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It’s Not Value. The Real Reason Consulting Prospects Act

Value. It’s the beating heart of the work your consulting firm produces for your clients, and it’s the reason you win consulting projects.

Therefore, offering more value, along with chocolate-glazed pastries will enable you to secure bigger projects faster, right?

Wrong.

Well, the pastries may help, but not for the reason you think.

Discussing projects with potential clients is easy. But winning them? That requires your prospect to overcome inertia. To commit. To act.

Let’s look at the impetus to act. Before your prospect’s pen scratches his signature on the bottom of your proposal, he reassures himself:

“This consulting project will really help me now.”

Two factors buoy that critical message.

Perception of Value

“This consulting project will really help me now.”

Value definitely influences your prospect’s reaction to your consulting proposal.

If your prospect harbors doubts about whether he’ll actually experience some (or all) of the benefits your consulting project promises, you’ll encounter a wide range of objections. Especially pushback on fees. 

Perception of Urgency

“This consulting project will really help me now.”

A pressing desire also kicks your prospect into gear.

If your prospect doesn’t feel compelled to jump into motion with you, you’ll confront complacency. Your prospect won’t return your calls or will claim that other priorities or people are blocking him from signing your proposal.

Obviously, increasing urgency and value will both assist you in closing the deal. Which is more important?

As a general rule, value is discounted, particularly as the value rises. Clients tend not to trust in future benefits or in large benefits. The combination of large benefits sometime in the future is particularly problematic.

Hence, as you increase value, the impact on your ability to close may be less than you hope.

Conversely, your client’s perception of urgency increases faster than actual urgency. No one wants to wait until their need is desperate and immediate, and the closer you are to that line, the more a client’s itch to act escalates.

The lessons are clear:

  1. Focus on urgent needs at least as much (and probably more) than “high value” needs. Ten $100k projects signed today is worth far more than two, $500k projects that may (or may not) sign in the future.
  2. Learn your target market’s urgency buttons. What triggers the “gotta act now” impulse? A steady-state lulls prospects into indecision; in contrast, a change in market condition can spur action.
    For instance, newly released indicators of a pending recession, a merger, or a government investigation might turn the heat up on urgency. Or, examples of recent, in-market failures could jolt your consulting client into action.
  3. Highlight urgency in your discussions with your prospects. Underscore the consequences of waiting and the extra benefits of moving quickly.
    You don’t want to resort to scare tactics, of course; however, inertia is a powerful force, and pointing out the deleterious impact of delay may be the ringing alarm your client needs.

How else have you been able to increase your prospects’ sense of urgency?


12 Comments
  1. Reuben Swartz
    September 11, 2019 at 8:10 am Reply

    One thing that can help buyers sort themselves into “urgent” and “not urgent” groups is to ask whether they really want to take this on now… “A lot of companies struggle with this, and you’ve dealt with it for years and been quite successful. You have a lot going on–why take this on now?” The folks who don’t feel the urgency will say, “you’re right, we’re just exploring our options”, and you can save a lot of time. Others will say, “because of X, Y, and Z, if I don’t get this solved by the end of next quarter, my promotion is on the line”, or something that indicates why this really is an urgent problem (plus, they have crystalized the rationale out loud, themselves, so you are not “selling” them, they have convinced themselves).

    • David A. Fields
      September 11, 2019 at 10:05 am Reply

      You’re exactly right. One of the two questions anchoring the Situation portion of the Context Discussion is, “Why now?” The answer to that question informs you of the client’s sense of urgency and, importantly, reveals their level of Want. I’m glad you pointed that out, Reuben.

    • Will
      September 11, 2019 at 3:53 pm Reply

      I think Reuben’s phrasing here is genius, thanks for that.

      • David A. Fields
        September 12, 2019 at 7:22 am Reply

        I agree, Will. Asking, “Why are you doing this now? Why not three months ago or three months from now?” or a variation like Reuben’s will serve you well.

  2. Joni Hoadley
    September 11, 2019 at 9:19 am Reply

    This is a great reminder. I’m kicking off with a new client next week and I can’t wait to dig into the “why now?” question to understand the driving needs that are creating a sense of urgency for them. Their initial response is likely to be “We just received a round of funding (I work with startups) and can finally hire more people and do more marketing.” But there has to be something more there. I need to figure out what is keeping the founder awake at night. If I can zero in on that, I can help them most effectively.

    • David A. Fields
      September 11, 2019 at 10:08 am Reply

      Congratulations on the new client, Joni! Sounds like an exciting project for you.

      Digging in past the “we finally have money” rationale will serve you well. Many projects–especially those with extended duration–hit lulls, and if you know the deeper, emotional Why driving your client’s decision to hire you, you’ll find it easier to inject some fresh energy into the project.

      Thank you for contributing an excellent case study, Joni.

  3. John Ennis
    September 11, 2019 at 10:26 am Reply

    Excellent advice as usual. Thank you, David!

    • David A. Fields
      September 11, 2019 at 10:58 am Reply

      You’re very welcome, of course, John. I appreciate you reading and also providing feedback.

  4. Gabrielle Fontaine
    September 11, 2019 at 12:11 pm Reply

    Thank you for this, David. I so love this article because it is spot on!

    Working with a prospect (and a partner) right now that absolutely proves what you’re saying (she will sign because he has what she perceives as urgency, so I guess it makes the value more valuable to act sooner rather than later and price less of an issue). I’ve shared the article with my partner (a seasoned consultant)

    I very much appreciate your work and know it never gets old to hear a simple, “Thank You.” 🙂

    • David A. Fields
      September 12, 2019 at 7:14 am Reply

      Thank you for providing an illustration of the impact of urgency, Gabrielle. For most prospects, urgency and value get tangled and they may not realize that what they want now isn’t necessarily what they need most. You can embrace the now project then point out the future, larger win.

      Good luck with your prospect–let me know how you fare with your opportunity.

      (And, of course, I appreciate your kind words. You’re right that a graciousness act is rarely wasted.)

  5. Chuck Martz
    September 11, 2019 at 1:34 pm Reply

    David, thanks for comparing value and urgency. I hadn’t really thought about your point on higher value limiting the impetus to act. So along with the “why now” question. To offer up a lower value (lower perceived risk) activity, say the 1st step of a larger project could provide enough energy and low enough hurdle to move. But, the consultant needs to be wary of scope creep.

    • David A. Fields
      September 12, 2019 at 7:20 am Reply

      Great point, Chuck. While I would generally advise against going in with a tiny, “toe in the door” project, there’s a lot to be said for a low-risk, initial offer that paves the way for larger engagements.

      Scope creep is, as you mention, always an issue to watch out for. It can occur in any size project and, in fact, is often a higher risk in larger projects, where the boundaries are a bit fuzzier.

      Excellent additions to the conversation, Chuck.

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