Unless you’re an undertaker, repeat business should always be your goal. Whether you are an independent consultant or serving on a large project from a large firm, your main goal is to get billable and remain that way.
Developing a relationship
Consulting traditionally has a long sales cycle. A major factor in selling services is the relationship you build with the prospective client. That takes time to develop. The larger the project, the longer it takes an organization to narrow down the choices, get the appropriate decision makers involved and acquire financial sign-off.
So once you develop the relationship, convince the key people that you are the right person (or firm) for the job, and get their decision in writing, your challenge has just begun.
Ask anyone who has lost weight. They will tell you that the only thing harder than losing the weight is maintaining it. The same applies to client acquisition. The only thing harder than winning a new client, is keeping them for the long-term.
Make yourself indispensable
Once at a client, the key to keeping them is to become indispensable to them. Make them cringe at the thought of losing you. I’ve seen consultants who were like part of the family at their client. They were invited to the client’s picnics and holiday parties. They were treated as trusted advisors.
These consultants provided value to the client by providing outstanding service and putting the client first.
Not every consultant will get invited to the company’s holiday party. But you can take steps to become indispensable:
Come in early and stay late. Nothing shows your commitment to the client more than the willingness to work long hours for them. If you are on an hourly billing rate, it’s necessary to get their approval for the additional billing. It is also critical that the hours that you’re working at the client, you’re working for the client. Few things hurt your credibility with the client more than when they find you working on another client’s work, or perusing Facebook on their dime.
Convince the client that they matter by putting their concerns first. Every once in a while, a conflict of interest comes about. Let’s say the client has asked you for a proposal to develop and implement a custom software system that stands to make you a lot of money in billable hours. If you know that there is a package on the market that would serve their needs, and that they could purchase and implement for a fraction of the cost, what do you do?
If you put the client’s interests first, you may lose out on a big project that could save the firm and catapult your career. But what if you’re half-way through the project and they learn of the package and ask why you didn’t offer it as a suggestion. That may be the last project you do for them. If you put their interests first, they understand that you put their interests ahead of your own. They’ll hire you for more projects in the future and may provide referrals to help you get additional clients.
Show the client that you are focused on their success. Many consultants, in an interest to maintain a positive relationship with their client, assume the “no ruffled feathers” mode. Consider the scenario where the client is considering the purchase of extensive hardware to store their data on their premises. You’re aware of less expensive alternatives that they could take. As one who has nothing to gain or lose in the hardware sale, you could allow them to make the purchase without ruffling their feathers by criticizing their judgment. If you’re focused on their success, however, you need to speak up and let them know – diplomatically – that there are other options they could pursue that have potential to save them money. They may not always agree and you have to be able to accept that. But the client will know that you are focused on their success and will continue to listen to your suggestions.
Consulting rates are expensive. When economic situations get tight, clients have a tendency to start cutting consultants. If the client sees the consultant as indispensable, they will see that the value you provide to them is greater than the cost of your billing rate.
If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.