If you are thinking about starting your own consulting service or if you are currently running one, the toughest part is often how to get consulting clients in the first place. You know your services are beneficial and so do clients you have worked with in the past.
But now you have reached the end of your Rolodex, your sales pipeline is dry or you don’t know where to even start and you’re stuck. You might think: “I was great in my field when working for someone else, why is it so hard for others to see that?”
As a consultant, or business owner in general, you have to know how to sell. It doesn’t matter how experienced you are or the amount of people you have worked with. Prospects are looking for one thing, if you can solve their problem and that is what it takes to get consulting clients. Solving real problems.
I had the opportunity to speak to some expert sales coaches and business owners on best sales practices for consultants to improve their business. Assuming you are solving real problems, with these tips you will be able to start seeing improved results for your business.
Tip 1: Have a Strategic ask.
When talking about your consulting business, always have a strategy in place for everything you do. This includes your social media posts, email messages, phone conversations or face to face conversations. Part of this strategy should always include a call to action. This means when you’re at that networking event some things you can do are:
- Ask for the person you’re talking to’s contact information, like their phone number.
- Ask for their business card.
- Invite them to an event you’re hosting.
- Set up a quick phone call at a later date.
How often do you go to networking events and think to yourself: “I met a lot of people but I didn’t really get anything out of it.” This could be the case not because the event wasn’t great, but because you just didn’t ask for something in return. The key is to not be afraid to ask for something. Even Steve Jobs knew the importance of asking for help and not being afraid to take chances.
It can be nerve racking to ask for something when you feel like you’re not in an official sales meeting. You don’t want to bother the person or come off as pushy. If you don’t think you are going to see them or talk to them again however, there really is no harm in asking for something. It is even better when asking leads to more sales down the line.
This strategic ask applies to content you produce as well. Brochures, social media posts, newsletters etc. can all be used to attract prospects that are looking for value. Using a strategic call to action alongside this content can help generate more sales for your consulting business. This is great advice that David Meltzer, The CEO and Co-Founder of Sports 1 Marketing, follows in his own business.
You always stand a better chance for success if you have a strategic ask in almost everything that you do –whether in-person, on the phone, over email or on social media. When people contact you on LinkedIn, ask for something in return, even if it is something simple like listening to your podcast or leaving a review. If you are able to make one additional ask per day and convert at around 10 percent, then you have at least three people each month providing you with benefits that you’d have missed otherwise.
An attract is used when you have a product, service, content or any other value that you provide to others. Create, capture, or post some kind of content surrounding this value, like an article or video, in order to attract those who are looking for that value. Being strategic (and consistent) with the content you post will help to attract the right potential customers.
Tip 2: Don’t Talk to Prospects, Listen Instead.
If you are excited about your offering, it can be easy to talk about. The problem is thinking your solution is going to work for everyone in your target market. Even if your solution will work, it’s not up to you to decide if it’s a good fit or not. It is your prospect’s decision.
This is why it is important to listen and acknowledge the problems that your prospect has and relate this back to them when you are talking. It doesn’t matter if your consulting services will make their employees 15% more efficient when what they want solved is low worker morale.
Your solution might directly impact and increase morale at the same time, but if that is not made clear and apparent to your prospect they are less likely to work with you. People work with consultants to solve real problems they have, not ones that consultants want them to have. This is why taking the time to listen is so important to earn more clients.
According to a study by The Journal of Business Communications, Selective listening had a significant and positive correlation to persuasive ability.
The study also found that there was some evidence that workers who were better listeners were at higher levels of the company and were more upwardly mobile. This shows a clear connection between listening skills and the ability to succeed.
So how much listening should you do with your prospects? A good rule of thumb comes from Dan Stalp of Sandler Training. You should be listening 70% of the time, or nearly 3/4 of the conversation if possible.
The way to influence is not communicating like you have two mouths and one ear, rather two ears and one mouth! If someone were to audio tape you on your next interaction-what percentage of the time would you be talking?
Tip 3: Be Committed to a Consistent Process
Before you take the time to completely change up everything you are doing, ask yourself: “Have I been consistent in the way I sell?” You may already have a successful procedure for closing prospects. Because you don’t realize this however, you may be all over the board with your approach. Think back to clients you have already worked with:
- Did the sales process follow the same pattern?
- Did everyone who agreed to work with you have something in common?
- Did the people that said no have the same 1 or 2 objections?
If you are going into a sales meeting with the idea that you will “wing it” your chances for success are minimized. You need a consistent procedure for how you want the meeting to go. This way you can have more control over the process and handle objections more efficiently. This is one of the things Mike Polenda of Sales Lab stresses when he trains both new and seasoned sales staff.
Developing a sales process is just one half of the equation. In order for it to be effective, you need to use the process as a benchmark for success. When coaching your sales staff, the first thing you should do is check whether they are following the sales process. Often performance issues can be traced back to missed steps or shortcuts.
Many of our clients report that having a sales process makes them better leaders because it adds an extra layer of consistency to coaching sessions. It takes a lot of the guesswork out of measuring staff performance; it shines a light on exactly where people are going wrong, and more importantly, provides tangible solutions moving forward.
According to Salesmanagement.com, top sales performers had a more mature sales process than their less successful peers. This indicates that having a defined process ties in directly with level of success.
“Our goal was to find out what separates Top Performers those with higher proposal win rates, greater likelihood to grow revenue, greater likelihood to hit their organization’s sales targets, and greater likelihood to sell with strong prices from The Rest…It turns out that Top Performers were much more likely to have more mature sales processes than The Rest, as shown in Figure 1 below.”
The RAIN Group Center for Sales Research
When it comes to running your own consulting business, there is no reason not to ask for help. Just remember to work smart, work hard and to solve real life problems.
Want more tips on how to improve your sales process? Check out our blog post How to Follow up with Digital Leads.