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The 5 Layers of a Perfect Consulting Offering

When your consulting firm’s offering is constructed correctly, it resonates with prospects and projects are easy to close. You can build such an offering in five, easy steps.

Let’s say you have a conversation scheduled with a new prospect for your consulting firm: Vera Surtan, Chief Assuredness Officer at Technacious.

Will you easily lock in Vera as a consulting client?

Vera, like most consulting clients, views consulting firms similarly to birthday cakes—she wants a well-tested recipe that is, perhaps, slightly customized for her specific situation.

Fortunately, your interests are aligned. To (continue to) scale your consulting firm, the core of most of your consulting engagements must fall into a limited number of replicable patterns.

Your challenge is to ensure each of your repeatable Core Offerings is compelling to prospects like Vera while remaining profitable and attractive for your consulting firm.

Consultants have a tendency to throw fully baked potatoes ideas at clients, quote a fee, then ask, “Wanna buy this?”

That approach can yield projects for your consulting firm if you’re smart, charismatic and experienced in your field. However, you’ll secure even more clients with a carefully assembled, 5-Layer Core Offering.

Each layer of your consulting firm’s Core Offering is determined based on research; the result of five rounds of conversations focused on learning from prospects, not selling to them.

The format of 5-Layer research is very specific: you present a message then solicit feedback. In other words, your consulting firm isn’t leading with questions or hosting open-ended discussions with prospects.

In this research you start with a presentation. The presentation shown during your first round of research includes only the first layer, then each subsequent round adds another layer of your Core Offering.

Conduct your research in person or via phone/video call with prospects. Although it’s easier to survey prospects online or via email, you’ll miss the rich, nuanced feedback that enables your consulting firm to fashion the best offering.

Also, make sure the contacts you interview are aware that you are not selling or pitching consulting work. You’re 100% in learning mode. (That said, you don’t have to turn down work if an interviewee asks your consulting firm for a proposal.)

5-Layer Consulting Firm Core Offering

Layer 1: The Problem

Consulting is not about you. It’s about them. The Veras of the world. Therefore, the base layer of your consulting firm’s offering is a well-articulated expression of the problem you believe your clients face.

“Vera, we’ve seen that many CAOs are swamped by resistance to their 4-factor security initiatives.”

After you present the problem, you ask, whether your understanding of their situation and challenge is correct, and what you’re missing.

Layer 2: The Frame

The second layer of your consulting firm’s Core Offering frames your prospects’ issues as well-understood and easily explained.

“Organizational resistance to 4-factor security arises due to employee concerns about privacy, administrative burden, and Limburger cheese.”

You’ll immediately know whether your framing provokes an “Aha! I never thought of it that way” reaction or not.

Layer 3: The Overall Solution

In the third stage of your research you present your consulting firm’s solution, in broad strokes, and the benefits of solving your clients’ challenge.

“We identify which of the three common concerns is most salient for your employees, then we remove the cheese. As a result, we’re able to create an ultra-secure workplace that scores high on aromatic acceptance.”

After you present, your prospects will either exclaim, “I’d be very interested in hearing more about that,” or they won’t. Keep refining your third layer until you receive an enthusiastic response.

Layer 4: The Detailed Solution

After your third layer consistently generates keen interest, reveal more details of your consulting firm’s approach.

“We typically start with a 15-question employee defense survey, a complete olfactory audit and…”

During this round of research pay careful attention to which elements of your approach excite your consulting firm’s prospects and which seem ho-hum or low value. Ask what’s missing from your approach, then iterate and improve until your offering rings true with virtually every prospect.

Layer 5: The Price

Your consulting firm’s prospects will inquire about fees as early as your Layer 3 research. Delicately put them off until this stage.

“We envision an engagement like this would typically take around four months and the fees would be in the $300k-400k range, depending on the size of the company, the complexity of the security challenge, etc.”

If your prospects choke, then perform the Heimlich and revise your fees.

You may need to revisit your solution in order to balance a compelling approach with an acceptable investment; however, we’ve found that perfecting Layer 4 before discussing pricing maximizes your likelihood of developing a Core Offering that commands premium fees.

Once you’ve formulated your 5-Layer Core Offering, your consulting firm is well positioned to capture Vera’s business. Customize the cake slightly to her taste and you have a winning proposal.

What other layers belong in a perfect, Consulting Firm offering?

  1. Tomaž Vidonja
    February 9, 2022 at 8:06 am Reply

    Hi David,
    great article. The Limburger chees was “a cherry on the cake” in your story.
    As we don’t want our prospects to choke it’s great you removed also the cheese before the final step (Layer 5). 😉
    I assume there is a thin yet important layer between your Layer 4 and Layer 5. I would call it a secret ingredient, as chefs usually say. 🙂
    This ingredient is a value or better said the customer perception of the value. I can’t help myself but think of value-based pricing. Also, I see Layer 5 more as a framing than a “serious” offer from the prospect perspective. In case Layer 5 is to be an offer I assume we should be offering three options (low-end – the essential one, mid – an optimum, and the high-end – all you can eat with all the bells and whistles). Or is this something that comes next (Layer 6)?

    • David A. Fields
      February 9, 2022 at 8:15 am Reply

      Tomaž, thank you for raising an aspect that I did not make clear enough in the article: your Core Offering is not your proposal. A core offering is merely an easy-to-use start to a proposal you’d present to Vera (or any other client).

      By assembling your 5-Layer Core Offering, you put your firm in the position to easily pull together a few alternatives that are variations on your Core Offering, terms/fees, and other Contract Tuning Keys. You also know that whatever project you win from Vera, that your firm is able to deliver it consistently, efficiently and with high quality–because it is roughly the same work you perform on many other projects.

      Finally, a pro tip: replacing the cheese layer with chocolate makes every proposal perform better!

      Thanks again, Tomaž for your insightful question and funny comment!

      • Tomaž Vidonja
        February 11, 2022 at 5:49 am Reply

        thank you for making it clear, saying the core offering (5 step approach) is a kind of pre-proposal “homework” that lays a firm foundation to the next phase – writing a proposal.
        I hope I got it this time. 🙂

  2. Terrel F Transtrum
    February 9, 2022 at 1:47 pm Reply

    David, your insights are generous and backed by wisdom (and obviously experience)! From one of your earlier posts, I see how wrapping the five layers in relationship and connection (My purpose is to help you win, what does that look like for you?) will fortify the approach even more. Many thanks, as always. Terrel Transtrum

    • David A. Fields
      February 9, 2022 at 1:57 pm Reply

      Exactly right, Terrel. The entire focus of the exercise is Right-Side Up. It’s about them. As a consultant, you succeed by facilitating your clients’ success. Sometimes clients don’t know what they Need (that’s the refrain of many consultants), but most times they know what they Want! Understanding their desires is the starting point to a successful firm.

      I appreciate you highlighting the relationship aspect of the 5-Layers approach, Terrel!

  3. Olga Lopategui
    July 15, 2022 at 3:05 pm Reply

    Was re-reading this after the Veritux webinar yesterday. Thanks for re-focusing me on this concept – drafting up a 3-slide presentation today and will try it on prospects going forward. May need to refresh myself on how to perform the Heimlich.

    Still a little confused between the Core Model and Core Offering – is there a post on that somewhere?

    • David A. Fields
      July 18, 2022 at 2:50 pm Reply

      Good on you for pulling together the 3-slide presentation, Olga. Your Core Model is “the world according to Olga.” It’s a model of the world; a framework for understanding what’s happening or what needs to be done. Your Core Offering is your solution. It’s what Olga offers.
      Problem (in client’s words): My combustion-engine car won’t start
      Core Model: Combustion engines require gas (fuel system) and a spark (electrical system).
      Core Offering: We have an 11-point diagnostic that checks the fuel and electrical systems to understand where the problem is. It’s $199.

      Let me know how you make out with your Core Offering development, Olga, and thanks for posting!

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