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Offering Value Is Actually Bad for Your Consulting Business! Here’s Why

Common wisdom says your consulting firm should offer value in order to attract clients. What if that common wisdom is not only wrong, but backwards?

You’ve probably encountered advice that consultants should only reach out to prospects when they have a compelling, useful tidbit to offer. For example, an article or white paper, your new book, an introduction to a sought-after peer, or insights from a project you conducted recently.*

You know the script:

Hi Bob. I thought you’d be interested in some findings from a project we just completed with another company in your industry.

Have you tried something like that? It occasionally works, but usually doesn’t.

The surprising truth is the “offer value when you call” approach is more effective when it’s inverted.

Rather than reaching out when you have something, reach out when you want something. Specifically, when you want advice and insight. Which your consulting firm needs constantly.

This script sounds like:

Hi Bob. I was looking for a bit of insight on the latest trends in neurological meters and you immediately came to mind as the right person to talk to. Could I pick your brain for about two minutes?

This approach fosters a warm relationship by requesting a favor.

It’s Seduction by Solicitation.

It’s also called the Ben Franklin approach because, as ol’ Benny boy noted in his autobiography: “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

In other words, if your consulting firm does a favor for Flo, (e.g., offer free copy of your book) and asks for a favor from Joe (e.g., solicit input), Joe is more likely than Flo to consent to a larger request, such as engaging in a discussion of how you can work together.*

At first blush, Ben Franklin’s advice seems to fly in the face of the principle of reciprocity. The number one principle of reciprocity suggests that if you want Joe to do you a good turn (listen to your consulting firm’s offerings), you first need to bestow some useful token on him (article, podcast, etc.).

Delve deeper, though, because reciprocity works in reverse.

If you ask Joe for a small favor such as his advice, then he feels entitled to ask a favor of you. That’s reciprocity, and that’s exactly what you want! You want him to feel compelled to turn to your firm.

Better yet, Joe is likely to value your response to his request far more than some unsolicited book, podcast, benchmark study or advice you were foisting on him.

The table below shows the advantages of asking for help rather than offering value when approaching prospects.

Offer ValueRequest Help
Offering is needed/valued by small percentage of contactsVirtually 100% can help
Only works when you have something to offerAlways works because you always need advice and insights
Reciprocity feels like obligationReciprocity feels like opportunity
Business transaction; doesn’t foster “Like”Personal transaction; fosters “Like” & nurtures relationship
Requires confidence in offeringRequires willingness to ask and learn

Since you don’t need to develop a new, high-value morsel to generate effective outreach for your consulting firm, there’s no reason to wait. Jump all over it by requesting help from your prospects today.

Have you tried the “ask for a favor” approach? If so, what were the results?

  1. Kumaran
    June 26, 2024 at 6:05 am Reply

    Great counter -intuitive insight David!

    • David A. Fields
      June 26, 2024 at 9:01 am Reply

      Thanks, Kumaran–I appreciate your posting your reaction to the article.

  2. Allison
    June 26, 2024 at 6:37 am Reply

    This resonates! A few years ago when launching my firm, I pinged a bunch of contacts (individually) asking them to weigh in on two logo options. It was such a nice connection point. People were so delighted to weigh in, and in one case a project emerged that definitely wouldn’t have if I hadn’t reached out like that out of the blue. On the other hand, earlier this week I was so eager to share a resource that I wrote a way-too-long email to two people and haven’t heard from either of them!

    • David A. Fields
      June 26, 2024 at 9:03 am Reply

      Excellent examples on both sides of the coin, Allison. Asking for input on the logos was an inspired choice. People lovegiving input on subjective topics like that.

      Thank you so much for sharing your illustrative case studies, Allison!

  3. David
    June 26, 2024 at 7:27 am Reply

    David, this is wise advice. I had not thought of it this way and in hindsight it has worked twice for me recently when I contacted prior associates for a Q&A session, they responded and had additional leads.

    • David A. Fields
      June 26, 2024 at 9:05 am Reply

      Amazing, isn’t it David? At the time it may not have jumped out at you that asking folks for help is what generated successful contacts, but now you’ll be running more of those Q&A sessions!

      I’m so glad you shared your experience, David!

  4. Frank Farone
    June 26, 2024 at 8:35 am Reply

    learned this technique from David years ago and it works! thank you! It’s also a great way to gain a greater understanding of what’s really on the minds of the folks you reach out to.

    • David A. Fields
      June 26, 2024 at 9:06 am Reply

      Wow, compliments and confirmation in one sentence… thanks, Frank! What you’re pointing out (that I didn’t mention in the article) is that asking for help is actually Right-Side Up. It’s offering other people the chance to be valuable.

      Thank you for your support and for calling out that important aspect of the approach, Frank!

  5. Silvia
    June 26, 2024 at 8:37 am Reply

    Who’s Josie? lol

    • David A. Fields
      June 26, 2024 at 9:10 am Reply

      Good catch, Silvia. The original version of the article had a Josie. She was edited out of the film, but inadvertently left in one scene. I believe that’s what movie people call a continuity error! All taken care of now.

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