Is there a best way to respond to a prospect when they tell you they won’t be awarding your consulting firm a project?
Of course there is.
Losing a project is frustrating. For instance, let’s say your consulting firm was contacted by the tech-focused, private equity group, E-Ratiq to potentially assist with one of their investments.
Since the PE group reached out to your consulting firm, looking for help, you assumed the project was a shoo-in. You are uniquely qualified to address the challenges faced by their portfolio company, Insular Thinking.
After numerous discovery conversations and a fair amount of research and thinking on your end, your consulting firm submits a proposal. You then patiently work your way through three rounds of challenging negotiations, led on Insular’s side by their CEO, Hugh Nowhin.
Three months and three proposal revisions later, you receive a two-line email from Hugh: “Thank you for your interest in working with Insular Thinking. We’ve decided not to move forward with your consulting firm.”
It’s easy to become defensive, dejected or resigned when your consulting firm loses a project—particularly one you were banking on.
Some consulting firms try to fight for the project. (Maybe you could convince Hugh that his decision was ill-advised.) Unfortunately, that strategy rarely works and puts your relationship with the decision-maker at risk.
At the other end of the spectrum, some consulting firms walk away and never look back. (“To heck with Insular. We’ll never speak with Hugh again.”) Cutting off relationships is also not a winning strategy for your consulting firm.
My team and I discussed the best responses to losing a project and agreed on about eight or nine approaches that we’ve noted are consistently effective in building a consulting firm’s business (over time).
A few of those are listed below, and there’s a giant space for you to add in your ideas. Note that the responses aren’t mutually exclusive. You can (and probably should) incorporate all of them into your firm’s best practices.
Top 5 Responses When Your Consulting Firm Loses a Project
Congratulate and Connect
It always pays to congratulate your consulting prospect on their decision, even if you don’t agree with the path they’ve chosen. At the very least, you can acknowledge your loss graciously.
Then, you immediately lock in a time to reconnect with Hugh a few weeks or months down the road—at a time when he’ll have early indications of whether he’s achieving the results he wants without your consulting firm.
During your follow-up you’ll either learn something from Hugh’s success or have a chance to step back in and apply your superior ideas to Insular Thinking.
Although your consulting firm didn’t win the gold medal–the project you were shooting for, Hugh may be able to award you a silver medal.
Are all of Insular’s desired outcomes and objectives addressed when they move forward without your consulting firm? If not, perhaps there’s room for a small project that will get you in the door with Insular and highlight your prowess to the investors at E-Ratiq.
Every time your consulting firm loses a substantial project, you should ask your prospect three questions:
- What were the criteria for deciding how you would move forward on this project?
- How did our consulting firm stack up against those criteria?
- Is there anything we could have done, or could do differently next time, that would allow us to win the project?
Request an Introduction
Usually your prospect harbors some level of guilt for turning you down, particularly if your consulting firm worked diligently over many weeks or months to win the project.
Help Hugh assuage his bad feelings by offering him the opportunity to provide a different, valuable service to your consulting firm: introductions. For instance, perhaps Hugh knows the leaders of other tech firms.
Introductions fuel your Network Core and lead to long-term business.
How else do you respond when your consulting firm loses a project? Add your suggestions below.
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.