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:
- What, exactly, does being persistent entail for a consultant?
- 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?
It’s also tricky.
How do YOU manage persistence?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.