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How to Create the Perfect Consulting Offering

Last week, a solo-consultant I work with told me he did everything “wrong” in a client meeting but walked away with a $75,000 project. No one walked out of the meeting with a black eye, so obviously his characterization of the meeting was exaggerated, but the fact remains that he won business despite some missteps. How? He had a great offering that his client wanted.

I’ve had a run-in or two with killer products. Just like Billboard announces the top songs every week, the scorekeeper in the consumer products market is Advertising Age magazine. Before I started consulting I was fortunate enough to be featured as one of Advertising Age magazine’s “Top 100 marketers.” Groovy award, but winning it was about 10% skill and 90% fabulous product. Stores are stuffed with goods that sell millions of dollars every year with little or no marketing because they’re great items. Think a cure for cancer would need much marketing or advertising? Exactly.

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The same holds true in consulting. If there’s one thing I’ve seen consistently in my work with hundreds of consultants it’s that a killer offering will generate substantial income even if your marketing is nothing to write home about. (Yes, you do need to be decent at the entire client acquisition process.) Without any marketing chops even a great offering will sell about as well as a baby mop** or dogbrella**.

Before I describe the elements of a perfect consulting offering, let’s talk about the two-ton sandbag holding your business down. Because, until you cut yourself free of this anchor you’re likely to see nominal gains, at best. The weight hindering your growth and the biggest obstacle to finding a killer offering is, quite simply: Your current definition of what you do.

As long as you’re afraid to let go of what you are and what you offer now, you’ll never be able to embrace a new, better definition of yourself and your value. I see consultants cling to definitions like, “I’m a strategy consultant” or “I have 20 years of marketing experience” or “I’m an expert in project management.” Internally focused statements like these are the consulting equivalent to Kodak’s commitment to film. How’s that been working lately? It’s useful and necessary to know what you’re good at and your passions, but to find a killer product, you can’t start there.

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I often say that revving up your consulting revenue requires the compelling communication of the right solution to the right people about the right problem at the right time. Construct your perfect consulting offering by focusing on the first three. The checklist below breaks out these three components more and will guide you to a product that could increase your revenue by an order of magnitude.

The problem/aspiration:

  • Is urgent, pervasive, and costly to leave unaddressed
  • Is easy to diagnose
  • Is easy to understand

 The people:

  • Have the need and the money and the authority to buy the solution
  • Are aware of the need or can easily be made aware
  • Are reachable by you

The communication/solution:

  • Articulates an obvious, concrete benefit
  • Is easily said by you
  • Is so concise and understandable that it’s easily repeated by others

Finally… You:

  • Are not tied to your past – the offering is about client needs, not your ability
  • Are willing, able and passionate about delivering

Developing your killer offering may take some time and definitely requires feedback from prospects. You can take the first step right now, though: in the comments box below type in an urgent, pervasive, costly problem you solve. If you can’t think of one, type in your target and other readers and I will give you some ideas.


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69 Comments
  1. Chevine Anderson
    January 7, 2015 at 1:55 pm Reply

    I can solve problems related to production. I can diagnose the problem, provide advice for change, and help oversee those changes as they relate to performance.

    Problem is I need to let more clients and companies know.

    We have a professional site with free publications related to lots of subjects but need to be vetted by another expert who can help stamp us as a source.

    Who can help with that?

    • davidafields
      January 7, 2015 at 2:19 pm Reply

      Chevine, thanks for posting! “Problems related to production” is pretty broad. As a result, it may not feel like an urgent, costly problem to your prospects. Do you think there’s a more precise, tightly defined problem you could narrow in on?
      You’ve made a great point about the need to gain visibility (though I doubt another expert’s imprimatur is going to solve that challenge). You might want to consider contacting me offline for an answer to how to get help with visibility building.

      • Chevine Anderson
        January 7, 2015 at 3:30 pm Reply

        What mentor programs exist? I’m going to join the Institute of Management Consultants this month and will look into your program also.

        I narrowed it down a bit to the most urgent problem I can solve, and it is needed constantly for improvement; Customer Service.

        Cheers! For your great work.

        • davidafields
          January 8, 2015 at 8:18 am

          Chevine, good job narrowing your focus down to customer service. Now, can you add more definition to the customer service problem that you’re solving? While the constant need for improvement will generate some interest, the companies eager to shell out cash to a consultant are having customer service pains. For instance, maybe the problem is closer to “Customer service departments who are failing to mollify and retain disgruntled customers.”

  2. Bob Millerb
    January 7, 2015 at 2:17 pm Reply

    Thanks David. This was the right communication (Tips for positioning my offers and growing my business), sent to the right person (me), at the right time (I am locking down my 2015 sales growth plan).

    • davidafields
      January 8, 2015 at 8:25 am Reply

      You’re welcome, Bob. Great job building a growth plan for 2015. If you need any templates or guides for your plan, let me know and I’ll shoot you a couple of excellent documents.

  3. Tony Lacertosa
    January 7, 2015 at 4:52 pm Reply

    I coach team leaders and business owners who have little to no leadership experience around the interpersonal skills they need to succeed.

    • davidafields
      January 8, 2015 at 8:40 am Reply

      Tony, that’s a great start on a Fishing Line. Good target definition then focus on a problem! There may be room to make it even more powerful. Sometimes describing a circumstance (e.g., newly promoted managers, or companies going through a merger) is an effective way to define the target. “Team leaders with weak interpersonal skills” specifies who you can help. What is the problem they’re facing; i.e., what is going wrong as a result of their behavior? Maybe it’s something like, “Team leaders who frequently face dissention or flagging morale on their teams.” What are your thoughts?

      • Tony Lacertosa
        January 8, 2015 at 3:07 pm Reply

        Thanks, David, for the feedback. Revised version: “I work with business owners and newly promoted leaders whose teams are failing. What I do is coach them through the process of turning those failing teams into highly performing ones.”

        • davidafields
          January 9, 2015 at 2:30 pm

          Great work, Tony. That sounds a lot more powerful, don’t you think? As you try variations of this out with a few dozen people, play with the word “failing.” We always want to avoid a prospect feel like they are being shamed in any way.

        • Tony Lacertosa
          January 9, 2015 at 8:08 pm

          Thanks again, David.. I already changed :failing” to :”Underperforming.” I appreciate all your feedback. Be well.

  4. Michael Rampolla
    January 7, 2015 at 6:43 pm Reply

    You know how you can have a plan and a goal, but still somehow struggle to achieve success?

    Well, what I do is ask a lot of questions, which will enable you to accurately define where you are and more clearly envision where you want to be. In this way, we can establish not only the best path forward, but also identify and remove the roadblocks that have kept you from achieving success in the past.

    As a result, you will have a roadmap that is in line with your values and strengths, the right talent and resources to move you forward, and the confidence that you will achieve your most important priorities.

    • davidafields
      January 8, 2015 at 8:50 am Reply

      Very nice, Michael. The keys here are the problem phrased as a question (which I’ve found to be an effective, conversational approach) and the result, which might even be shortened down to, “the roadmap, resources and confidence to achieve your priorities.”
      Have you tried delivering this without the middle piece? It would sounds like this: “You know how you can have a plan and a goal, but still struggle to achieve success? Well, I break those bottlenecks so my clients have the roadmap, the resources and confidence to achieve their goals.” Something along those lines may be easier to deliver and quickly gets the focus of the conversation back to the prospect, which is where you want it.

      • Michael Rampolla
        January 8, 2015 at 10:59 am Reply

        Thanks, David!
        I really like your shortened approach — including removing the middle piece. I’m definitely going to try that next time. As you said, the shorter, the better — especially as it turns the conversation back to the prospect more quickly. The “what I do / how I do it” bridge in the middle can be used later, after the prospect is hooked on the idea that I’m going to deliver real value where they need it.

        • davidafields
          January 9, 2015 at 2:42 pm

          Totally agree. Let me know how the shorter version works for you.

  5. David Natalizia
    January 7, 2015 at 8:41 pm Reply

    Here are two of those problems I solve, any discussion on how to tailor offerings from there would be most welcome:

    1. I help companies (particularly in the restaurant, hotel, and hospitality space) control workplace and guest injuries and claims

    2. I get service businesses on track in the areas or cleanliness, helpfulness of their staff, and risk control

    • davidafields
      January 8, 2015 at 8:58 am Reply

      David, on the surface it looks like you have well-constructed Fishing Lines. The first offers a narrow target definition (restaurants and hotels) and a clear problem (workplace and guest injuries and claims). If that’s not generating a flurry of business then either 1) the right people aren’t hearing your message, or 2) the problem you’re describing isn’t a burning priority for the people who could pay to solve it. In your research with your prospect, has controlling injuries and claims come up as an urgent issue?

      Your second line reads less like a problem and more like an aspiration. Aspirations often lead to larger, more strategic projects. Unfortunately, they also tend to be more difficult to sell against and have longer sales cycles. Also, cleanliness, helpfulness and risk control sound to an industry outsider such as me like very disparate issues. What’s the problem your prospects are experiencing? Customer complaints due to cleanliness? Customer complaints about the staff?

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