You’re justifiably proud of your consulting firm. Your work is on par with the “big guys.” In fact, you do even better work than the big-name mega firms.
But, if we’re honest, we know that many of your prospective clients harbor legitimate concerns about working with a small consulting firm like yours.
Some advisors assure you that a few, clever words voiced with bravado will overcome your prospects’ objections.
Yeah. Doesn’t work in the real world.
Rather than trying to stampede over objections, make your consulting firm a more attractive, acceptable alternative to the consulting giants by addressing the eight issues outlined below.
Common Objections to Small Consulting Firms
(and Responses to Each)
Lack of Cachet
Professional lacrosse players are probably amazing at what they do. (Ducking?) But even the name “Major League Lacrosse” isn’t fooling anyone into thinking MLL is a big league sport.
The same goes for you. Not the ducking part. The part about you being amazing, but you still don’t have the prestige associated with “brand name” consultancies.
Response: Flaunt what you’ve got, stay Right-Side Up, and stop worrying about it. If you have some brand name pedigree or marquee clients, don’t be afraid to let those credentials drop in conversation.
Your real advantage, though, is being relentlessly client focused. If a prospect is determined to hire a recognizable brand name, the best thing you can do is shift your attention to better prospects quickly!
Chevrolet may not design the world’s sexiest cars, but consumers generally view Chevy’s cars as more reliable than, say, autos from Morgan. (It may not help that Morgan’s car frames are still built from wood.)
Similarly, your consulting firm strikes prospects as much riskier than a big-name alternative.
Response: Create proof points. Case studies, examples, and testimonials that demonstrate you’ve successfully completed many, similar consulting projects will dispel most of your prospects’ concerns.
Big firms make a show of staffing with elite B-school graduates and extremely seasoned executives. Does that matter? You bet it does. Credentials bolster confidence.
Response: First, hire an outside expert to polish your consulting firm’s credentials to a fine luster. (You’re too biased and modest to do this well yourself.)
Then make your consulting firm’s credentials easy to find (but not the core) of your marketing, materials, and website. Whether or not your staff all hail from Oxford, don’t be shy about dressing up what you’ve got.
Missing Project Management Expertise
Prospective clients worry that your consulting firm lacks solid, project management skills.
Response: Your buttoned-up new business process should communicate, “We’re professional, organized and tightly managed.”
Your robust process (not the content) shows off your project management chops. That means pre-developed templates for key documents and rapid response times from start to finish.
Additional Response: If your consulting firm’s project management skills fall short, then outsource project management to an expert. It’s a minor expense and you’ll be amazed at what a trained professional can do for your efficiency and the quality of your output.
Limited Capacity and Footprint (Part 1)
Clients understandably question whether your consulting firm can pull off a massive, international project.
Response: If your prospect truly needs an army of boots around the globe, decline the project. Know what projects are not a good match for your firm. And don’t pretend that a loose affiliation of international colleagues works as well as a truly international firm. It doesn’t.
Limited Capacity and Footprint (Part 2)
Even on smaller projects, your prospects worry that your consulting firm’s capacity may be insufficient. Can you really take on their project? What if you land another client too?
Response: Reassure your clients by knocking their socks off with responsiveness and by never missing a deadline. Ever.
Weak Processes/Lack of Training
Big firms devote oodles of resources into their processes and training. Compared to that level of investment, your consulting firm can look Mickey Mouse.
Response: Ensure your consulting firm’s approaches are robust and as solid as a granite birthday cake.* It takes work, but you didn’t get into this business to goof off, right?
Read widely, stay open to other consulting firm’s approaches, and constantly improve at your craft.
Additional Response: Reframe; i.e., substitute an exciting, new perspective for your prospect’s traditional approach. Of course, to reframe effectively, you must master innovative models and solutions.
Difficult to Manage
The same personality traits that inspired you to lead a consulting firm can make you appear more challenging to partner with than traditional employees of a larger firm.
Response: Make your consulting firm easy to do business with. Every part of your client experience, from pursuit through post-project follow up can underscore how delightful it is to work with your consulting firm.
One-stop shopping is easier and less stressful than tapping multiple providers. That’s true for computer software, for Argentinian pancake ingredients, and for consulting firms too.
Hence, prospective clients prefer one, big consulting firm that can (sorta) do everything and respond easily to shifts in scope.
Response: Push back on your prospect’s inclination to prioritize “easy” over “best.” Generalist consulting firms are not great at everything and they’re biased toward their own capabilities. Also, if a project calls for skills outside your core, consider subcontracting to fill the gap.
What other responses have you used to assuage prospects’ concerns about your consulting firm being too small?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.