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The Answers to Two Persistent Consulting Questions

Jesper (actual name of the consultant) tried for ages to land a project with Astra Zeneca (actual name of client; a.k.a. AZ). His firm had a history of work with AZ, particularly in North America; however, they had never been able to win a consulting engagement in Europe (actual names of continents).

Last week, after eight months of effort, Jesper closed a project with AZ Europe. How?


Lately I’ve heard a consistent theme from consultants in a wide variety of firms who’ve been locking in new consulting business. They’ve attributed their success to well-crafted processes, careful language and one, common concept:


On the surface, this is as obvious as adding vanilla ice cream to hot apple pie. Once you pick up your spork to dive in, however, you realize Persistence raises a couple of pesky questions:

  1. What, exactly, does being persistent entail for a consultant?
  2. Where’s the line between persistent and pest, and how do you stay on the right side?

Let’s grab a slice of Mom’s apple pie a la mode, and chew over answers to these questions.

What Does Being Persistent Entail for Consultants?

Generally speaking, persistence means:

  • Continuing to reach out to prospects until/unless they give you a flat out “No.” Many, many projects are won after a long period of silence or a series of Maybes.
  • Separating lack of response from your ego; i.e., don’t take it personally. Executives are busy, absent-minded, distracted and stressed. If your project isn’t top on their list, that’s not a condemnation of you, it’s just a reality of their world.

Tactically speaking, being persistent means reaching out to your prospect by email, phone or in person on a regular basis. What to say/not say is covered below.

Practically speaking, how frequently and diligently you follow up depends on the size of the project and importance of the client. AZ was an extremely important, strategic client for Jesper’s firm, so following up for 8 months or even 18 months was a no-brainer. Frustrating and discouraging at times, but worthwhile.

I kept up regular outreach with one prospect for five years before he finally offered a juicy project.


How to Be Persistent Without Being a Pest

Consultants are often concerned they’ll be perceived as annoying if they follow up repeatedly with a prospect. They fear becoming the professional equivalent of kids in the back seat during a road trip. (Are we there yet?)

That’s a legitimate fear, but also an avoidable concern.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with repeatedly following up on an introduction or a project that’s under consideration. Busy, overwhelmed executives often appreciate the reminder.

Keep the following in mind:

  • Always acknowledge your prospect is busy. In other words, let them save face and feel justified even though they haven’t been responsive to you.
  • On the flip side, never make your prospects wrong. For instance, avoid mentioning the number of times you’ve previously followed up. That does nothing other than encourage a defensive posture.
  • Focus on building the relationship rather than chasing the business.
  • Ask how you can be of help to them in general and, specifically, in shaking loose the project.
  • Keep your tone friendly, upbeat and light. An occasional dollop of humor can go a long way too. For instance, if the prospect has gone AWOL for months, you might try a “Did you get eaten by a bear?” type letter. This approach worked phenomenally well for one of Jesper’s colleagues.
  • If you engage your prospect in conversation, encourage them to set specific times and action standards for deciding on your project. How, exactly, will they make the decision and when?

Persistence pays.

It’s also tricky.

How do YOU manage persistence?

  1. Anatoli Naoumov
    February 1, 2017 at 9:32 am Reply

    Persistence sometimes pays in unexpected ways.
    I sought a meeting with a chap after a referral. He was open to meet, but busy. And silent. Andy busy. I kept “running into” him at networking events and sending him humorous emails. We met when he was “in between jobs”. In his third company since my first contact he told me that his job was no longer within the service range of my company, but he could introduce me to the right guy at their bln-dollar company. The key: since he indeed forgot how we’ve got in touch, he introduced me as a “̲p̲r̲o̲f̲e̲s̲s̲i̲o̲n̲a̲l̲ ̲h̲e̲ ̲p̲e̲r̲s̲o̲n̲a̲l̲l̲y̲ ̲k̲n̲e̲w̲ ̲f̲o̲r̲ ̲a̲ ̲l̲o̲n̲g̲ ̲t̲i̲m̲e̲”̲ to a manager with $1mln budget for work we do. Contract is in the making.

    • David A. Fields
      February 1, 2017 at 11:24 am Reply

      Congratulations on the impending contract, Anatoli! You’ve given a fabulous example, not only of persistence, but of the importance of looking at marketing and outreach activities holistically. In many cases there isn’t a direct line between a single marketing activity and a project. Rather, as in your excellent case study, there’s a long, circuitous route. Plus, you get bonus points for use of “chap” in your comment.

  2. Tristram Coffin, CMC
    February 1, 2017 at 10:33 am Reply

    Thank you, David, for sharing your experience and wisdom with us. One of the overhanging clouds that get in the way of a high percentage of consultants is the impression that their fees can cost a lot of money so the prospective Client (always capital C) has to justify the expenditure and make sure that funds are budgeted for the project. If a management consultant defines the proposed project as a “cost” then that usually creates a delay factor from the git-go. Instead, I position my projects as an “investment” and people don’t want to “invest” unless there is a measurable return on investment (aka, “R.O.I.”). In the vast majority of my proposals I guarantee a minimum R.O.I. of 15:1. That’s right…. the Client gets $15 back for every $1.00 invested in my services. In my work I have never achieved less than a 23:1 R.O.I. A project I did recently achieved a 174:1 R.O.I. and cost wasn’t mentioned once… before, during and after… the project was completed. This rational approach works extremely well when combined with your “Perfect Proposal” approach. The Client can then choose with your guidance which option is best for the project. If three options are presented, the Client has the advantage of being able to select the scope and R.O.I. they seek to earn. Please keep me on your mailing list. Speaking of R.O.I., you are at the top!

    Tris Coffin, CMC

    • David A. Fields
      February 1, 2017 at 11:29 am Reply

      Tris, your focus on ROI speaks to an even stronger attribute that is driving your success: a relentless focus on the client rather than yourself. While there may be legitimate discussion on whether to talk about costs when determining the value (see this post: The Value Myth), being able to point to a concrete, high return on the investment definitely removes barriers and speeds the way to a closed project. I appreciate you contributing your experience to the discussion–it makes a difference

  3. David Discenza
    February 1, 2017 at 10:44 am Reply

    A tactic I have used in the past is to say in the beginning of an email “There is a fine line between being persistent and being a pest. I don’t want to cross that line with you. Please tell me how best to follow up with you.” It shows that I have respect for the the other person and their time and it also let’s them know that I want to remain in contact. I have always gotten a response. Sometimes it has been “Go away, kid, you bother me”. More often it has been “Thanks for reaching out. I’ve swamped lately. Please call me on …”.

    • David A. Fields
      February 1, 2017 at 12:10 pm Reply

      David, you’ve neatly demonstrated a couple of useful concepts. One is to be straightforward and open with your concerns (or your client’s concerns). Honesty without judgment creates all sorts of freedom for the client to engage with you, and it builds trust. The other concept you demonstrated is the importance of not taking it personally when a client is absent. Usually they’re just busy.” Thank you for providing the terrific case study.

    • Anatoli Naoumov
      February 2, 2017 at 9:33 am Reply

      This gem of scripts, David D.! Thank you for sharing.

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