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Your Right to Win Consulting Projects

As you target future prospects and projects for your consulting firm, ask that good-looking consultant in the mirror: “Where do you have the right to win?”

Billy, the standout voice in my college gospel choir, pined to play The Witch in Steven Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods. Sondheim listened to Billy’s audition but, ultimately declined to offer Billy the part. Perhaps because the cast of characters specifies the Witch is a mezzo-soprano female and Billy is a male.

In Sondheim’s mind, Billy didn’t meet a requirement of the role and, fair or unfair, was not a viable contender for the part.

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Many small consulting practices are Billys, expending precious energy auditioning for projects they have no hope of winning. Yes, there’s definitely a case to be made for acting boldly and confidently seeking projects that will stretch your firm.

However, it’s easier to maintain high morale and subsidize expansion efforts when you’re consistently closing new, lucrative initiatives. And that means understanding what my friend and colleague Richard refers to as your “right to win.”

If you’re diligently thinking Right-Side Up, you’ve already focused your practice on pervasive, urgent, expensive client problems (see the Problemeter exercise and Fishing Where the Fish Are, here).

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Now you need to be perceived as a viable option. The four questions below will help you identify where you have a right to win:

Four Right-to-Win Questions

1. Where do we bring more experience with the situation or desired outcome than any other alternative our prospects typically consider?

2. Where have we delivered demonstrable results; ideally, deliverable as a short, hard-hitting case study?

3. Where are we well known or perceived as a thought leader?

4. Where do we have effective, easily demonstrated tools, processes and/or approaches?


Your charge is to simultaneously focus on prospects where you have a right to win now, and enhance your right to win in the future.

Can you evolve your right to win? Sure. Since my choir-mate Billy went on to win a Tony award for best actor in a musical, I’m guessing Sondheim would let Billy play whatever part he wanted.

With hard work, talent and a few good breaks you can earn a right to win any business. For the moment, though, focus on where you can win right now.

I’m curious: tell me where you have a right to win.


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20 Comments
  1. Simon James
    September 6, 2017 at 6:54 am Reply

    Hi David.

    How do you establish at what level you have a right to win, if you are just starting out?

    Also, if you’re offering a monthly service (in my case PPC management & Google Analytics reporting) with a one month notice period, is it likely to be easier to win at a higher level, because you’re not asking the client to invest part (or the whole) of a significant lump sum up front?

    Kind regards
    Simon

    • David A. Fields
      September 6, 2017 at 7:37 am Reply

      The same four questions establish your right to win, whether you’re in your first month or fourth decade in consulting. A well-known, highly regarded person (e.g., CEO, military figure, TV personality, etc.) can step into consulting and instantly win high-dollar business. An unknown generalist who’s never built a reputation, a portfolio of results or a toolbox of easily-demonstrated approaches can struggle after twenty years.

      The monthly stipend fee structure doesn’t increase your right to win, it reduces purchase risk. Will that help you win more business? Definitely, if your target is risk averse and if the biggest risk is the fee, not the time lost, opportunity cost or potential damage done if you don’t work out. Great question, Simon!

      • Simon James
        September 13, 2017 at 6:28 am Reply

        Thanks David.

        I don’t think my target market (probably VC backed start ups) is particularly risk averse, and the monthly fee will likely only be around the $1K mark. So I guess there’s no point in emphasising monthly fee as a benefit in my copy.
        Better to talk about things like time savings, professional setup, leads generated, and insightful analysis.

        • David A. Fields
          September 13, 2017 at 7:01 am

          Simon, I don’t know the details of your business or your offering; however, I can tell you that your fees are far too low no matter what you’re doing. Professional setup is unlikely to be seen as a benefit, and insightful analysis is a throwaway. Time saved and leads generated are much stronger benefits.

        • Simon James
          October 4, 2017 at 7:59 am

          Hi David. My business will be reporting/data visualisation and deep-dive analysis of Google Analytics. I also run AdWords campaigns.
          I’m a bit unclear about fees for these services, but I see the main competition being the prospect’s own internal resources. There certainly seems to be a trend towards bringing these things in house (although I doubt they have anywhere near the campaign optimisation or analytical skills that I have).

        • David A. Fields
          October 4, 2017 at 8:24 am

          The main competition is always inertia and the second most common competition is internal staff. You’re right on the mark there. Your skills matter if they provide meaningfully different results. Jump in and talk with prospects and you’ll soon find out whether you have a right to win or not, Simon.

  2. Anatoli Naoumov
    September 6, 2017 at 8:55 am Reply

    My right to win area is proving results of energy projects implemented by our clients in terms vital to business and easy to understand by non-engineers, aka C-level.

    • David A. Fields
      September 6, 2017 at 9:01 am Reply

      Anatoli, based on your articulation of the benefit you provide, it sounds like you have a right to win projects in the energy sector that require particularly strong, end-of-project communication to stakeholders. Is that right?

      • Anatoli Naoumov
        September 8, 2017 at 6:25 pm Reply

        Our projects deliver value via energy management. Clear report in business terms is the KEY to success.

        • David A. Fields
          September 11, 2017 at 9:01 am

          Outstanding, Anatoli. That describes what the benefit is well. It may still help for you to isolate where you have the right to win projects. Where you’re well known, for instance.

  3. Frank Della Rosa
    September 6, 2017 at 9:16 am Reply

    Hi David, I provide research and insight strategy consulting services to B2B clients struggling to make their marketing and sales activities more aligned with, and relevant to buyers. I provide this service to clients as a subcontractor working on behalf of other consultancies. My challenge is the second of your four questions. I cannot reference my clients success as my own. While I can speak to my results on behalf of the consultancies I contract for, it limits the audience I’d like to target. I welcome your comments and suggestions. Warm regards, Frank

    • David A. Fields
      September 6, 2017 at 9:37 am Reply

      Frank, you can reference clients without saying their names. I rarely refer to specific clients by name because it would violate confidences or, in some cases, a non-disclosure agreement. However, I can point to a “CPG strategy firm in Toronto” or a “chemical company in Rochester” or “one of the world’s biggest media companies.”

      Remember that in addition to providing credibility and social proof, the idea behind testimonials and case studies is for prospects to project themselves into the shoes of the client in the case study and think, “That could be me–I could have those results if I hire this consulting firm.” Yes, using client’s names can be powerful (if your clients are well known); however, you can create substantial impact by describing your past clients with specific enough detail that your prospects can picture them, even if the name is absent.

      Thanks for the outstanding question, Frank.

  4. Rebecca Hagen
    September 6, 2017 at 11:20 am Reply

    Hi David – My husband and I are launching a consulting practice where we provide a service that our research shows no one else is providing. We strategize with ambitious undergraduates to excel in college and in life. (Our “fishing line.” Yes, probably needs work!) We both have advanced educational credentials, have been professors on the undergrad and professional school levels, have had success helping students compete for prestigious scholarships (such as the Rhodes) and other highly competitive positions such as internships, research opportunities – etc.

    Ideally we would start working with freshmen no later than the second semester, identifying opportunities that will enhance the student’s chance of winning future opportunities. We are seeking motivated, high-potential students with parents who are affluent enough to pay for our highly customized services. Our challenge is that we are in that difficult situation of having to find people who will buy what we want to sell. The students we are looking for are already doing well in school and won’t realize that they could have done so much more until it’s too late to build the four-year record of accomplishments and activities they will need to get the best opportunities when they graduate. We are currently working with a first semester junior who wants to attend a particular medical school after college and it’s such an uphill battle when there are gaps in the application that she will be able to put in next spring that she just won’t have the time to fill.

    Would love your thoughts. Of the big stack of books we have been reading to get this venture started, yours has been the most eye-opening and helpful!

    Best, Rebecca

    • David A. Fields
      September 6, 2017 at 11:45 am Reply

      Congratulations Rebecca (and hubby) on the launch of your consultancy! Thanks, also, for your kind feedback on the book. Yours is an interesting case study and, alas, you’re probably not going to like what I have to say. Apologies in advance.

      You’re offering a service no one else is providing. That’s a big red flag. As I said to a consultant who called me yesterday, being on the bleeding edge is a surefire way to live a painful, bloody existence. Most successful entrepreneurs comfortably cruise down existing highways; they let others hack through virgin jungles, catch malaria and get eaten alive.

      You’re chasing prospects who don’t perceive a need for your services and have no urgency. That’s another red flag. The green flags are over yonder, where prospects are aware of their problem and want to solve it urgently.

      Your decision maker (probably a parent) is an individual one step removed from the person with the problem (the student), with a relatively small purse and already under financial stress. That target may be okay for an automated product, but it has serious limitations in terms of consulting revenue.

      Net, you’re holding more red flags than a matador. Why? Because the starting point for the business isn’t market-driven. Is a business possible? Perhaps, but it depends on much more Right-Side Up thinking. What does your target market see as their urgent, expensive problems?

      The good news is you’re at the very start of building your consulting practice and you can redirect it into more fruitful territory pretty easily. You obviously have terrific experience and insights, and the only question is where to apply those strengths.

      I appreciate you being willing to share your story, Rebecca and, again, apologize if the feedback was counter to what you were hoping for.

  5. Mike Dalton
    September 6, 2017 at 12:08 pm Reply

    Hi David – Nice reminder on focusing your sales efforts not only where the fish are, but where you have the bait to attract them, the equipment to land them, and even a sufficient kitchen – although that may be stretching the metaphor ;-).

    To your question about where we have the right to succeed, I view ours as:

    With large manufacturers who have realized that throwing money and people at new product delays is not the answer.
    ie Companies where innovation productivity is an issue

    • David A. Fields
      September 6, 2017 at 12:37 pm Reply

      Like chocolate, metaphors can rarely be used too broadly or stretched too far. They both create happiness even when applied with abandon in unexpected situations. At the “stop metaphor abuse” rallies, I’m always on the other side with the counter-protestors.

      Your right to win is “companies” where innovation productivity is an issue. Love that. Can you narrow the target? Do you really have the right to win everywhere?

      • Mike Dalton
        September 6, 2017 at 1:45 pm Reply

        Hmmmmm…As I think about your question you can see how “right to win” and target market should fit hand in glove.

        I see “Industrial /B2B manufacturers as our target market but still have the right to win in a few areas of consumer markets. Was also thinking “large manufacturers” and “new product delays” narrowed it down because it describes companies that provide a physical product – ie not service providers like financial or insurance companies. Innovation is important to them and our tools would certainly help them tremendously but those aren’t markets where we have the presence, experience, and credibility.to win.

        Another big narrowing factor is frustration level with delays. If delays with new products aren’t giving them a migraine headache (internally or in the market) then we’re going to win less often.

        We’ve occasionally won software only clients, but win far more often when clients are experiencing delays and dealing with the complexity of integrating some combination of mechanical, electronic, and software into their new products makes them ripe for delays.

        • David A. Fields
          September 6, 2017 at 2:13 pm

          Great insight, Mike. Yes, right-to-win should influence your target market. Ideally, you have the right to win prospects whom you can reach!

          Note that a right to win doesn’t mean there’s actually a need for you or your offering. Where many consultants go astray is they only look at their right to win. As I pointed out in the article, the starting point is actually client problems. Thanks for highlighting that point, Mike.

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