As a consultant you’ve probably felt the pressure to impress clients. Here are some of the patterns I see consultants fall into when they bow to that pressure:
- Pitching the process. We want prospects to value how we get the work done … no matter what the issue is.
- Offering up best advice. We want prospects to value our problem solving brain power … no matter what the issue is.
- Explaining our point of view. We want prospects to value our research and thought leadership … no matter what the issue is.
Process, brain-power, and thought leadership. These are all useful ways to make ourselves interesting. (OK process isn’t, but as you probably already know I have a thing about process.) And being interesting is important because it’s one way to differentiate and position ourselves as trusted advisors.
It’s the ‘no matter what the issue’ part that causes problems. It’s a maths equation:
Interesting > Interested = Consultant-centric
And consultant-centric is when prospects eyes glaze over. That’s when rapport breaks. That’s when potential sales are lost.
To complete the equation we must also demonstrate how interested we are in the prospect and their business. Consultants fall into patterns for this too:
- Asking prospects about their business objectives. We want to see if they have ambitious goals, how they measure success, and what the value of achieving those goals might be.
- Finding out what needs to change. Where the client has an ambitious goal there are usually things that are holding them back, and closely coupled changes that go with that.
- Understanding the prospects personal motivations. What psychological needs will they gain if they achieve their business objectives.
Asking about objectives, requirements, and motivation is a useful way to show you’re interested. Done well it also differentiates you from those consultants who ask “what keeps you awake at night”, only so they can jump in with a solution to that.
The maths equation for this is:
Interested > Interesting = Prospect-centric
Now, you may be thinking at this stage that, quite obviously, it’s better to be interested than interesting, But, as I said before, it’s about balancing the equation.
If you are interested without being interesting the meeting can easily turn into a business therapy session. That might be helpful for the prospect, but it’s not moving into sales territory. It can also leave prospects feeling you are a bit vacuous, or that they are being subjected to an interrogation.
The first two equations both result in what I call “interesting conversations that go nowhere”. They are either interesting because you just spent 90-minutes talking about yourself, or interesting because you just learnt a bunch of stuff about the clients issues.
So, what’s the winning equation?
(2 x Interested) + (Interesting ÷ 2) = Business-centric
Be twice as interested, and half as interesting, as you think you need to be.
Here’s one way to do that.
Open the dialogue with point of view (PoV) about an industry issue. Make sure you say things that other people aren’t saying. It’s not interesting if your PoV is already overstated, or straight out of the latest book. Just talk naturally, this isn’t a pitch. Make it short and sweet.
Then turn the tables. Ask the prospect what they think. Ask them about the implications for their business. Ask whether addressing this issue is a priority for them. Go deep on the subject. Resist jumping into process, or solution, mode.
When the prospect stops talking offer some more insights if you have them. Rinse and repeat this process.
At some stage it will become evident that the prospect is interested in doing something about the issue. Then it’s time to you to pivot into a project conversation, and that’s where selling begins.