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Why Opportunities Evaporate, and How Savvy Consultants Prevent It

About eight weeks ago, a seasoned consultant named Darren sent me an exultant email. (My favorite kind, by the way.) He crowed about the project he had just closed: a $235,000 initiative that would commence in roughly six months. This was the biggest single sale of Darren’s 20 year career as a consultant and equaled the whole of last year’s earnings. Understandably, he treated his wife to a sumptuous dinner and popped the cork on a bottle of Dom Pérignon.


Fast forward a few weeks and you can watch Darren’s tears splashing against an empty champagne flute. After initially agreeing to the project, the client whittled the scope down to a $50,000 effort. Then, days later, the client questioned whether Darren’s initiative would duplicate the efforts of a new VP of Marketing. The rest of the project evaporated.


Could Darren have prevented his big sale from falling through? Could you?

Darren, like most consultants, thought that the route to higher sales was persuading more prospects to say, “Yes.” As in, “Yes, I’ll sign up for that massive transformation effort” or “Yes, reorganize our sales force” or “Yes, I’ll pay gobs of money for every pearl of wisdom that drops from your lips.”

The route to high revenue is not just about getting more Yeses. It’s also about quickly discerning whether a prospect will say “No.” As in, “No, my new VP of Marketing can do that” or “No, I’m fickle and change my mind a lot” or “No, I don’t want those wet pearls.”**

If you’re like most consultants, you hate hearing “No.” And unless you have learned to transmute lead into gold** or you deliver an unlimited supply of chocolate**, you probably hear a lot more Nos than Yeses. Thank your lucky stars.

A prospect who doesn’t want your services and brushes you off quickly has saved you a bundle of time and a bushel of heartache. The prospects who lead you along, not wanting to hurt your feelings, are the ones that leave you with a business hangover.

client-says-noRather than driving relentlessly to Yes, the most successful consultants rapidly surface any hidden No. Below are three times you should dig for a No:

  • When you first present your Fishing Line or Value Proposition. When Vinny the VP replies, “That’s interesting” to your offering, he means you’re as intriguing as his 3rd-grader’s diorama and Summer reruns of Bonanza. Push harder. Is Vinny truly interested or is he just being polite?
  • When you are scoping your engagement. Even though the dollar-signs are spinning in your eyes, take the time to ask your prospect two questions: 1) Is there anything about this engagement that concerns you? and, 2) Is there anything that could prevent you from moving forward? I know you’re afraid they’ll come up with some excuse to squash your project. Trust me, the best projects are as unstoppable as hot weather in Houston.
  • Immediately after your prospect says Yes to your proposal. This is the scariest moment of all. Too many consultants view every new project as a gift from heaven. They’ve bought into the adage that you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Here’s a new adage that’s better: Make sure your sale is rock solid.

Searching for No will never cost you a sale – if the prospect says No when you push, she would have said it anyway at some point down the line. The difference is that when you force the issue, you’re prepared for it and it’s on your timing, not hers.

By surfacing the objections early on, you can walk away before you waste your time, or you can address the concerns and, possibly, earn that champagne toast after all.

When else have you found it valuable to search for a No as assiduously as you pursue a Yes?

  1. Tom Borg
    April 15, 2015 at 9:33 am Reply

    These are powerful points that when followed, can keep a good consultant in business and profitable.

    • David A. Fields
      April 17, 2015 at 3:09 pm Reply

      Darn straight, Tom! These are definitely among the practices that keep a talented consultant chugging along with a steady stream of clients. Thanks for posting.

  2. Jamie Broughton
    April 15, 2015 at 10:16 am Reply

    Excellent points, David.

    • David A. Fields
      April 17, 2015 at 3:00 pm Reply

      Thanks, Jamie. I appreciate you reading and giving feedback.

  3. Tom Kubilius
    April 15, 2015 at 10:47 am Reply

    The other thing fishing for the ‘no’ can do is solidify a yes.

    By asking them if they are sure, or if they have concerns, a prospect will sometime defend their reasons for the project–solidifying their support for it in their mind.

  4. Janet Vinci
    April 15, 2015 at 11:19 am Reply

    Good post. I also find you do need to bring up pricing quickly. Many prospects will say they are interested, but if they say that without the scope of what the program will really cost. Their interest is not really a Yes.

    • David A. Fields
      April 17, 2015 at 3:07 pm Reply

      Fees can definitely be a interest evaporator, so that’s an interesting point, Janet. We definitely need to qualify prospects and often that involves a discussion about fees. Some clients are quite indifferent to fees and totally focused on value; though, alas, not as many as any of us would hope!

  5. Wm. David Levesque
    April 20, 2015 at 10:39 am Reply

    Great post!

    I agree with the three “moments of truth” mentioned in the post – but I also wonder if checking the sustainability of the value of the project also makes sense as the project progresses. Several reasons come to mind…

    If adverse business conditions develop during the project, there may be growing thoughts to scale back the project. Long after the merits for the project have faded a bit – the need to scale back costs could become front of mind. Recognizing this, we have an opportunity to refresh the merits before a decision has been made. The benefits of saving money may be well-outweighed by the advantages the project delivers – – but who will tell the tale if you don’t see this coming until after the decision is made?

    Seeing the inevitable and offering scale-able proposals is another way of building trust as an advisor vs. keeping the original “sale” intact as a salesman. Which is your brand?

    Finally, an adverse event or sudden opportunity for the business may lead the client to believe your project should be scaled back in order to meet the new challenge. What they may not be aware of is the potential for you to increase your value add by assisting them with the new challenge. You typically can’t have this discussion once a decision has been made.

    This point may be implied within the original post, but I believe maintaining vigilance regarding the value of the project throughout the life of the project is another key. After all, it is not simply the value of the project that is considered, but the opportunity cost it represents that weigh into any decision. The challenge may be how to stay connected to the continued incremental value in a constructive and positive way. But that sounds like a different post…

    • David A. Fields
      April 22, 2015 at 12:16 am Reply

      David, while this blog post was specifically about the selling phase, you’re definitely right: the value of a project’s outcome can wax or wane while we’re deep in the delivery phase. As you point out, these shifts provide an opportunity for a clever consultant to enhance his position as a trusted adviser. Thanks for contributing this excellent addition to the discussion.

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