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Impress the Heck Out of Consulting Prospects with Instagraphics

How do you endear yourself to your consulting prospect, build trust and credibility, and elevate yourself above internal and external competition in a matter of moments? Instagraphics.

I’ll assume you’re familiar with infographics, which are compelling, visual presentations of concepts, processes and so forth. I’ll also assume you’re familiar with the idea of reframing, which is fundamentally changing your prospect’s understanding of himself, his situation, the world around him or his possible actions.

Instagraphics combine these ideas, quickly reframing your prospect’s thinking by use of a visual you create in the moment.


You’ve probably done this at least once—perhaps by walking up to a whiteboard or flipchart during a client meeting and sketching a Venn diagram or a two-by-two matrix. Let’s put you in a position to use this powerful technique more often and more effectively.

Quick example: A VP at a medical devices firm in the Midwest asked whether my group could conduct a training session for his sales team. He candidly told me he already had a preferred consultant and he was calling me as a courtesy.

After listening to him for a bit and probing for more information, I sketched out a three-circle Venn diagram that painted his problem as transcending Sales and, in fact, requiring participation of the Marketing and Customer Service teams too.

Bam! In moments, his preferred vendor was forgotten, I won the project (at over three times the original budget) and the Venn diagram ended up in every presentation the VP made for the next couple of years.

Judicious use of instagraphics will yield impressive results. Why? Because they:

  • Show you have extraordinary mastery of your subject matter. Only an expert can reduce complex concepts to a simple visual that alters peoples’ understanding.
  • Knock other options (e.g., other consultants, internal staff, doing nothing) out of the consideration set. Your instagraphic frames the prospect’s options in a way that suggests you’re the obvious choice.
  • Build affinity, connection and trust with your prospect. Creating an instagraphic shows you were listening carefully (an important contributor to trust) and you understand your prospect’s situation at a deep level.


How to Develop Outstanding Instagraphics

Prepare in Advance

Yes, the best graphics only look like they are created on the fly. In fact, they are carefully thought through and practiced in advance.

I’d shown the relationship between Sales, Marketing and Customer Service many times before I “spontaneously” created the visual for that medical devices VP.

Identify Distinctions

Reframing and graphics are built on meaningful distinctions. You’re here, not there. You’re in this quadrant, but want to get to that quadrant. You’re stuck with creamed spinach while I enjoy tiramisu.

Finding meaningful distinctions is a critical exercise that will massively improve your business development and delivery capabilities.

Develop Implications

Distinctions only matter if they change your prospect’s behavior. Implications suggest how the behavior should change.

“Mr. Prospect, if your problem is with the sales force, then sales training may help; however, if your problem is with the intersection of all customer-facing groups, then we need to consider a different approach.”


Experiment with Graphical Approaches

The graphic you use will depend on how many distinctions you’ve identified.

One distinction (e.g. here vs. there) lends itself to a line, a spectrum, a bar, an arrow, a Venn diagram, etc. Two distinctions (e.g., high/low and in/out) lend themselves to two-by-two charts, pyramids, concentric circles, etc.

Choose the Best Graphic

After you’ve tried four or five different visuals, one will emerge that clearly, compellingly communicates your idea.

If it’s easy to challenge the visual and point out an error or exception, then you either have a problem with your model or with your visual. If it takes 30 seconds to draw or requires artistic skills, it’s too complex.


Create a Portfolio

Equip yourself with at least 5-10 totally different graphics. This is important because if you only have one, you’ll be too tempted to bust it out even when it’s inappropriate.

The wrong graphic at the wrong time degrades your credibility and relationship with a prospect.

How to Use Instagraphics

Practice. A Lot

Like many techniques that appear simple, looks are deceiving. The first couple of times you try to quickly create an instagraphic, you’ll stumble. Do that on your own time, not in front of a prospect.


Listen First. Listen Carefully

If you’re listening to find that perfect time to whip out your instagraphic, you’re not actually attending to the client. Listen to understand, and use the instagraphic only when fits organically into the conversation.

Involve the Prospect

Rather than using your instagraphic as an excuse to pontificate, employ it as a device for collaboration. When your prospect grabs your instagraphic and starts drawing on it, you know you’re on the road to winning a juicy project.

Stay Flexible

After investing your time developing and practicing your instagraphic, you may instinctively resist when your prospect suggests a change or modification. Bite back that instinct. Who knows, maybe your prospect will improve your graphic. Either way, they’re signaling adoption of your graphic and your frame, and once that happens, you’re in like Flynn.

When you’re facile at quickly and seamlessly sketching a few lines that shift your prospect’s thinking, you’ll find yourself more confident in selling situations and, importantly, much more successful.

Is there an instagraphic you have used effectively with consulting prospects?


  1. Jon Sobel
    October 19, 2016 at 8:18 am Reply

    This is a most useful and enlightening article which illuminates the discipline, craft, and method behind a seemingly magical and most impactful technique. In addition, it gives me some ideas I will apply to my current challenge trying to help a team which is tasked to select, contextualize, and presemt compelling metrics – where he believe many of the same ideas apply.

    • David A. Fields
      October 19, 2016 at 8:35 am Reply

      Jon, it sounds like your team is tackling a fascinating task. Two keys for your group to keep in mind:

      1. Infogaphics (and instagraphics) work best when they are very clearly linked to implications. Viewers really want to know one thing when they look at a visual or a dashboard: “What should I do?”
      2. Outstanding graphics take time and work to develop even though in retrospect they look simple and obvious. I’d encourage your team to brainstorm at least five, very disparate alternatives to each visual.

      Thanks for sharing your situation, Jon.

  2. David A. Fields
    October 19, 2016 at 9:22 am Reply

    Mark, the term “infographic” has become very common now, and it’s a good moniker for carefully prepared, visual representations of an idea or data. Instagraphics struck me as the right appellation for infographics you can create on the fly.
    I appreciate your feedback!

  3. Marlene Chism
    October 19, 2016 at 10:14 am Reply

    You are a brilliant and gifted teacher.

    • David A. Fields
      October 19, 2016 at 10:38 am Reply

      Wow, Marlene. I’m flattered and honored to receive that feedback. Thank you for sharing.

  4. James Sullivan
    October 19, 2016 at 11:40 am Reply

    I use graphics all the time. Most folks can better absorb an idea when they can hear (or read) about it while also seeing a graphic that illustrates it. Also, some folks will open a report and really only ‘read’ the graphics while others will skip the graphics and just read the text (so never just rely on graphics).

    My work with clients includes introducing them to complex processes and systems that are new to many of them. Simple graphics are key (and the hardest to produce).

    The foundation of a good graphic is always a clear concept.

    • David A. Fields
      October 19, 2016 at 11:46 am Reply

      James, you’re totally right: to develop a powerful graphic, you have to have a good handle on your model. In fact, I’ve found that when consultants can’t develop a good graphic it’s often a sign that they need to clarify their own understanding of the point they’re trying to make.
      Thanks for the good addition to this article.

  5. David Bertoni
    October 19, 2016 at 3:59 pm Reply

    Thanks David. Some people (like me) think more graphically than in words. Successful graphics usually stay up on the board during the entire discussion with meeting participants adding their departments appendages and shapes.

    • David A. Fields
      October 19, 2016 at 4:08 pm Reply

      That’s a great point, David. One of the advantages of an instagraphic (vs. an infographic) is it’s live–you can addend and alter it as your meeting progresses. The collaborative nature of your graphic draws your prospect in, which is good news!
      Plus, you’re absolutely right that many people think graphically, which highlights the importance of including a visual element to your conversations.

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