. Rather than relying on your intuition and experience to determine the market need, you solicit feedback from your contacts. You use inquiries like these:

  • What challenges are you facing right now that you really need to solve? (i.e., what keeps you up at night?)
  • Think of every professional service provider you’ve paid over the past three months—for what challenges did you hire them to help you?

To develop your consulting firm’s new offering you answer the same, three offering-development questions. Now, though, you have the benefit of a well-sourced, relevant market need.

Your offering is market-informed, and because you know you’re addressing a proven market need, you’ll definitely be able to drum up opportunities.

Level 3 – Market-Created Offering

The most effective consulting firm offerings are completely, 100% Right-Side Up. To pivot to a Level 3 offering, conduct the same, need-identifying market research you busted out for your Level 2 offering.

Then, collect two more pieces of information from your contacts:

  • What would the perfect solution to your challenge look like?
  • How is your perfect solution different from what you could (or do or did) get now?

This approach requires more time, research and probing conversations with your consulting firm’s contacts. However, it produces killer offerings because your clients have essentially designed your offering for themselves.

Note: developing a Level 3 offering is not the same as co-creating a project with a single client then marketing that approach out to your other clients and prospects. A Level 3 offering requires input from multiple contacts in your target market.

Have you been changing your offerings at all, recently? If so, how?

  1. Neil Baron
    July 1, 2020 at 9:33 am Reply

    David- Interesting article. When asking prospects about what the perfect solution should look like, how do you avoid the faster horse response? Prospects don’t know what they want. Legend has it that Henry Ford once said that if he asked customers what they wanted, they would have responded “a faster horse.” Talking to customers about their challenges is critical to identify market problems but I’m not sure if customers can be the source of innovation.

    • David A. Fields
      July 10, 2020 at 3:18 pm Reply

      Great question, Neil. The simple answer is: Don’t worry about it.

      Henry Ford founded an automotive empire; however, while he was doing that, dozens (scores? hundreds?) of enterprising copers made great money selling faster horses. Simultaneously, hundreds of other inventors went bankrupt and could afford neither car nor horse.

      That said, at Level 3, you’re asking customers what they want that they’re not getting now, not what the solution is. What they want is to go faster than a horse. That opens up plenty of opportunities for you to invent the car or sell them a gazelle.

      Thanks for posting the thought-provoking inquiry, Neil.

  2. Douglas Brown
    July 1, 2020 at 9:58 am Reply

    Hi, Neil Baron – great point. “Faster horse” is the answer to “what solution do you want?” We see this going on in the IT business particularly – everyone wants a specific product when there are dozens of others that are better, faster, easier to use or cheaper. The right question is what challenges a prospect is facing that are annoying enough that they would pay money to have it fixed. Unfortunately, there is a catch-22: they aren’t going to get into that discussion on a telemarketing call or in response to a spam mail, so you’re back to finding a prospect who wants to talk to you at all.

    • David A. Fields
      July 10, 2020 at 3:23 pm Reply

      “Faster horse” is the answer to the first Level 3 question–what solution do you want? Don’t forget the second question. That’s where you learn how to transcend the horse.

      Your suggested question is good. A tweak that will make it even more effective is to ask what challenges are so annoying and painful that they’ve already spent money to try to solve them. Past spending behavior is a far better predictor of lucrative consulting markets.

      I’m glad you joined the conversation, Douglas.

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