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Important Sales Benchmark for Your Consulting Firm

Based on data collected from lead generation firms and shared with us by hundreds of consulting firms, one sales benchmark, in particular, warrants your attention: the likelihood of cold, outbound lead generation (or, similarly, advertising) to result in a project for your consulting firm.

Let’s say you reach out to Clara Coldington, CEO of Dunnoyu, Inc, a person whose position and company precisely match your consulting firm’s ideal target.

What are the chances that your outreach to Clara will result in a consulting project with Dunnoyu in the next year?

About one in 1,000.

Put another way: if Clara works every weekday next month, there’s about a 10-minute window during the entire month she’s amenable to working with your consulting firm. If you happen to contact her during that window, you win. Otherwise, nada.

As a quick reminder, every one of the Six Pillars of Consulting Success must be in place for your consulting firm to win a project from a client.

Let’s apply those to Clara Coldington:

Clara has to Need, Want and Value help from an outside provider. Which means she must be within the approximately 2-3% of your target market that is actively seeking a solution to the issue your consulting firm addresses.*

And Clara has to Know about your consulting firm and bring you to mind as a feasible purveyor of a solution.

And Clara has to Trust that your consulting firm’s solution is the most reliable, credible, valuable alternative to addressing her issue.

And Clara has to decide that she Likes you enough that working with your firm won’t cause heartburn or ruin her day.

That’s a lot of Ands!

Need and Want are difficult for your consulting firm to affect. Value is a mixed bag, only partly influenceable by you.

However, Know and Trust (and Like) are within your control and those pillars are linked directly to your consulting firm’s activities.

Link #1: Visibility and Know

Every speech, whitepaper, book, podcast or other visibility-building effort your consulting firm engages in increases the likelihood of your consulting firm blipping onto Clara’s radar.

Link #2: Relationship Strength and Know

Clara’s likelihood to remember your consulting firm is directly correlated with the number and depth of interactions you have with her during a given time period.

Link #3: Relationship Strength and Trust

Familiarity translates to Trust. Frequently the relationship between familiarity and Trust is so strong that clients select the consulting firm the client knows best rather than the consulting firm best suited to address the client’s challenge.

Link #4: Reputation and Trust

Clara’s Trust in your consulting firm grows every time she encounters your relevant, high-quality, value-adding visibility-building efforts or she talks with one of your delighted clients.

What if a prospect like Clara calls your consulting firm out of the blue? In that happy scenario, Clara entered the 3% who Need, Want and Value outside help and remembered that your firm potentially offers a reliable solution.

So what? What should your consulting firm do with this information?

Action Steps Based on the Sales Benchmark

Adopt a Long-Term View of Business Development

  • When you establish a relationship with a prospective client, assume it will take years of patient nurturing before that contact becomes a client.
  • Recognize that you can’t drive an uptick in business in weeks or a few months. If you want new clients next year, engage in Business Development activity now.

Don’t Chase the 2-3%

  • Unless your consulting firm is already well known and has a well-established reputation, finding Clara then reaching out to her is, overall, a waste of your time and money.

Constantly Engage in Reputation-Enhancing, Visibility-Building Activity

  • Commit to ongoing, multi-year marketing activities, producing dozens, scores or hundreds of opportunities for prospective clients to learn about your consulting firm.

Nurture Your Current Network Core

  • The long-term view mentioned above only works if you nurture your contacts. Reach out, connect, stay Right-Side Up.

Actively Build Relationships Beyond Your Current Network Core

  • Your consulting firm’s Network Core will grow stale over time. To create a stable, growing consulting firm, add new relationships every year.

Now you have confirmation that the benchmark for cold outreach turning into paying clients is distressingly low.

How does that information affect your plans for the coming year?

  1. Sean Hale
    September 27, 2023 at 6:49 am Reply

    Yup. This aligns with my experience.

    I now focus on building trust and value with an ever-growing network. In addition to in-person relationships, LinkedIn is a key part of my strategy. Not that posts convert quickly into leads, but they do help me stay on people’s minds for the day that they, or someone they know, need my services.

    • David A. Fields
      September 27, 2023 at 8:49 am Reply

      Your strategy sounds very solid, Sean. LinkedIn is an important part of the mix for many firms, especially as a method for expanding the network of contacts over time.

      Thank you for sharing your experience, Sean, which is an excellent example for many readers.

  2. William J. Ryan
    September 27, 2023 at 7:21 am Reply

    Ditto Sean, staying “top of mind” has been where I focus the investment of time and LinkedIn is a key channel. Word of mouth has led to clients and projects so being top of mind for them helps when they’re having conversations with others I don’t know to gain that next conversation. I would love to hear tips-n-techniques folks use to nurture the current core too!

    • David A. Fields
      September 27, 2023 at 9:02 am Reply

      Ditto your ditto, Bill! (Sounds like a broken mimeograph machine.) As you point out, it’s important for your firm to be easy to refer. Along with doing good work, having a focused positioning helps considerably.

      Good question on nurturing the Network Core. There are a lot of tips scattered throughout many articles on this site, Bill, and you already know nurturing relationships involves extensive use of chocolate and puns; however, it may be worth consolidating other ideas again.

      Thanks for jumping into the conversation, Bill!

  3. Prakash Raje
    September 27, 2023 at 7:25 am Reply

    Nice post, David. It resonates with my experience. As human beings, people need time to move from KNOW to VALUE. The journey time for me in some cases has been as long as 2 to 3 years. Your advice of not chasing the 2-3% makes sense. Thanks for sharing.

    • David A. Fields
      September 27, 2023 at 9:04 am Reply

      Well said, Prakash. Two to three years isn’t even that long. I talked quarterly with one consulting firm leader for eight years before his firm turned into a client. If they had never become a client, that would have been fine too.

      Thank you for adding your case study and your perspective, Prakash!

  4. Douglas Brown
    September 27, 2023 at 9:03 am Reply

    Excellent post, and much more in line with my values than cold-calling people most of whom aren’t even candidates for the service. Of course, you still have to figure out how to get visibility for all those value-proving activities.

    • David A. Fields
      September 27, 2023 at 9:13 am Reply

      Exactly, Doug. Fortunately, in terms of building visibility, the Five Marketing Musts work extremely well as long as you are persistent, consistent and patient. In-person speaking hasn’t recovered fully from the pandemic; however, partnering (a broader term for Trade Associations) has become even more effective.

      I appreciate your sharing your reaction, Doug. Your thoughts add a lot of depth to the conversation.

  5. David Burnie
    September 27, 2023 at 10:03 am Reply

    Great article David and excellent reminder that driving business in consulting is all about relationship and trust. Our leadership team will sometimes complain that our marketing team doesn’t bring enough gift-wrapped, ready-to-close opportunities to the table. As you point out, while some of those opportunities may surface (and it’s amazing when they do), a consulting firm is built on reputation, nurturing current relationships and networking.

    • David A. Fields
      September 27, 2023 at 11:37 am Reply

      Excellent point, Dave. In our work helping firms develop new rainmakers, very early on we dispel common BD myths, one of which is that leads should magically appear due to marketing. Marketing and visibility-building will create leads, eventually; however, it’s still every consultant’s responsibility to build their reputation and their network.

      I’m glad you added the story about your leadership team. A lot of other readers experience the same challenge and think, “Gosh, is this just my team??” Nope. The complaint you occasionally hear is common across the industry. Thanks for jumping in, Dave!

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