Sometimes the behavior of prospective clients is inexplicable. Like shelving a suggestion that would solve their burning problem, or promoting an incompetent person, or rooting for a hockey team from a city that has no natural ice. Or, perhaps, considering consultants other than us for their project.
Three times in recent months I’ve thought I was the only consultant involved only to find out “my” project had been put out to bid or my prospect was discussing their issue with multiple firms. Four times if you count a proposal I’m helping another consultant pull together for a potentially huge, state-funded project. So, what do you do when a prospect lets you know other consultants are in the mix? What don’t you do?
Fixating on—or even contemplating competition won’t get you anywhere. Your competition isn’t important. But I’ve got news for you: you’re not so important either.** Your prospects are important. Devote your energy to understanding their needs and wants. Build stronger, trusting relationships by focusing on them.
In a recent “bake-off” the other consultant requested extra meetings to demonstrate his approach in more depth; I asked for extra meetings to interview each stakeholder in more depth. I got the gig.
As soon as consultants hear there’s competition they start asking, “How can I differentiate myself from other consultants?” That’s a natural, understandable response. It’s also the wrong one. Clients don’t want a different consultant, they want an excellent, reliable solution.
You practically sweat excellence and reliability from every pore when you’re supremely responsive and you give clear, direct answers to their questions. Rather than taking extra time to come up with an answer you hope is impressive, be first in the door with an answer you know meets their needs.
When prospects ask me how I’m different from other consultants I respond, “Frankly, I’m not focused on whether or not I’m different from other firms, I’m focused on how to help you achieve your goal.” It’s hard to beat that.
When you reframe your prospect’s thinking, there’s a darn good chance you become the obvious solution. The reason you reframe, though, has nothing to do with competition. Altering their perspective demonstrates deep knowledge of the prospect’s situation and creates a more valuable outcome (and project). Knocking other consultants out of the race is a delightful, side benefit.
A prospect who wanted consultative sales training already had someone else picked out by the time he made a “courtesy call” to me. After some insightful questioning I helped him see why sales training wouldn’t work. He needed a larger, broader effort. Two weeks later he signed on.
But here’s an important adjunct to reframing: don’t be overly attached to your view of the world. Odd as it may seem, your prospect may not agree with you. Or, egads, another consultant’s perspective may be better than yours. No big deal. Show some flexibility in your thinking and remain equanimous no matter the outcome. You won’t win every deal, and that’s okay.
Those are just a few suggestions. What else works or doesn’t work when you’re faced with competition for a project? Share your thoughts below.
A related article that may interest you is: 7 Reasons Clients Choose My Firm
Text and images are © 2019 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.