Successful consultants know that there are two critical success factors to consulting: Provide quality service and sell more of it. It is hard to sell more services if the ones you deliver are of poor quality. But providing top quality does not guarantee additional consulting business at that client.
Selling more business at an existing client is a skill all by itself. On top of providing high quality work, the consultant needs to keep her eyes open for other opportunities. Growing an existing account is important for consultants at every level
Consultants should think about what is best for the client and not the consulting firm. If the consultant reaches that pinnacle – being the client’s trusted advisor, he may not have to worry about selling. The client will come to the consultant with issues to solve without any need for the consultant to go into sales mode.
There are some old-school consulting executives that still don’t believe that. They give the trusted advisor stuff lip service. But they still focus on the tired techniques of making sales calls and setting sales quotas.
This puts good consultants in a bad situation. How do I avoid coming off as a “sales guy” with the client and developing trust, while still meeting expectations for the boss? At a high level, there are a few options
Focus only on the boss’s direction
Some consultants decide that they get paid by the boss. They do what the boss tells them to do. If the boss wants them to make a specified number of cold calls or emails, that’s what he’ll do. Bonuses may actually be tied to these numbers and not to sales.
Some of those may activities may end up resulting in a sale. Chances are, however, that more activity than necessary will be spent getting those sales. The most likely sales will be made by developing the relationship. If a cold call results in a sound relationship, it may result in a consulting sale. But the likelihood of a sound relationship coming out of a cold call is very slim.
Focus only on becoming the client’s trusted advisor
The consultant may believe that helping the client is more important than meeting an artificial set of quotas set up for the boss. In that case, he may opt to simply ignore those quotas and go on with his own philosophy.
The boss may check in regularly to find out how many cold calls and contacts the consultant has made. When he learns that number is zero, many results are possible. The boss may put him on a performance improvement plan until he brings his numbers up.
At a minimum, he will receive a lecture about not doing his assigned work. He will face further scrutiny in the future and tougher consequences each time he gets a zero for results.
Balance the two options
While the boss is asking for numbers, what he wants is communication with the client. Developing relationships with the client is largely about the same thing – only with meaningful content.
If the consultant combines checking in with the client, learning about his business, and developing the relationship, he will also be making the contacts that the boss wants.
The key is not to sell, but to develop the relationship. The boss may think you’re selling on these calls. In reality, you are. But if your conversations are focused on the client and not on your sales quota, you may, in the end be able to please your clients and your boss.
Find a firm that follows your philosophy
The reality of pleasing both the client and the boss is not impossible. However, developing a relationship with a client that is strong enough to become their trusted advisor doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a long time and a lot of conversations. It’s not based on the number of contacts, but the quality of them. Because of this, the quota-desiring boss my get tired of waiting for this relationship to morph into hard sales.
When that occurs, the consultant and the boss may have philosophical differences that are too deep to reconcile. A consultant caught in this type of a conflict may be better off moving on to a firm that holds the same values and approach. The consultant will work in lockstep with his firm’s management and will be more successful because of it.
As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.
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
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