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.
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.
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 3” or “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?
Text and images are © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.