Jeff Boyardi, CSO (Chief Sauce Officer) at a Stuphinacan Co. contacts your consulting firm to explore a potential project. You engage in a friendly discovery conversation (a.k.a. Context Discussion) and agree to a follow-up date to discuss next steps.
Alas, Jeff isn’t alone at the next call. He’s joined by his colleague Cam Bell, the CFO (Can Filling Officer), whose demeanor is decidedly cooler and less engaging than Jeff’s. Cam informs you that they’re considering a number of consulting firms.
“We’re also talking to McHighbrow and to Large Associates. How are you better than they are? What makes you different?”
Oh man, you’re in a bake off. That bites.
Whereas an RFP typically follows a formal process, with explicitly outlined selection criteria, a bake off is usually less formal and the decision criteria are a bit fuzzier.
You have three choices when faced with the bake off question: Fill the Circle, Square the Circle or Bow Out.
Remember, a client’s choice among consulting firms is driven almost entirely by Trust.
Trust is based on relationship strength (which can’t be super high if you’re in a bake off) and perceived credibility and reliability.
Rate your consulting firm on a 10-point scale on each of the four credibility/reliability criteria below.
1. Industry Specialization. Your consulting firm specializes in the client’s exact industry sub-sub-segment. To illustrate an industry sub-sub segment: professional services is an industry, consulting is a sub-segment, management-consulting is a sub-sub segment. Don’t confuse some experience in an industry with industry specialization. (The client won’t.)
2. Problem Specialization. You specialize in the exact problem the client is seeking help for, and can cite numerous completed projects with the exact same parameters and situation.
3. Outcome Experience. You have delivered the exact outcome the prospect is looking for based on the metrics the prospect specifies.
4. Other Requirements. Your consulting firm meets precisely any other qualifications specified by the prospect.
If your consulting firm scored a nine or ten on all four criteria, Fill the Circle.
Otherwise, either Square the Circle or Bow Out.
Fill the Circle
Filling the Circle means confidently demonstrating your consulting firm is a round peg precisely designed to fit the round hole.
“I can’t speak about other firms; however, I can tell you why you are extremely likely to achieve your desired outcomes when we work together…”
Don’t take the comparison bait. No matter how bad or ill-suited your competition is to work with your prospective client, do not disparage them or compare yourself directly to them.
Emphasize that your consulting firm fits Stuphinacan’s needs perfectly. You specialize in their industry, have solved their exact problem numerous times, and can reference case studies that illustrate similar clients achieving the desired results.
Square the Circle
Squaring the Circle is reframing the client’s perception of their problem from a round hole to a square hole—which, it turns out, you fit perfectly.
“I can’t speak about other firms. What I can tell you is that most companies in Stuphinacan’s situation think they have a circle problem. In fact, you’re likely to have a square problem…”
Bust out your compelling Core Model and your substantial evidence that the traditional viewpoints (implicitly, those held by Fill the Circle consulting firms) are missing “The Truth.”
“Because you have a square problem, you are most likely to achieve your desired outcomes when we work together…”
Emphasize your experience with square problems and, as much as possible, share case studies that align to their industry, reflect similar situations and deliver their desired outcomes.
Note that even if you’re great at reframing, you’ll lose more than 70% of the time to a consulting firm that can Fill the Circle.
If you don’t Fill the Circle perfectly and you don’t have a powerful reframe, your likelihood of winning the project is low, even if you firmly believe your consulting firm should win the project.
Consider gracefully exiting.
“I can’t speak about other firms. We are very good at what we do, and we can help you.
However, in full transparency we don’t specialize in Stuphinacan’s sub-segment. If you’ve found a specialist in your segment that solves your problem, that may be the place to start.
If you haven’t found a specialist that suits your needs, let me know, and we’ll pick up the conversation again.”
No matter which response you choose, speak confidently and let your consulting firm’s unique personality shine through. Confidence builds Trust and personality (ideally) creates Like.
How have you responded when you’ve faced the bake off question?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.