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The Source of Consulting Projects, in Order from Easiest to Most Difficult to Win

Projects could flow into your consulting firm from a slew of different directions: from current clients requesting follow-on engagements to out-of-the-blue inquiries generated by your dazzling, on-stage presence.

Closing each of these opportunities requires different levels of effort, types of activities and kilograms of chocolate-covered almonds.

Let’s take a look at the most common sources of consulting projects, sorted by difficulty to seal the deal, and explore the actions you can take to prompt more opportunities from each source.  

Follow-On from Current Consulting Project

Requirements to win: An obvious next step that requires your consulting firm’s help.

Difficulty level: One handful of almonds.

Action steps: Foreshadow next steps in your conversations and proposals.

Entirely New Decision Maker That Contacts Your Firm Due to Referral From Current/Past Consulting Client

Because this is an “inbound” opportunity, Want and Need are already established.

Requirements to win: A conversation with the prospect to establish a personal connection; examples that demonstrate your many successes; an understanding of the consulting project’s value to the prospect.

Difficulty level: One handful of almonds.

Action steps: At the end of each consulting project, provide your clients with a concise, concrete summary of the value you’ve provided. In other words, make it easy for them to refer you.

Entirely New Decision Maker That Contacts Your Consulting Firm Due to Your Visibility-Building, Thought Leadership Efforts

Requirements to win: A conversation to establish a personal connection and to solidify Trust; examples that demonstrate your many successes; an understanding of the consulting project’s value to the prospect.

Difficulty level: Two handfuls of almonds.

Action steps: Note: this is fairly easy business to win once you have the visibility. However, that visibility can take a long time to create. To create these easy wins, you must consistently, persistently engage in at least two of the Five Marketing Musts explained in this book.

New Issue with Current Decision Maker

Requirements to win: Connection of the decision maker’s other priorities—particularly those not meeting expectations—to your consulting firm’s capabilities.

Difficulty level: Four handfuls of almonds.

Action steps: Engage in ongoing dialog with your client that transcends the consulting project at hand.

New Decision Maker at Current Client Company

Requirements to win: Introduction to other, internal decision makers; conversations that reveal unresolved problems and unmet aspirations.

Difficulty level: Six handfuls of almonds.

Action steps: Build introductions into your consulting projects (a.k.a. internal fieldwork); request introductions.

Relationships You’ve Nurtured Over Time

Requirements to win: Conversations that reveal prospects’ current priorities and unmet expectations; use of The Turn to start pursuing the opportunity as a consulting project.

Difficulty level: Eight handfuls of almonds.

Action steps: Consistently, persistently, patiently nurture relationships and engage in conversation.

New Decision Makers Contacted by Your Consulting Firm

Requirements to win: A tight, compelling offering that addresses a hot-button issue.

Difficulty level: A drum full of almonds.

Action steps: Pursue every other type of business development first. If you’re going to reach out to cold prospects, ensure the issue you address is urgent, pervasive and expensive to leave unsolved.

A couple of themes may have jumped out at you:

First, the ease of closing new business for your consulting firm is driven by the prospect’s level of Want and Trust.

Second, outside of current consulting clients, the sources of new business that you can drive most actively are some of the hardest to close. That’s one reason why consulting is a simple business, but not an easy one.

What source of projects are you most focused on?


  1. David A. Fields
    September 5, 2018 at 2:16 am Reply

    Chocolate emergency on the way to Lake Como… whew, the Lindt store at the Zurich airport works in a pinch!
    Lindt Store in Zurich

  2. ramz raub
    September 5, 2018 at 6:41 am Reply

    Dear David,

    That is a great article !!

    Your graphics using the Roman pillars colored wholly or partially as the proxy scale is amazingly intuitive !! I strongly agree with you that we need to find 1 or 2 good hot buttons to get the customer to part with his hard earned money. Drilling the customer to dig up his hot buttons would definitely require long soul searching conversations… i think

    That is all for now from me.

    • David A. Fields
      October 10, 2018 at 10:49 am Reply

      Ramz, your right that finding a prospect’s hot buttons is the key. And central to that is a single, critical skill: listening.

      As consultants, we’re hardwired to jump in and solve problems. To uncover Wants and Needs, and to fill all Six Pillars of Consulting Success, regardless of the source of the opportunity, we have to resist our urge to jump in quickly.

  3. Alain Jordà
    September 5, 2018 at 9:57 am Reply

    Really great article! Very simple, very clear and a premium guide to show you where to put your efforts and what to do to place you in one of the three first situations. Thanks a lot from Spain, David!

    • David A. Fields
      October 10, 2018 at 10:52 am Reply

      We all have limited time, and focusing our energy in the right place is how we grow. Thanks for highlighting that point, Alain.

      I was in Valencia a couple of weeks before I vacationed in Italy. Spain is absolutely one of my favorite places to visit.

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