Referrals are the life blood of professional services. Think about it — what do you do if you need a lawyer, doctor, accountant, or other professional? You get a referral!
So make this the last step of your sales process (along with your lead generation process.) What better time to request a referral than when you just finished a project?
Building a consulting practice is all about credibility and visibility. Referrals provide a very high level of credibility, especially when they come from a trusted source.
Many consultants ask for written testimonials from clients for their web sites.
When I recently switched from PCs to Macs, I found a consultant on an Apple directory web site. In addition to being vetted by Apple, several past clients had written brief testimonials.
I hired him and it worked out very well, and even wrote a testimonial (at his request) myself.
If your clients are not comfortable with this, ask if you can use them as a reference. We did this rather than written testimonials, as our consultations were often sensitive. It was also easier than getting something written, and nobody ever refused.
Always call first before giving out a name (and then only when someone asks for a reference.) You don’t want to abuse this courtesy.
Another option is to list past clients. Be sure to ask before doing so. Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) often prohibit this. Although many consultants do this, we chose no to.
Rather, we compiled a list of projects. Most potential clients don’t care who you worked for — rather they want to know what problems you have worked on. Although anonymous, it still makes an effective referral. And many clients appreciate your being discrete.
Don’t overlook referrals! The time you spend cultivating referrals can pay big dividends in future business from future clients.
This concludes the seven part series on selling consulting services. I hope this overview has helped. It is based on my 10 years in technical sales/marketing, and 30 years as an independent consultant. We could have covered more, but I wanted to keep it simple.
Feel free to contact me if you have questions. They are often fuel for future blog posts.
Finally, remember selling is a process — and critical if you are to succeed as a consultant. For without customers, you don’t have a business!
© 2017, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
Don’t neglect this step! Making a second sale (or third or…) is always easier than making the first sale. You are now someone your client knows, likes, and trusts.
So how do you do this? Pretty easy.
Here are some suggestions:
– Phone calls – A week or two after the consultation, call to check. Keep it brief and friendly. Offer to clarify or answer questions. This is particularly important if you submitted a report
Our vet does this after every pooch visit, and we appreciate it. It is also smart business. I’m surprised more professionals don’t do this.
– E-mail – While not as personal, an e-mail can also be effective. A quick thank you, along with an offer to clarify.
Take it a step further and make it a short survey. After every trip, I get a survey from both the airline and hotel. Although usually ignored by me, I appreciate the chance to comment.
It shows concern and provides for feedback. If your feedback is bad (shudder), never fear – this is a chance to fix issues – create good will – and retain a client.
— Newsletters – These are particularly effective as your client list grows and/or there is a time gap between consultations. Newsletters can be printed or electronic. I like both.
After a few years in business, we started our printed newsletter. Later we added e-mail, but made it an option. About half preferred the hard copy, and half the electronic version With the passing of my business partner, I now only do a e-mail version – just to stay in touch.
This worked well as our clients often did not need us for a long period. The newsletter reminded them we were still in business. But it sometimes led to immediate business and even referrals (to be covered in Sales Step #7.)
My accountant uses a commercial newsletter imprinted with the company name and contact information. Even though I am not an accountant, I always enjoy the business and tax tips.
— Invitations – Doing webinars or seminars? Invite past clients. After all, they already know who you are, and may well be interested in your educational offerings.
This works for both paid and free events. For years, our engineering seminars generated a substantial part of our revenues. Our mail list of past clients was most effective.
— Other – For years we sent holiday greetings to the previous year’s clients, with a short note thanking them for their business. Often got responses in return – in addition to future business.
For clients who are electronically connected, Twitter/LinkedIn/Facebook can be effective. My financial advisor (consultant) Tweets business tidbits, which I always enjoy and appreciate.
Don’t overlook dinner with past clients. We often did this when in town. Even if you don’t meet, the invitation is appreciated. If do meet, you are not dining alone.
Finally, don’t overlook beer. As most engineers like beer, we had a trade show beer policy where we always offered to buy a beer. An enjoyable way to spend a few minutes with past, present, and future clients. 🙂
So don’t neglect this important sales step. In closing, I’m reminded of the childhood jingle:
Make new friends, and keep the old– one is silver, and the other gold.
True for clients too!
© 2017, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
In traditional sales, step # 4 is the final step. Once you get the purchase order or signed contract, your job as a salesperson is complete.
Of course, you follow up with customers to make sure they are happy, but its time to move on to the next sale. (We’ll address that for consultants in Step 6.)
Not so with the small consulting practice. You just “sold” yourself, and now it’s time to deliver. This is the fun stuff — doing what you wanted to do in the first place!
As a small businessperson, you are still in sales mode, albeit lower key. Not only do you want to have a happy client today, but you want to pave the way for future business and referrals tomorrow. .
Here are some suggestions, particularly for a first time consultation.
(1) Show up as scheduled. As a colleague once said, “If you are not ten minutes early, you’re already late.”
If you run into problems, such as a traffic jam, call your client right away. Thanks to cell phones, there is no excuse for not doing so.
If out of town, don’t take the last flight out. If things get screwed up, you may be able to recover. This is particularly important if you have a meeting with several people.
If you’ve never been to the client location, map it out ahead of time. If out of town, make a dry run the night before. (You did take an earlier flight, right?)
You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.
(2) Show up suitably attired. This depends on your client, but business casual is usually safe. But ask – you don’t want to show up casual if the company norm is suit and tie.
For years, I struck a happy medium with a sport coat, slacks, and tie. If nobody was wearing a tie, I quickly removed it.
But times change. Since I’m dealing with fellow engineers, I now wear slacks, a short sleeve dress shirt, and carry a tie with me if needed. If we’re going to a test lab or on the factory, I usually go with jeans and a golf shirt – just in case we need to get down and dirty.
Don’t be like one client I met. He showed up in the lobby wearing torn jeans, a cartoon T-shirt, and sandals. His boss, however, was wearing a tie. He may have been a good engineer, but I fear he was limiting his career advancement.
How you dress can be as important as how you perform.
(3) Involve your client. Review the situation, and ask preliminary questions. Don’t jump to conclusions, even if you are pretty sure of the diagnosis. Keep an open mind.
Find out if there is a preferred approach. In my business, I asked “Do you prefer a circuit board fix, or a box level fix?” If the circuit board was purchased, that often precluded making changes. On the other hand, if they were about to redesign the board, we’d start there.
Check with the client as you progress. Nothing worse than getting to the end of a project to find you were going down the wrong path.
Keep the appropriate management in the loop.
(4) Offer a summary report. Done right, this is an effective sales tool. Not only does it document your efforts, but it remains long after the consultation. We had calls years later based on an earlier report, so make sure you contact information is on every page.
Our policy was to charge a flat fee (one day) for a report. They typically ran 5-10 pages.
The first page was a title page (contact information), and the second was a ONE PAGE summary. This summary is important, as it is what management will read. Keep is simple.
The remaining report contained the details. If test data was involved, we included that in appendices. Recommendations were in bullet form, to make them easy to follow.
Your report is your LAST impression – every bit as important as the FIRST impression.
(5) Getting paid. As my late business partner said, “The project isn’t complete until the check clears the bank.” We’ll discuss this more in a later post, but make sure you have a purchase order or contract before proceeding. For larger projects, you may want progress payments or retainers.
Next up – Sales Step #6 – Follow Up – and how to facilitate the next sale (and the next one after that.) Remember, a happy client is happy to buy additional services!
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
The next step is to ask for the order! This is also known in the sales world as closing.
This is where many consultants fall down, due to fear of rejection. You are not alone – even full time sales people don’t like rejection. But they face it and deal with it – one reason why sales people are paid so well.
For simple projects, just ask if they would like a quote or proposal. If they agree, quickly review the tasks and schedule for consensus, and then provide a quote. A purchase order will often be issued based on the quote.
For more complex projects, you may need additional meetings for further clarification. This can happens when approval from a committee or higher management is needed.
In our practice, simple quotations worked most of the time, but we did have occasional contracts for larger scale projects.
As a small specialty (boutique) consulting firm, we generally used quotes. Most of our projects were between a week and a month long.
As such, the budget was usually well within a manager’s signing authority. Seldom did our projects need to go to the CEO or a board.
Our typical project schedules were either immediate (troubleshooting or design reviews) or longer term (training.) The former led to a purchase order, and the latter often led to being put in a future budget. Neither required detailed contracts.
So keep it simple! We used a two page format. The first page contained a short description of the objectives, responsibilities, schedule, and cost. The second page contained the “fine print” that did not change from project to project.
With this simple format, we could prepare a quote in minutes. Clients appreciated the quick response, and our quote was often attached to the client purchase order. No need to get the lawyers involved in simple projects.
Here is a sample quote for a short consultation. The second page includes the “fine print.” We used a similar quote for training projects with minor changes.
****** Quotation ******
Client: XYZ Corp.
1234 Main Street
Somewhere, AZ XXXXX
ATTN: John Smith
Purpose: The client designs and manufacturers military doodads, and is failing MIL-STD-461 radiated emissions tests.
Tasks: The consultant, an electrical engineer specializing in EMI/EMC design and troubleshooting, will assist XYZ as follows:
— On site troubleshooting and reviews at XYZ facility in Somewhere, AZ
— Optional summary report (4-8 pages typical)
Schedule: By mutual agreement (or actual date if scheduled)
Budget: $XXXXX, based on 5 days (4 days on site + 1 day travel) plus estimated travel expenses of $2500. Add $2000 for optional report .
Please note this is a budgetary estimate. Actual time and expenses will be invoiced. Quotation will not be exceeded without client approval.
Terms: Net 30 upon invoice. Purchase order and advance travel retainer of $2500 prior to travel. Quotation valid for 60 days.
Daryl Gerke, PE
Kimmel Gerke Associates, Ltd.
NARTE Certified EMC Engineers
December 13, 2016
Policy Statement & Business Practices
(Consulting & Troubleshooting)
Our clients often have questions about our business practices and policies. This document addresses the most common questions.
Our intent is to help you understand our practices, so that we can better serve your needs as professional consulting engineers.
Thank you for considering us to help you.
Rates -Our rates are $XXX per hour ($xxxx per eight hour per day), plus expenses. We have a four hour minimum for local work, and an eight hour minimum outside for non-local work.
Our rates are subject to change, but purchase orders received within the quotation validity date will be honored as quoted.
Expenses – All expenses will be billed at actual cost, with no markup. These expenses include all travel costs and other expenses incurred for the client.
Travel – Travel time is charged at our regular rates, as follows:
-Local – No travel charge for full day consultations. For less than a full day, time will be billed portal-to-portal with a 4 hour minimum.
-Out of town (Air Travel) – One full day labor is added to consultation fee for travel within the contiguous 48 states.
-Outside Contiguous United States – To be determined.
Travel estimates will be provided in quotations, but all expenses will be invoiced at actual costs. We normally make our own travel arrangements, but if made by client, they are subject to our approval.
We normally purchase “no-penalty” coach airline tickets. Overseas travel is “business” class.
Quotations – Quotations are valid for 60 days, unless otherwise stated. All quotations are budgetary – not fixed price – actual time and expenses will be billed. The quotation will not be exceeded, however, without client authorization.
Terms – Our efforts can proceed upon receipt of a purchase order or letter of authorization., plus an advance travel retainer of $2500. Payment terms are net 30 upon invoice for clients with established credit.
Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure – All client information and communications are held in strict confidence. Client Non-Disclosure Agreements to this effect are normally acceptable, provided they do not contain clauses restricting our right to do business with others.
In addition, client names are not released without prior approval , nor do we use client names in our marketing materials.
Certifications and Insurance – If information disclosure, certifications, or insurance are required by the client, these must be forwarded to us for evaluation prior to issuing a quotation.
Conditions transmitted subsequent to the start of work will invalidate the quotation, and subject the client to any incurred expenses.
Specifically, the following conditions apply – (1) we do not disclose names or information (technical or financial) about any client without express consent of that client, (2) we do not submit to financial audit to any agency, public or private.
Performance and Cost Guarantees – Due to the highly uncertain nature of most EMI problems, we are unable to provide guarantees of success, nor are we able to provide precise pass/fail guidelines.
Often, the extent of the problem is not known until an initial evaluation has been made. As such, all cost estimates are based on a level of effort, but estimates will not be exceeded without your prior approval.
You will always, however, receive our best professional efforts and advice in any consultation.
For larger projects, a contract may be appropriate. On average, we did several contracts a year. In the simplest form, the contract could be an expansion of the two page quotation.
It might include milestones, deliverables, progress payments, and contingencies. Even so, try to keep it simple and clear.
You may need legal advice, but rather than ask your lawyer to prepare a contract, do a rough draft yourself. Include all the details discussed above. Then have your lawyer review it for proper legalese. You will save money, and your lawyer will appreciate it too.
As an alternate, your client may send you a multi-page contract with all kinds of stipulations and restrictions. This is more likely with large companies with a legal department that needs to justify its existence.
If offered a contract, review it before signing. If complex, run it by your own lawyer first. As my lawyer told me may years ago, “If you have a questions, ask me before you sign anything.” He continued with a grin , “I’d rather keep you out of jail, than get you out of jail.”
Either way, don’t be afraid to remove or change things you don’t like.
One stipulation we always removed was a non-compete clause. Our projects were short and generic – if we agreed to serve only one computer company or one military contractor, we’d be out of business in a year.
A non-compete clause, however, may be appropriate for a long term project. If the client is paying you for unique results, they want to protect that. The same is true for nondisclosure, designed to protect proprietary information.
Don’t be afraid to question the need for a contract. A client once send me a twenty page contract for a five day troubleshooting consultation. When I questioned it, he apologized and sent me a simple non-disclosure agreement. Seems his office administrator sent me the wrong paperwork.
Finally, if you are doing business with the government, expect detailed contracts. Accept it as part of the business. Bureaucracies thrive on paperwork – the reason many of us left corporate or government jobs to become consultants in the first place 🙂
This sales step isn’t complete until you receive a purchase order or contract!
So be prepared to follow up. Ask for an anticipated date, and if you don’t have the requisite paper work by then, call and find out the status.
You MUST do this. Don’t let the fear of rejection stop you. Yes, maybe the project has been sidetracked or dropped, but you need to know.
But don’t be a pest. Our policy was two phone calls. If no answers after two calls, we decided it was time to move on.
Finally, if rejected, be polite. Over the years, many “lost” clients came back for future help After all, the client was interested in us in the first place.
Next up – Sales Step #5 – Deliver. Unlike product sales, the sales process for consultants does not stop with a purchase order or contract. Done well, you can turn a project into a long term client, and in some cases, even a long term friend.
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
Now that you have qualified the prospective client, you are ready to provide a preliminary diagnosis and prescription.
The goal is not to actually solve the problem, but to create the desire to have you help. You want to reinforce your credibility, while suggesting a course of action.
Here are three theoretical examples:
- A doctor might say, “Based on your symptoms, I suspect XXXX. The next step would be a CAT scan, perhaps followed by surgery. I’ve done this surgery many times before with good success. But we’ll make a final decision after the CAT scan. Would you like me to schedule the CAT scan? “
- A lawyer might say, “Based on our brief discussion, it sounds like you have a case. The next step would be an in-depth meeting in the office. I’ve handled these cases many times before. But we’ll make a final decision after the meeting. Would you like to set up a meeting? “
- As a consulting engineer, I often said, “Based on our discussion, I suspect a problem with XXXX. We can handle this several ways. The best would an on-site review. I’ve done this many times for others. Based on the review, we will either solve the problem, or provide a course of action.”
Note than all three examples, you have not actually solved the problem In fact, at this stage that might not be possible anyway. But you have moved the sales process forward.
Here are three steps:
Reinforce credibility – “Based on XXXX, I suspect YYYY” shows you have listend to the client. Later, “I’ve done this many times before” reinforces that you are capable and have experience in dealing with the problem at hand.
Course of action – “The next step…” shows you have a recommended solution, pending further action by the client. It also leaves you wiggle room if you need to change your preliminary diagnosis at a later time. This may well happen when you dig into the problem.
Trial close – “Would you like to proceed?” If the client says yes, then move forward. If no, you need to ask why not? Perhaps questions remain that need to be answered. Perhaps the client is just shopping. Perhaps there is a schedule or budget concern. Ask why.
But don’t be manipulative! This is where traditional sales training says you must “overcome objections.” I disagree. Selling professional services is about helping, not manipulating.
What if the problem is very simple — something you can handle easily over the phone? Should you give away free advice, or should you hold back to sell your advice?
In those cases, our policy was to make those simple suggestions – at no charge. (Take two aspirin, but call back if the pain persists…) If the simple solutions worked, it created tremendous good will, and virtually guaranteed future calls as well as references. We looked at those cases as cheap and very effective marketing.
Others may disagree. An alternative would be to bill a nominal amount for your time, or set up a set fee for quick questions. Me – I always wanted to be approachable, and didn’t have the guts to charge thousands of dollars for very simple advice.
One final example of giving away free advice. Several months ago a call came in for some in-house training (which I still do.)
No hassles – they just wanted to know when I could come to their facility, and how much would it cost so they could issue a purchase order. What an easy sale!
Upon arriving, my client told how my late business partner had given free advice several years ago. When the advice worked, Bill would not accept payment for his few minutes of time (our standard policy.)
So when the client wanted a training program, he called nobody else, and he told me how much he appreciated our business practices. You can’t buy advertising or references like that!
Next up – Step #4 – Asking for the order. We’ll discuss the mechanics of quotations and proposals, and how to keep them simple and effective.
P.S. When selling professional services, think like a doctor, not like a used car salesman. Diagnose, prescribe, and never manipulate!
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
There are two simple goals in this sales step:
- Can YOU help?
- Can THEY buy?
It is just as important to disqualify as it is to qualify. Your time is valuable, and you don’t want to waste it chasing low probability leads.
We already touched briefly on the first goal in Sales Step #1.
Now you need to dig a bit deeper. At this point, you are not trying to solve the problem, but rather to make a quick assessment.
As already mentioned, don’t be afraid to turn business away. If it out of your area of expertise, it may be better to refer to someone else.
On the other hand, don’t be afraid to stretch yourself. You can back fill with books, colleagues, or an on-line search. This is also how you grow your experience bank account.
So ask more questions. You want to probe deeper.
Here are some typical questions/answers from my own engineering consulting business:
- What is the problem? (Equipment malfunctions.)
- How does it manifest itself? (System resets or hangs up.)
- Any idea why it happens? (Not sure, but we suspect a power glitch.)
- How often does it occur? (About once a month)
- How bad is it? (The power supply once caught fire. Ouch!)
- How much is it costing you? ($10,000 every time it fails. Double Ouch!)
- Anything else? (Yes, a major customer is pissed. Triple ouch!)
Assuming you can help, you now know the situation is critical, and the problem is expensive. Since it is intermittent, it may not be super urgent, and it may also be a challenge to isolate.
If you are a business consultant, your questions will be different, but you still want to determine if you can help your client, how much it “hurts”, and how urgent things are.
Now that you have qualified YOURSELF, you are ready to qualify the CLIENT.
Are they willing and able to buy your services?
So probe some more. Here are three client qualifying questions I use:
— Schedule? When do you want to proceed? (Can you come yesterday? If you get this answer, close the deal!)
— Budget? Offer a budgetary estimate. The client is usually dying to know anyway. Don’t ask “How much do you have to spend?” as is sounds manipulative.
In situations like this, I usually quote 4-5 days of time, with the stipulation that the budget will not be exceeded, and that if the problem is still not resoled, we’ll mutually decide on the next step. The latter is like exploratory surgery — we may not know how bad things are (or are not) until we dig deeper.
Give a single number (a not-to-exceed, like $10K..) Don’t be vague or quote a range — the client will assume the lower number. And never ask for an open checkbook.
— Quote? Offer a quotation. We’ll discuss quotations in more detail later. But at this point in the process, you want to know how serious the client is about fixing the problem.
If they say yes, proceed with the sales process. But don’t quote yet — rather gather more information. The quote should be a summary of what you both agree needs to be done.
If they are reluctant, ask why. But don’t be pushy, and don’t waste a lot of time trying to “overcome objections.” It is OK, however, to ask why several times. Doing so often uncovers the real reason for reluctance.
Offer to follow up if they need to “discuss with the boss.” While some “sales experts” suggest you should only talk with the final buyers, the boss often delegates the initial search to a subordinate. (Very common in the technical world.)
So be polite — while this person may not be able to approve, they can often disapprove. Also, this may be the person with whom you will work.
Assuming you have not disqualified yourself or your client, you are now ready to move on to Sales Step #3 – Diagnose & Prescribe.
P.S. Don’t fret if you disqualify. As a professional, your time is valuable and there is never enough of it. You need to focus on the opportunities with the best chances of sales success.
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
Time to revisit Uncle Daryl’s “Seven Steps of Selling” and to expand upon them.
Yes, I know — you want to be a consultant — a revered oracle — not a peddler. Sharing all your wisdom, and being paid handsomely for it.
All you need to do is hang out your shingle, right?
Wrong, of course. You need customers. Paying customers. And enough paying customers to pay the bills. Because consulting is a BUSINESS, and business means SELLING.
As a wise mentor once said, “If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business…”
So first you market. You create the necessary visibility and credibility for your services in the market place. You strategize. You define your markets. You generate leads. (Check here for twenty ideas on leads.) But you are still not selling.
Sooner or later you will need to actually TALK to a prospective client. That is when the sales process begins! And often the fear — usually the fear of the unknown.
But selling is simply a process you can learn. Like riding a bike, or playing the piano. Don’t expect to be an immediate expert, but with practice you can hold your own. And you will get better with time — I promise.
It all begins with establishing rapport. Here are some thoughts:
- Relax, and smile. Even if you are on the phone. It will calm you.
- Ask about their problem. Think like a doctor when he/she says, “What brings you in today?”
- Listen carefully, and ask for more details. “Can you fill me in? How does the problem manifest itself? How long has this been going on? What else is going on?”
- After you have enough preliminary details, simply say “That sounds like something we might help with.”
Assuming, of course, you CAN help. If not, you may want to refer the person to someone else. Don’t worry – they will appreciate you candor and will likely call you again based on the trust you just created.
Before proceeding further, ask how they heard about you. That give you some insight into the trust level.
If a referral, the trust level is already high. Ditto an article or talk. If simply a web search, additional reassurance may be needed.
Such as, “We’ve solve similar problems for others.” But don’t share specific client details, lest you raise concerns about protecting their confidentiality.
Next, ask if they have worked with a consultant before. This gives you some insight into their experience with consultants. If YES, simply proceed. If NO, more reassurance may be needed.
In either case, potential clients often have two fears:
- Can you help them? Done right, you have already initially reassured them.
- Can you work together? This is why a pleasant demeanor is so important. As the old saying goes, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Note that Step #1 takes but a few minutes. The focus is on asking questions.
This is NOT time to go into a sales pitch, or to talk about how smart and capable you are. Rather, it is all about the client. Think like a doctor, not a used car salesman.
At this point, you are ready for Sales Step #2 – Qualifying. This is where you dig deeper, to see if you truly can help, and to see if they can buy your services. To be covered in a subsequent post.
P.S. Like many of you, I once feared selling. But after I jumped in (first as a Sales Engineer, and later as a consultant) I came to enjoy the process.
The best part is that as a consultant, you are usually talking to friendly colleagues in the first place – and helping them solve their problems and/or improve their lives.
© 2016, jumptoconsulting.com. All rights reserved.
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 – 2017, 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.