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
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.
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?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.