This post was inspired by “Fear and Loathing in Sales” at Trusted Advisor. The author addresses the irrational fear that professionals often have about selling.
I once shared that fear. But realizing that if I wanted to be in business for myself, I needed to overcome that fear – or at least get some experience. So I sought out -and landed – a job as a sales engineer (Tektronix.) And did it again later for another company (Intel.)
What a pleasant surprise. I quickly realized that technical sales was different – in spite of some canned sales training programs to which I was subjected. I discovered it was not about manipulation, bur rather about helping the customer or client.
I found it to be fun –another set of engineering problems to solve. Not unlike consulting.
It was really about having pleasant conversations with technical colleagues — about what they were doing, and how my company might help them. Sure, I had to deal with contracts and purchasing agents, but by the time they got involved, the buying decisions had been made. They were there to handle the business/legal details.
As a professional, you are like a doctor, not a car salesman. You are there to diagnose and prescribe, not to wheel and deal. You are there to help.
If you are still unsure and want to build your confidence, consider spending a year (or more) in sales as I did. No, you don’t need to be an extrovert. Many of the best sales engineers I’ve known were quiet introverts who were genuinely interested in their customers and their problems (and/or aspirations.) Just like good consultants.
But there is a process, which I first outlined in the Seven Steps of Selling. I’ll soon expand on each of those steps in a short series on selling consulting services.
Finally, don’t fear the selling process — embrace it. It is the essence of professional consulting. And remember FDR’s advice, “The only thing we have to fear…is fear itself.”
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
This post is for my fellow geeks. It was inspired by a recent post at LinkedIn Pulse titled “Do You Buy Like an Engineer? Probably Not.”
The author points out that many A/E/C (architectural/engineering/construction) firms stumble in their sales efforts when they assume their clients think just like them.
If the client is another engineer, that may be true. But if not (such as a government entity or even general management), there can be a serious misfire.
She points out that engineers are different. We engineers know that – see this post. 🙂 But she also points out that one must adjust the sales message to the client.
Here is my comment:
Very good article, and excellent comments. As a consulting engineer (30+ years) and former sales engineer (10 years), I agree.
But the reverse is true. If you are selling to engineers, you better give them details. If you try to “fluff and bluff” they will eat you alive.
As a young engineer preparing a capital equipment request, I was advised to limit the digits to two for managers ($20K, not $19,767.55.)
The joke was their brains could not handle larger numbers. But I quickly learned managers had a broader view. Both views are often needed.
So I use different approaches for engineers and managers in my business dealings. Your point is well taken – one must adjust the sales message to the audience. Don’t talk French to a German.
Thanks for sharing your insights!
Selling consulting services is all about communications. It is NOT about manipulation, like “overcoming objections” — how I hate that term!
Rather, it is having conversations about client problems and/or aspirations, and helping craft appropriate solutions. Like being a doctor or architect — not just another peddler.
But you must speak the client’s language. That was the author’s original point.
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
Want some quick insight and exposure into a market? Offer to buy a vendor lunch. After all, they spend their lives out in the marketplace.
This is particularly effective in niche markets. You have identified your potential niches, right? If not, review this post.
A new consulting colleague in Phoenix did this with good success.
Upon hanging out his shingle, he took a local sales engineer to lunch to pick his brain about the market. In return, he offered to help the sales engineer with technical support (gratis.)
It was, and is, a win-win situation. As the old saying goes, one hand washes the other.
On a personal note, I had that happen to me as a new sales engineer.
When a customer called about lunch, I figured I was going to hear about our delivery problems. It had been a hard slog and some of his key projects were in jeopardy.
I planned to buy lunch.
But instead, he insisted on buying lunch. Then he and his boss thanked me for my efforts on their behalf. What a pleasant surprise!
As a result, guess who got very fast response to future questions and concerns? We all like to be appreciated.
So treat vendors and sales people in your market with respect. And if you get the chance, offer to buy lunch!
P.S. Know someone who might benefit from JumpToConsulting? Please forward a link. Thanks!
© 2015, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
The lead generation worked… the phone rings… now what?
Let the sales process begin… This is where the rubber meets the road — or where the consultant finally meets the client. Many people see sales as mysterious at best, and manipulative at worst. Neither are true for selling consulting services.
Consulting is a helping profession…
You’re not peddling products, or trying to meet a quota. You’re not manipulating, or being sleazy. Rather, you are simply trying to help your clients.
Like a doctor, you are solving problems. Or like an architect, you are turning dreams into reality. Either way, your helping improve your client’s life!
Looking at it this way makes it worthwhile, right?
Sales is a process…
If you’ve never been in sales, it may seem mysterious – even scary at times. But you can learn to sell– just as you can learn to paint, play a musical instrument, or write software.
Once you understand the process and the underlying principles, it all starts to make sense. It’s simply not a big deal. So don’t let the fear of learning a new skill stop you. And once learned, you may even start to enjoy the process. I certainly do.
But I’m an introvert, you say – not some back slapping extrovert. So what? Most consultants and professionals are at least somewhat introverted. After all, we live in a world of dreaming, pondering, diagnosing, creating, and reflecting. We’re thinkers!
As an aside, some of the most successful sales people I’ve known are introverted – some even highly introverted. They are also highly professional, with a passion for helping their customers. Just like good consultants.
Selling consulting is different…
–First, you’re not selling a tangible product — you’re selling an intangible service. As such, you typically need to develop a higher degree of trust with potential clients.
Your goal is not to sell another car this month and move on — rather, your goal is to be a trusted adviser, and hopefully for the long haul.
–Second, you need to deliver what your client bought. Remember — nobody likes to be sold — but we all like to buy — so make it pleasant!
And unlike product sales, the sales process does not stop when you get the order. You still need to deliver, and your long term business success depends on how well you execute this part of the process.
My seven steps in selling…
Hundreds of books have been written about selling, and most include a simple multi-step process. I’ve read dozens myself, plus I’ve been subjected to numerous sales training classes as a former sales engineer.
Some books and classes were better than others, but all helped form my ideas.
One drawback of many of these books and classes is their focus on products. (An exception is Rainmaking Conversations, reviewed here.) Most have four or five steps, and most assume the sales process is over once the order is received.
So I decided to expand things. I’ve used the popular AIDA model (Attention- Interest – Desire – Action) and added three additional steps – Delivery, Follow-up, & Referrals.
(1) Attention (Establish Rapport) – This is the initial contact phase, and the time to build rapport. It is also the time to address any client concerns or fears. These are particularly important if the client has not or does not use consultants on a regular basis.
I usually begin by asking about the problem, followed by asking how they heard about us. The latter gives me some insight into the trust level.
If it is a referral, the trust is already high. If they’ve found us on a web search, it may be lower, so some reassurance may be needed.
(2) Interest (Qualify) – The next step is to determine if you can help, and can they buy. In the former, don’t be afraid to turn business away if you don’t feel comfortable with it.
If the fit looks good, ask about schedule. If asked, you can also provide a budgetary estimate (go on the high side), subject to change pending more details.
(3) Desire (Diagnose & Prescribe) – At this stage, you may be able to offer preliminary diagnosis and recommendations. If not, ask more questions.
For example, I may say, “Based on what we’ve discussed, I suspect XXX, which we’ve seen before. We can handle this several ways… ”
(4) Action (Quote/propose) – The next step is to ask for the order! This is where many consultants fall down, due to fear of rejection. This is also known in the sales world as closing.
For simple projects, I usually just ask if they would like a quote or proposal. If they agree, I quickly review the tasks and schedule for consensus, and then provide a one-two page quote. Often, a purchase order will be issued based on the quote.
For more complex projects, we may decide on an additional meeting for further explorations. This may also mean detailed contracts, which we’ll discuss later.
(5) – Deliver – Time to provide what you promised. If working on-site, show up as scheduled and suitably attired. The latter depends on your client, but business casual is usually safe. If unsure, ask ahead of time. Be professional!
Check with client as you progress – don’t wait until the end of the project to find out you were going down the wrong path. Keep the appropriate management in the loop.
An important part of delivery is getting paid. For simple projects, we accept purchase orders, For more complex projects, we may request progress payments or retainers.
(6 )- Follow up – Assuming a successful consultation, ask if there are other things you might help with. Specific projects? General training? Don’t assume the client is aware of your other services.
As any experienced sales person will tell you, subsequent sales are always easier than the first. Assuming you’ve done a good job, you’re now a preferred vendor/adviser.
As a minimum, get permission to add you client to your mail list for periodic follow-up. Newsletters work great for keeping in touch.
(7) – Referrals – Ask for permission to share their name with future prospects. To protect confidentiality, we do not list clients on our brochure, but we do list past projects. If a personal reference is needed, we still call to confirm as a courtesy. (Our business can be sensitive.) Never been turned down.
Depending on your business, written testimonials are great marketing tools — particularly on your web site. And don’t hesitate to ask if there are others who might benefit from your expertise.
So now you have Uncle Daryl’s Seven Steps in Selling. We’ll examine each of these in more depth in future blog posts.
Please comment or write if you have specific questions! Happy selling…
© 2014, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
The tough part is making it a success.
Recently ran across a blog post on business startups. The author suggested consulting, since it was so easy that anybody could do it. Of course, the author had never started and run a full time consulting practice himself. Go figure.
So, time for a short rant…
But the author is right. You can start a consulting practice right this instant. Just call yourself a consultant, order some business cards, and you’re in business. The telephone should start ringing any minute, right?
It really is that simple. Except it isn’t.
Unfortunately, this is a common misperception, particularly by those with lots of credentials (letters that can be put after their name.) Having already achieved some career success and prestige, they assume the rest of the world will immediately recognize their expertise and abilities.
It is the mousetrap syndrome. You know, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” Wonder who cooked up that piece of fiction?
No, it doesn’t work that way. You need customers. Furthermore, you need customers who are willing to pay you, too. For solutions. Not ivory tower lectures or esoteric theories, but real world solutions to their real world concerns.
So how do you get those customers? You market. You sell. You peddle your butt off. Hmmm, not so simple anymore.
Maybe, like any business venture, it takes some plotting, planning, and old fashioned hard work. Sorry, THIS blogger is not offering any magic miracles today.
At the fundamental level, all businesses have three components:
- Products or services to sell
- Customers or clients who will buy those products and services.
- A way to connect the parties (aka a marketplace.)
Really, that’s it. Congratulations, you’ve just earned your One-Minute MBA.
Now let’s dig a little deeper, using the old reporter’s method of 5W/H – what, who, why, where, when, and how.
- WHAT do you have to sell? As a consultant, it is your expertise and advice. So what do you have that others might want and be willing to pay for? What are you really good at, AND that has value in the marketplace?
- WHO might buy your expertise? Ah, now you are starting to identify your market or markets. Can you identify niches? i.e. – business/consumer, local/national, demographic, etc.
- WHY would they buy your services? Do they have problems to solve? Or prevent? Do they have dreams to pursue?
- WHERE do your customers hang out? Can you identify groups or organizations do they belong to? Media they read – magazines, newspapers, web? Do they use social media?
- WHEN do they buy? Short or long sales cycle? Seasonal? Impulse?
- HOW do you reach them? Having answered the 5W questions, you may already have a good idea HOW to start. But starting is not enough — you need plan, and then you need to execute the plan, over and over. Wash, rinse, REPEAT.
Ride along here and I’ll do my best to help you understand and address these questions. Ultimately, however, the specific answers will be yours. Incidentally, I’ve been at it this game for over 30 years, and I still ask these questions myself.
Thus ends the rant.
Yes, it IS easy to START a consulting practice, and anybody can do it. The real question is can you BUILD and MAINTAIN a successful consulting practice? It takes time and effort. Just like anything else worthwhile in life.
Happy New Year! Is 2013 the year you make your JumpToConsulting?
P.S. Signup for our newsletter. In 2013, we plan a regular mailing with recent posts and other relevant information. Don’t worry about spam — our list is PRIVATE.
© 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
When you finally make client contact (marketing becomes sales), you often need simple stuff you can hand out or mail – business cards, brochures, folders, letterhead, envelopes, labels, etc.
Since these create first impressions of your business, they should be an integral part of your sales and marketing process.
These items are often referred to as sales collateral. Some people include web content, pricing and data sheets, white papers, and more in this definition. In this post, we’ll focus on the simple printed materials.
Before we get specific, here are some general comments:
- Keep it simple. Like a doctor or lawyer, you are trying to present yourself as a professional. One exception — if you are in a highly creative business, you may want to showcase your creativity. Otherwise, simpler is safer.
- But don’t skimp on quality. This is NOT the place to cut corners. Go with high quality paper stock with a fine finish, such as textured or matte. Just make sure the printing looks good on it. (I prefer a light colored stock to plain white.)
- Coordinate the look and feel. This applies to both printed and electronic marketing materials. You want consistency among the colors, fonts, and logos (if applicable). Subtle, but this is all part of your branding process.
- Put contact information everywhere! One of my biggest pet peeves is having to hunt for contact information. This is particularly true with web sites, but I’ve also had to hunt on printed brochures and even letterheads. In the latter case, I suggest full contact info on the bottom of the page — address, phone number, and web site.
Here are some suggestions based on what we have done:
1. Business Cards – Don’t be cute — use a standard size in a suitably heavy stock. You don’t want your card to feel flimsy, and you want to make it easy for people to file or scan. Although increasingly popular, I prefer NOT to use a picture on the card (but definitely put that in your brochures.)
We settled on a light gray linen finish with two print colors — dark gray and dark blue, with a simple dark blue logo. Although the second color adds a small cost, we felt it conveys a more professional image.
2. Letterhead/envelopes – Should match your business card, although the paper stock may be lighter. We use 20# stock which feeds well with most printers and copiers. We also use a matching letterhead for electronic communication, which we usually send as PDF files.
3. Brochures – Should also match your business card and letterhead. As a minimum, I feel you should have a simple three fold brochure that fits in a standard envelope. Yes, many argue this is not necessary with web sites, but there are times when a printed brochure makes sense.
Keep the content simple. Include a BRIEF background with a professional photograph. The photo can be black and white, but you will also want matching color copies for article biographies, press releases, etc.
The rest of the brochure should be simple too. Use bullet points to summarize capabilities, and include a short testimonial or two if available. Regarding clients — get permission FIRST if you use their names. Incidentally, we do NOT use client names to protect confidentiality. Instead, we include a list of typical past projects.
In addition to a general brochure, we also developed a special brochure describing our training classes. We also developed a special mini-brochure with some tables of technical information. Dubbed UBI (Useful Bits of Information), we find our engineering colleagues often keep these for years – long after throwing out cards and brochures.
Of course, ALL of these brochures should have full contact information on both sides, as people often photocopy them. Always make it easy for potential clients to contact you!
4. Other – These can include mail labels, presentation folders, etc. Once again, these should match your other printed collateral. As an aside, we rarely use presentation folders any more, but when you want to make an impression, they are very useful. We printed a couple hundred with our name/logo for a nominal amount, and they have lasted us for years.
Some final thoughts. You may want to engage a graphics designer for help. We did, and got good advice on colors, fonts, and even a simple logo. It was money well spent.
We also use a small commercial printer. Nothing wrong with the large print chains, but we’ve found the extra service invaluable. They have also referred us to other vendors as needed – mail houses, etc. In fact, our graphics designer was on their staff.
So what is the cost of all of this? Depending on quantities, you should be able to outfit yourself for $500-$2000 depending on quantities and amount of graphics design.
Remember, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
© 2012 – 2013, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
An important sales lesson …
As a brand new sales engineer, I was on my way to meet with meet with an important prospect. Fresh out of training, I was ready to dazzle and amaze them with all sorts of technical details about our new test system.
Fortunately, I struck up a conversation with my airplane seat mate. Always curious, I asked him what he did for a living. He politely explained that he specialized in financial planning for small business owners, focusing on those with a net worth of 1-10 million dollars. He had been at it for several years, and was achieving some good success.
He then asked about me, and I explained how I was an engineer that had just gone over to the dark side of sales. As a newbie, I then asked if he had any advice he could share.
He smiled, and replied, “Establish your credibility — fast. That is what I did with you. Without that, you might have just considered me another peddler.”
Wow! Based on that advice, I tried a brief experiment in my sales call. Rather than jumping right into the technical details, I gave a little personal background on myself. How I had a BSEE degree, was a registered PE (Professional Engineer), and had spent the last 10 years in design positions. And how this reflected my company’s commitment to serve our customers.
It took less than a minute, but you could feel the change in the room. I was no longer “just another peddler”, but rather a fellow engineer with credibility. And yes, I eventually made the sale.
How would you establish your credibility?
© 2011, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.