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Step 2 in the Ideal Conversation with Consulting Prospects

Many of your conversations with outstanding prospects don’t lead to high-potential opportunities. Let’s talk about why that may be happening and an easy fix that will create more juice in your business development efforts.

While you’re attending the International Percolation Symposium, you meet a bubbly fellow whose company would be a perfect client for your consulting firm. After a few minutes of chatting, however, his disinterest is obvious and he walks away. An opportunity missed. What happened?

You blew it at Step 2 of the conversation.

Step 1 of the conversation was when you offered your Fishing Line. As a reminder, your Fishing Line is a handful of words that encapsulate the narrow target you serve and the problem you solve. The sole purpose of your 15-words-or-less Fishing Line is to prompt a conversation if the person you’re talking with fits your target/problem definition.

In most cases your Fishing Line won’t spark genuine interest. That’s good. You don’t want to waste your time on weak prospects.

What about those cases where your prospect is interested?

You: “I work with marketing departments at small manufacturers that are facing stiff competition.”

Prospect: “Oh. That’s interesting, tell me more.”


You: “I work with high-tech startups whose management needs to build leadership skills”

Prospect: “Wow. How do you do that?”


You: “I help chefs who are struggling to perfect their tiramisu”

Prospect: “Can I join your firm?”

Your natural response for Step 2 of the encounter is to give your consulting prospect exactly what he asked for: a portrait of your firm or a panorama of your process for solving the problem. Five minutes in, you realize your prospect is nodding politely while trying to escape, and now you’re trying to rescue the conversation. What happened?

Your thinking flipped upside down. You were tricked by your prospect’s question into thinking that consulting is about you. Of course, it’s not.

Keep your thinking Right-Side Up in Step 2 with either of these two responses:

Response 1: Immediate Redirect

You can avoid the thinking trap by immediately responding with a question that encourages your prospect to continue talking about his favorite topic: himself.

Prospect: “Tell me more.”

You: “I’m happy to tell you how we do that. But to make sure I give you examples that are relevant, it would be helpful to understand your business and what’s going on with you. Can you tell me a bit more about your business situation?”

Response 2: Fishing Line Expansion and Redirect

Another way to maintain Right-Side Up thinking is to offer a deeper, but still brief, explanation of the target you serve, the problem you solve, and value you bring. Thirty seconds at most.

For instance, you may outline a framework for thinking about the problem, or bust out a 50-word case study, or offer a couple of statistics that highlight your consulting prowess.

Then you turn the conversation back to them with a question.

Prospect: “Tell me more.”

You: “Well, we’ve found that Marketing VPs at small firms typically face three problems… <brief statement of the three problems>. We solve the first two. Do those problems feel familiar?”

Prospect: “Tell me more.”

You: “Well, for example, at a startup in Sonoma… <50-word case study>. And that’s typical of how we help high-tech startups. How does that resonate with what you’re facing?”

Now that we’ve gone through a better way to respond in Step 2, how will you start your response to a prospect who asks for more information? Please share below.


  1. Will Bachman
    October 10, 2018 at 6:10 am Reply


    I like to think of myself as a right-side-up thinking kind of guy, but this brilliant post of yours today makes me realize I’m all upside down when potential clients ask me about what my firm does.

    Great insight – from now on I’ll be answering the question with a follow-up question. Thanks!

    • David A. Fields
      October 10, 2018 at 6:19 am Reply

      We’re all naturally upside down most of the time, Will. It’s actually normal to be that way, which is why staying Right Side Up is so difficult and why everyone, including me, can constantly find ways to improve in this area.

      Thanks for starting off today’s discussion!

  2. Mark Vieno, CPA
    October 10, 2018 at 7:24 am Reply

    Hi David, over the past year since reading your book I have developed Step 1 fishing line:

    We make DCAA compliance easy for government contractors who use Quickbooks.

    I learned decades ago to never ask a closing question at this point, one that can be answered with yes or no. Instead I ask an open-ended question:

    How is DCAA compliance important to you?

    If this is a hot topic with my prospect, I’ll get an earful for the next 20 minutes, and I’ll get lots of information. Basically, this triggers a feeding frenzy. As a trout fisherman, I relate this to a mayfly hatch.

    • David A. Fields
      October 10, 2018 at 7:30 am Reply

      Great work developing a targeted Fishing Line, Mark. You’ve provided an outstanding case study. Eleven words with a narrow target and a precise, implied problem. As a result, when you talk to the right person, they respond enthusiastically.

      Well done! I appreciate you contributing your example.

  3. Clarence Fisher
    October 10, 2018 at 8:01 am Reply

    Brilliant. Thank you!

  4. Debbie
    October 10, 2018 at 10:08 am Reply

    Timely post for all the upcoming fourth quarter networking events!
    Any thoughts on this fishing line?
    I work with mid-size companies that need to boost workforce performance and productivity.

    • David A. Fields
      October 10, 2018 at 10:13 am Reply

      Debbie, ultimately you’ll learn the strength of your Fishing Line by testing it with prospects. “Mid-size companies” is pretty vague. I’d guess most people hearing it who you’d want to be prospects wouldn’t know whether it applies to them or not.

      “Boost workforce performance and productivity” is also a very general aspiration, with a conjunction that lowers the Fishing Line’s effectiveness.

      Can you get yourself to a narrower client definition and a more precise problem?

  5. Yanay Zohar
    October 14, 2018 at 3:02 am Reply

    Powerful reminder to keep it about *them*, even when it it feels like we own the stage now (very tempting).
    It’s even more powerful when the next “reveal” is still short (but confirms the interest), and generates even more curiosity. It’s not that different from dating.

    • David A. Fields
      October 15, 2018 at 11:26 am Reply

      In other words, “reveal a bit of leg” to titillate your prospect. Alas, many people aren’t very good at dating (or are happily out of practice). Great add to the conversation, Yanay.

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