Critical Consulting Skill: Selling Services

Two of the most critical measures for a consultant are sales and utilization.  Whether you are an independent consultant working for yourself, or an employee of a large consulting firm, these key indicators are both the bread and the butter.  You have to sell projects to clients in order to get work and you have to deliver that work in order to get paid.  Utilization is usually measured as the ratio of the number of billable hours worked divided by the number of available working hours.

Most consultants starting out focus on service delivery more than the sales aspect.  Many firms have a sales staff that does most of the selling for them.    But that doesn’t exclude consultants from the responsibility of selling.  Consultants working a project at a client site have a front row seat to all sorts of issues and problems the client may be experiencing

Keep your eyes and ears open: I’ve been at meetings where many of the client participants were in the same conference room for a meeting in the previous hour.  Their discussion often continues where you learn about another project having issues or a problem they’re having trouble resolving.  Depending on your relationship with the client management, you can suggest to them that your firm has a service offering that could be of help.  If you are unfamiliar with the management – or they are unfamiliar with you – you can relay the information to an account manager within your firm to follow up with them.

Take them to lunch: It’s also a good idea to develop a good enough relationship with clients to go to lunch with them on occasion. It doesn’t always have to be top-level management.  You can learn a lot from your own peers at the client just by talking about other projects they are working on, projects their peers are working on or some that they think should be considered.  They have a front line vision of their business that their managers may not even be aware of.

Know your firm’s service offerings: To be successful in selling, you must be aware of your firm’s product offerings.  As an independent consultant, you should already know your capabilities well.  If you work for a firm with multiple service offerings, you should take it upon yourself to know each offering and the value each one can provide to a client.  The most successful way to sell is to show your potential client the value that you can provide them.  It’s difficult to demonstrate value without that familiarity.

Keep the current project’s scope in mind: Once you find an issue that you or your firm can help them with, there may be the impulse to spend time helping them right away.  If you are already on a well-defined project, you will want to avoid doing additional work outside of the scope of the existing project.  You’ll want to make it clear that you or your firm can help but you’d have to have a separate meeting to discuss the scope of the additional work and the associated fees that you would charge to do the work.  You may spend time discussing the issue in order to understand it well enough to propose on it, but avoid causing your current project any delays.

Develop relationships: Selling in a consulting environment is a long-term process.  Clients hire consultants that they know and trust, which doesn’t happen overnight.  It’s important to develop relationships with client personnel over the long term.  Someone you meet and develop a friendly relationship with today may not provide you with any sales opportunities immediately.  But they may down the road.  Whether they still work for the same company, or have moved on to another one, they’re more apt to turn to you if they know your firm’s capabilities and trust you to deliver them. Connecting with them through LinkedIn, Twitter or some other form of social media is a great first step. Beyond that it’s important to stay in touch.  Connect with them occasionally just to touch base and see what they’re up to.  If they have occasional updates on social media, comment on them periodically to stay top of mind with them.

Don’t oversell: Drilling clients for information on other projects will turn them away and create an environment of distrust.  There is a difference between pestering and staying in touch.  You need to use your best judgment in determining what is appropriate for keeping in touch.  The Dale Carnegie approach of taking an interest in them, works best for two reasons.  First, you develop their trust.  More importantly, you develop a relationship with them.  Instead of selling something to them, think of it as providing them a service.  If you have developed a trusting relationship, they will be more apt to turn to you for the services you and your firm can provide.

About the author: Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com).  He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.

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