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Why a Prospect’s Stall Tactics Could Be Good for Your Consulting Firm

When a prospective client responds “Now’s not the right time” to your proposal, you could feel dejected. Don’t. Delayed consulting projects can be a blessing.

Benefits of Delayed Projects

  • You have time to plan your resources. This is particularly important if you’re already stretching your capacity to deliver quality that delights your clients.
  • You have time to cogitate about solutions. Like sleeping on a problem and waking up with the answer, a bit of downtime on a project often rewards you with a more valuable result for your client or a more elegant, efficient path through the project.
  • You’ve seeded your future revenue. Every project you put in place for later, reduces your future anxiety. This may be the biggest benefit to delayed projects. You’re giving your future self a gift of revenue, and what nicer gift is there than that?

Of course, not every delay delivers on those benefits. Sometimes, “Not right now” is tantamount to “Never.”

Determine your response to a proposed delay by posing a very important query:

How will you know when it’s the right time to do this project? What’s the trigger for us to move forward?

When you dig into your prospective consulting client’s desire to delay a project, his response likely falls into one of the following buckets:

1. Not a Priority – Most excuses and all AWOL prospects indicate a lack of urgency. This is the most common cause of delays and unsigned projects.

Assumption #1: You were diligent during your discovery process (a.k.a. the Context Discussion), and you uncovered the prospect’s compelling, emotional reason for hiring you.

Assumption #2: You attempted to ignite your prospect’s urgency by pointing out the consequences of delay.

2. Soft Obstacle – Prospects sometimes insert conditions that seem reasonable, but aren’t truly necessary. New personnel is a common example; e.g., “We want to wait for the new VP of Gravity to start, and let him weigh in on your project.”

3. Hard Obstacle – Sometimes clients are facing an obstacle that literally prevents them from moving forward. For instance, your project can’t start until a pending law goes into effect, or until a certain IT system is installed.

Did you notice that none of those three buckets actually answers the questions?
You didn’t ask, “Why are you delaying?” You inquired, “What’s the trigger to move forward?”

Push for the signal that you can start your project. The trigger (or lack of one) will tell you how happy you can be about the delayed project.


No Trigger/Fuzzy Trigger

If your prospect can’t give you a definitive indication of how he’ll know to when to start your project, then mark it down as a lost project and move on.
Excuses that amount to a lack of priority tend to lead to fuzzy triggers. Let go, turn your attention elsewhere, and feel good that you won’t waste any more time on a prospect who’s not serious about jumping into action.

Condition-Specific Trigger

If your prospect identifies a specific condition that must be in place in order to move forward with your consulting project, then it’s not always clear what to do. This is the toughest situation.
A specific condition based on a Soft Obstacle (e.g., the VP of Gravity starting) is often bad news for your consulting project. In these cases, set a reasonable date in the future to check the status of the condition. (Did the VP start? Is he ponderous?) Don’t count on these projects, and don’t feel badly about them either. Occasionally one will blossom into future revenue.
A specific condition based on a Hard Obstacle (e.g., an IT system in place) is fairly good news for your consulting project. Again, set a reasonable date in the future to check into the status of the condition. In these cases, though, you can feel reasonably positive about delivering revenue to your future self.

Date-Specific Trigger

If your prospect has a Hard Obstacle and can name the specific date the obstacle disappears, you’re sitting pretty. For instance, “The IT system will be running on October 3or “The regulation goes into effect on January 1.”
Projects delayed with a date-specific trigger are highly likely to close, assuming you’ve overcome all other obstacles. Try to lock the project in by signing a contract, setting up a kickoff date, and getting the client into action on the project already. Then give yourself a pat on the back for helping your future self.

Are there other benefits to a prospect stalling on your proposal?

  1. Doug Reed
    July 25, 2018 at 7:56 am Reply

    I know this response well. Most sales training courses also cover this. It is potentially a Slow Loss which is painful and expensive. You need to act fast and make it a Fast Loss. My experience is that a response like this drops the chances of the prospect becoming the client drops to under 10%. It is best not to linger or push. The client revealed that your services are not urgent. If you thought you had screened them to determine this, you might review what you did and revise your approach for the next prospect. Many executives make it seem like they want to move forward but the reality is they are weighing priorities of many business activities. When you present them with an agreement and they balk, what you did was help them to finally make a choice. And that choice was not to hire you. Move on and learn.

    • David A. Fields
      July 25, 2018 at 9:24 am Reply

      You’ve raised a number of important points, Doug. “Getting to No quickly” is an important principle for anyone responsible for bringing in new consulting revenue. If a prospect is going to say “No” then find that out early–preferably during the Context Discussion.
      You’ve also hinted at the idea of borrowed passion, which is when a prospect professes a strong desire, but that desire dissipates when you leave the room.
      As to whether your chances of closing drop to below 10% if a prospect says, “Not now,” that’s a belief taught in many sales courses and it’s not correct. The whole point of asking “What’s the trigger for moving forward?” is to understand whether your odds are low (in which case you walk away) or whether your odds are, in fact, quite high, in which case you sustain the flame.
      Excellent insights, Doug, and I’m glad you shared them.

  2. Gary
    July 25, 2018 at 11:21 am Reply

    No doesn’t mean no, it just means not right now. Circumstances change constantly. Stay in touch with the prospect.

    • David A. Fields
      July 25, 2018 at 11:46 am Reply

      Staying in touch always makes sense. You’re absolutely right about that, Gary!

  3. Debbie
    July 25, 2018 at 1:00 pm Reply

    Another benefit…you learned a bit about their decision making process and you have the opportunity to build a question about the decision making process into your earlier conversations.

    • David A. Fields
      July 25, 2018 at 1:26 pm Reply

      That’s a really good perspective, Debbie. Every “No” or “Not yet” definitely teaches you something if you’re open to learning. Very nice!

  4. Kyle Gillette
    July 25, 2018 at 6:14 pm Reply

    Fail #1: You weren’t diligent during your discovery process (a.k.a. the Context Discussion), and you didn’t uncover the prospect’s compelling, emotional reason for hiring you. (arrg!)
    Thanks for adding this Assumption in. It reminded me of the importance of the Context Discussion. If I’m honest, I’m only half-way doing these. Not purposefully working through the questions.

    • David A. Fields
      July 25, 2018 at 7:33 pm Reply

      The Context Discussion is the key to closing more business. To be fair to you, Kyle, it takes some practice. Keep working at it and it will serve you well.

  5. Neil
    July 27, 2018 at 9:11 am Reply

    These two questions and the excellent comments on the article would make great additions to your script bank.

    • David A. Fields
      July 31, 2018 at 1:40 pm Reply

      You’re right, Neil. Great idea!

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