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Ironically, this Will Speed Up Your Consulting Firm’s Sales Cycle

It is absolutely possible to close a six-figure consulting project with a new client in few days, from start to finish. Perhaps even in a single day. Should your consulting firm strive to set that super-short sales cycle as your standard? Probably not.

As a consulting firm leader, you may recognize the plight of Roberto Consulting. (Fake name, true story.)

Roberto Consulting is led by Bobbi, a former blue-chip CMO who could have, had she stayed in the corporate world, commanded a seven-figure income plus perks, benefits and world-class Tartufo di Pizzo. Instead, she’s leading a small consulting firm and working far too hard to take home a modest income and a handful of stale biscotti.

Bobbi found it easy to win business during the first couple of years after she launched her consulting practice. Many former colleagues enthusiastically turned to Bobbi for her wisdom, experience and colorful tales about travel through Italy.

However, despite the consulting firm’s excellent reputation for delivering high-quality work, the circle of people who knew of Roberto Consulting remained relatively small.

As Bobbi ventured beyond this circle to pitch prospects who had heard of her consulting firm but didn’t have as deep a connection to Roberto’s prior work or to Bobbi personally, her sales cycle lengthened and her close rate dropped.

Her approach to winning business hadn’t changed, so what was wrong?

Bobbi’s process was to conduct an introductory conversation and, if necessary, a follow up call, then promptly pen a comprehensive proposal.

This approach quickly yielded lucrative projects in the early days of her consulting firm. Later, though, the proposal she submitted using those same steps were declined or, worse, lingered in limbo while prospects went dark.

Roberto Consulting’s challenge is an easy one to diagnose. Her consulting firm has a Trust problem. Her early clients all knew her already and, therefore, Trust was pre-established. Later prospects who were less familiar with Bobbi did not have any reason to trust Bobbi or her consulting firm.

Without Trust, there is no consulting sale.

We solved Roberto Consulting’s problem by operationalizing a simple mantra:

Answer Quickly, Offer Slowly

Answer Quickly

Make your consulting firm highly responsive to prospective clients.

Practically speaking, this means submitting a Context Document within a day of holding your Discovery conversations. It also means responding to prospects’ requests for information within one business day, rather than a few days.

All except one request: the request for proposal. (More on that below.)

Rapid responsiveness builds Trust. It’s an early sign that you prioritize your prospect’s interests.

Offer Slowly

Delay submitting a proposal until you’ve fully conducted Discovery and gained agreement from the prospect on the context of their potential project.

Most consulting firms rush to whip out a Statement of Work with a compelling approach, convincing descriptions of each process step, flattering portraits of project team members, healthy fees, and perhaps a model or two to highlight their smarts.

That’s too much information too soon.

The rapid-proposal approach doesn’t demonstrate you’re responsive; it suggests your consulting firm is more interested in selling than in helping your client. It decreases Trust.

When a prospect asks for a proposal very early in the process (some ask for a proposal in their first email!), you’re poorly served by acceding to their request.

First, conduct a complete Context Discussion. Inquire about outcomes, indicators, risks and concerns, value and parameters. An eager prospect can supply all the information you need in less than an hour.

Then, submit a Context Document and secure agreement to your write-up from the decision-maker. If necessary, revise your summary based on their feedback.

Only after those two steps are completed, submit your proposal.

This two-step process allows you to demonstrate that you’re carefully developing the best possible approach to maximize benefits and minimize risks for your prospect’s particular situation.

As you stretch out your process, you can also strengthen your bond with your consulting prospect—perhaps you send a bit of helpful information while you’re waiting for them to review the Context Document.

A stronger bond and more deliberate process both build Trust.

Intuitively, you might think that you’re stretching out your sales cycle when you offer slowly. The opposite is true.

Rather than trying to sprint through your sales process, stick to a measured pace. Stay responsive without rushing to propose. Your deliberate approach, combined with high attentiveness will build Trust and win you more clients faster.

Has slowing down the sales process worked for you?


32 Comments
  1. Roberto Jimenez
    April 20, 2022 at 6:01 am Reply

    Thanks David. Loved the name of your fake case example 🙂

    • David A. Fields
      April 20, 2022 at 7:05 am Reply

      Only the finest names grace these pages, Roberto. Finest readers, too!

      (Who knew you could elicit comments by choosing the right names?!) Thanks for reading and commenting, Roberto.

  2. Terry "Doc" Dockery
    April 20, 2022 at 7:13 am Reply

    Great stuff David! Who among us hasn’t made this mistake in our haste to be responsive and to close business, eh?

    • David A. Fields
      April 20, 2022 at 7:25 am Reply

      Yep, desire to appear responsive combined with eagerness to win a project can make shortcuts very tempting. Some of us eventually learn to fend off temptation after repeating the same mistake three or four (or five) times.

      It’s always good to hear from you, Doc!

  3. Jennifer
    April 20, 2022 at 7:30 am Reply

    David, have you covered what’s in a great context doc before? If not, what are the key elements?

    • David A. Fields
      April 20, 2022 at 7:59 am Reply

      Fair question, Jen. I’ll have to do a quick article search to check if I’ve posted it on this site. However, since the Context Discussion is so central to Becoming the Obvious Choice, and is so powerful when you learn it, I’d suggest you take the 10-15 minutes to read about it in The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients

      Thanks for asking, Jen. (And for the opportunity to remind people that it’s worth learning some topics in depth.)

      • Jennifer
        April 20, 2022 at 9:08 am Reply

        Got it!! Thanks for the reply!

        • David A. Fields
          April 20, 2022 at 11:15 am

          You betcha!

    • Katie Liebel
      April 20, 2022 at 9:02 am Reply

      For this, I use a one pager with 3 boxes: “Background / Situation”, “Challenges / Current Issues”, and then “Goals of Project” to replay what I’ve heard.

      • David A. Fields
        April 20, 2022 at 11:15 am Reply

        That’s a reasonable format, Katie. The Context Discussion (and, therefore, the Context Document) covers a bit more ground than your three boxes, and it may be worth adding another box or two to the recaps of your Discovery conversations.

        I like the idea of a “one-pager” as a rough guideline. In the contest for consulting projects, concise wins more often than comprehensive. Thanks for highlighting that idea!

  4. Yoni
    April 20, 2022 at 7:38 am Reply

    Hi David.
    How does this approach gel with the idea of fixed-price (productised) services?
    I offer a range of fixed-price services, and sometimes a lead comes in from the cold and inquiries about one of these services. In that scenario, I sometimes feel that I would like more context to help steer the client and to determine if maybe they need a customised service instead.
    However, the fact that I offer fixed priced services implies that I’m ready to go as soon a client inquires. So when someone makes an inquiry it feels inappropriate to request a context discussion.
    I suppose I could give them details of the fixed price service AND suggest a context discussion to see if it’s the best way forward. But just checking if you have other thoughts on this.

    • David A. Fields
      April 20, 2022 at 8:18 am Reply

      Great question, Yoni. When you have fixed price services with a thorough description and pricing publicly available, you’ve ceded control of Discovery to your prospect. There is no Context Discussion in most cases because the prospect decides for themselves what service they want and at what price based on their own, internal examination of their situation. Similarly, there is no proposal. The scope and terms were pre-determined and the prospect already knows them.

      You’ve probably had clients call for clarification, which has opened the door for conversation. That experience holds the clue about where to go with fixed-price services:

      You have to decide whether you want conversations or not. Conversations take time. They’re a less efficient way to win business than an “add to cart” button. On the other hand, conversations are a more effective way to win business and they reveal opportunities for larger projects.

      If you don’t want conversations, then give full information publicly. If you do want conversations, don’t offer complete descriptions and consider not making the pricing public.

      Thank you for providing an opportunity to explore a related topic, Yoni. (Maybe it should be an article on its own!)

  5. Iain
    April 20, 2022 at 8:12 am Reply

    Just finished https://www.amazon.com/dp/1683501640 and the Context document is worth more than the price of admission.

    • David A. Fields
      April 20, 2022 at 8:20 am Reply

      You’re very kind, Iain. I’m glad you found the book valuable. If you haven’t already, don’t miss downloading the bonus resources.

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