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What Your Consulting Firm’s Clients Really Want

You’re a problem solver, synthesizer, connect-the-dotter. Yep, you’re a cerebral, smarty-pants consultant, and you use your mega-intellect to set your clients on the path to success.

Sure, your geeky clients toss around scientific terms like petabyte, zetabyte and yottabyte while you fall back on gibberish like edutainment, hyperlocal and gamification, But you know how to gamify a yottabyte. (Or, at least you can say you do and punctuate your command of the topic with a two-by-two matrix.)

Your consulting firm’s talent is mostly above the neck. Big heads stuffed with intellectual property, intellectual capital and intellectual know-how. And there’s the problem.

You’re expecting your prospective consulting clients to see the obvious advantages you proffer because you’ve tapped your consulting firm’s brain power to propose great ideas, But the folks you’re talking to are listening with their viscera. They’re focused below the neck, so they don’t even hear you.

Your consulting firm offers tremendous value, yet you’re probably not closing as much consulting business as you could because you more focused on the hard benefits for your client’s company than on the soft benefits for the individual person on the other side of the desk.

Hard benefits speak to your clients’ Needs. Soft benefits speak to their Wants. When it comes to closing projects, Want is where the action is.

How do you address Want? First, as much as you may hate to hear this, your consulting firm will achieve faster, more consistent results by focusing on pain than by focusing on gain. Pain is a much more powerful motivator than gain. Gain is great, but it’s often discretionary.

Either way, to understand your consulting prospect’s Wants requires personal knowledge. Knowledge you gather when you have a relationship with your prospect, and are devoid of if you’re just trying to sell to him.

When you have a strong relationship with a consulting prospect, you learn about him on the emotional level. What’s injecting happiness into his life and what’s sapping away vitality like a joy-sucking super-mosquito.

With that emotional knowledge in hand you can offer affective information. For instance, comparisons to benchmarks or competition (comparisons are inherently emotional), or the personal consequences of not taking the action you recommend.

Note: Never use your personal insight to manipulate or take advantage of another person. Your knowledge of their emotional drivers is a fragile gift that you should safeguard jealously.

The bottom line is this: reexamine your discovery process (your Context Discussions), your proposals, your marketing collateral and your negotiation discussions. Are you stressing intellectual arguments or emotional wins? How could you dial up the Want in your communication?

I’m curious about your experience. Was it emotion or was it logic that has driven your biggest consulting sales?

  1. David A. Fields
    June 5, 2019 at 4:03 am Reply

    Perched on the edge of an ancient volcano in the middle of the Atlantic, it’s a bit easier to stay in touch with the more visceral side of life.

  2. Terry Pappy
    June 5, 2019 at 7:47 am Reply

    Preach, David – I agree. This is why “emotional intelligence” and “empathy” are critical components of engagements in any business, but particularly consulting. My biggest challenge is even when you address the wants, fulfill the needs and succeed at delivering great service, the client often doesn’t hold up their end of implementation. There’s only so much we, as consultants, can do. Like pushing a noodle. I’d love for you to speak/write about how to inspire better implementation on the client side so they “hold up their end of the work” so the ultimate (and possibly even greater) success is achieved.

    • debbie
      June 5, 2019 at 12:34 pm Reply

      Is there a way to build implementation into your client agreement as an option that you assist them with?

    • David A. Fields
      July 3, 2019 at 10:27 am Reply

      You’re right, Terry. We can only do so much as outsiders and our clients’ success ultimately depends on them.

      Good suggestion on the topic. I’ll post an article on how to engage clients in their own projects. I’m glad you asked!

  3. sudhakar
    June 5, 2019 at 8:03 am Reply

    Thanks David, for sharing this article. Very valuable.

    Most often your clients are not a stand alone individual (except if s/he is CEO) and there are other influencers, and other consultants working with influencers. It gets tricky to focus on personal “wants” on a project that is interconnected with other multiple projects. Any thoughts on such situations?

    • David A. Fields
      July 3, 2019 at 1:27 pm Reply

      In most cases, there is a single decision maker who is your primary client. There may be other people involved–and their wants can be considered too. In fact, to the extent you can help multiple people at your client achieve their personal aims, you’re going to be building deeper relationships at the client.

      That said, ideally, there’s no conflict between the personal needs of your client and the requirements of the project. If there is a conflict (and it does happen), then your obligation is typically to the company, not the individual. In those cases you serve the interests of the company while being compassionate and supportive of the person.

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