GUIDE | 10 MIN READ
6 Ways to Sell Better and Get More Consulting Clients (Guide)
As an independent professional you have a lot of additional responsibilities; not only must you deliver quality work, you have to find it as well. Winning new contracts takes more than luck and a quality portfolio. In order to keep leads flowing into your project pipeline, you need a consistent plan of action and must dedicate time to finding new projects.
Putting off business development is not an option as a solo worker. Inconsistent business development can lead to inconsistent revenue stream, which can quickly devastate your business or, at the very least, add to your stress load. Relying solely on one or two large contracts may work for the time being, but your future success is dependent on how you acquire new business. And the way you sell has an impact on your ability to win new business. Here are six ways to win more clients and avoid the dreaded feast or famine cycle.
In this guide, you will learn
How to overcome the fear of selling
The word “sell” makes many solo business owners cringe. After all, no one wants to emulate the quintessential example of the fast talking manipulator who talks you into buying things that you don’t need. No one likes being sold either, which carries the implication of overriding someone’s better
judgment with sleazy techniques and slick talk. Given the often unfair perceptions about sales people, it is easy to understand why many independent consultants – who choose the path because they are experts and not salespeople – find the idea of selling their services uncomfortable or downright distasteful.
Selling is a natural process that is integral in much of our day to day life. Have you ever presented an idea to a board, committee or client? Have you ever interviewed for a job? Have you ever convinced a child to just try a new food? These are all examples of selling. To learn to excel at selling, remember it’s simply a process of helping people determine whether or not your product, service or idea has value to them.
While moving to the stage of persuasion is an element of sales, this occurs after you have established that a client sees value in what you are offering. When you sell persuasively, you are not selfishly imposing your will, but listening, discovering, clarifying and collaborating. In this way, you become a partner and a problem solver. You do not have to be an extrovert, smooth talker or “salesy” type in order to successfully sell your services. Overcoming the common fears of selling will help even non-sellers to sell with ease.
LEARNING FROM REJECTION
Rejection is a reality in selling. In fact, rejection can help you in your solo business. Rejection can illuminate what clients expect and help you to become better at uncovering needs, discovering roadblocks and better communicating solutions. When a prospective client declines a proposal, there may be other factors influencing their decision, such as:
- The scope of work may have been bigger than their original vision and budget
- The proposal uncovered other issues/challenges that made executing a solution more complex
- The company’s priorities shifted and the problem you are proposing to solve has moved to the bottom of the list
Ask detailed questions in your needs assessment. You will want to understand what triggered the search for a solution as well as their commitment to implementing a fix. Research the company before your initial discussion so that you can prepare a list of probing questions. Use LinkedIn, the company’s website and branded content, company announcements and press releases to gain insight into the business at large. If you have inside connections, ask questions that will help you learn more about the operations and culture of the business If the company selected another vendor, conduct a loss analysis if possible. Below are a few areas to probe in your loss analysis.
- Confirm the opportunity and the solution(s) offered.
- Did the customer believe that you had the ability to solve their problem? How did your solution compare to your competitors?
- What pain did your solution address? What pain did you not address
- How can you work with them in the future?
- There are a myriad of reasons that the client selected another vendor, including:
- A relationship with another firm
- They were more comfortable with a larger firm
- A competitive solution offered more
Any information that you uncover can help you improve your selling process.
PROACTIVELY BUILD YOUR PIPELINE
There is no greater feeling than the phone ringing with clients wanting to do business with you. Whether through referral or discovery, they found you and they want to learn more. Responding to opportunity may be preferable, but it is important to be proactive in cultivating a steady flow of opportunity. This means setting up a regular process for cultivating selling opportunities.
There are advantages to actively seeking new sales opportunities. You are an expert at what you do and what you offer. You are intimately familiar with the topic of conversation and aware of potential objections. Proactively reaching out to prospective customers gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your expertise by connecting your offering to their needs, whether or not they have been articulated. Initiating contact allows you to build a relationship with a prospective customer in advance of the selling process.
MANAGING THE SALES PROCESS
Preparation will help you to effectively manage the sales process. This includes preparing for things that could go wrong, such as getting stumped by a question. Selling your services does not require you to have all the answers. On occasion, a prospective client may ask a tough question that cannot be answered in the moment. When this occurs, acknowledge the question and commit to following up with an answer.
Listen more than you talk in the sales process. Clients will tell you exactly what they need if you listen. Repeat information back to confirm your understanding and always connect your solution to what is most important to them. Don’t forget to let them know you want to do business. Express your interest in moving the relationship forward and provide a next step such as meeting with other stakeholders or following up with a written proposal. Every contact with a prospective client should provide a next step, even if that is a follow-up call in 3 months.
LEARN FROM THE BEST
In your career you have often been on the other end of the selling process. Leverage what you have learned as a decision maker to sell your services to clients. What did the good sales reps do that won your attention? How did they create a win- win solution? Selling is not persuading someone against their will. When you sell someone something that alleviates pain, solves a problem or makes their life easier, that is cause for celebration.
Leverage what you’ve learned as a decision maker to sell your services to clients.
Ask detailed questions to understand why your proposal was not chosen. Client feedback is an essential learning tool to improve your skills.
You’ve taken the leap. You’ve launched your consulting career and are working your first contract. Now what? Learn more in our blog, “How to Land Your Next Consulting Contract.”
The Sales Planning Process
As an independent consultant, you have to be especially conscious of how you spend your time. You want to engage in routine lead generation while still maximizing your billable hours. A little sales planning will help you to get the highest return from your efforts.
The goal of selling is not to merely generate a high volume of leads, but to cultivate high quality opportunities. Identifying your ideal market will help you maximize the time you spend selling. Knowing your best customer will help you to be smart about how and where you spend time selling. For example if your ideal customers spend time on LinkedIn, you can focus your social media marketing on that platform. If your best customers are cultivated through a networking group, allocate your time accordingly. Plan your outcome before you begin by clearly defining your sales goals. Do you want to generate a certain amount of revenue for the month, quarter or year? Is your goal to grow the number of leads in your pipeline by a certain percentage? Or perhaps you want to grow your newsletter subscriber database by a certain amount. Clearly articulating what you want to achieve from your sales efforts will keep you focused and allow you to measure your effectiveness.
What would you do if in one day you lost every single client? Many independent professionals faced this very challenge in the wake of disasters such as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. Disasters are a dramatic reminder of why it is critical to always have a pipeline of opportunity. To avoid the vagaries of the economy or climate, selling must be a routine process.
Map out your sales activities for each month and follow it. Consistency is critical to ensuring that you have a steady flow of new business opportunities. Remember that selling is a process of discovery, clarifying, and collaborating. You will be building relationships over time, so it is important to have tactics for both generating new leads and nurturing prospects. For example you may include follow-up sales calls to clients you met at an event. Or you may send out an article of interest to a prospective client you spoke with by phone.
Your sales planning should also include preparation for managing prospective clients. Every opportunity will not be the right opportunity. Qualify leads to ensure that they are a good fit. Nothing is more frustrating than spending time developing a potential client only to discover that they do not have the budget to hire you.
Here are a few key questions to ask:
- What business problem will you solve by working with me?
- Do you have defined timeline and budget?
- What will success look like for you as a result of our working together?
- How quickly do you need to see improvement to determine that the project is a success?
- What is the process for bringing me on as a provider?
Knowing when it is time to grow your solo business is an important decision, but you must first define what success means to you. How you measure success will also help you identify hope to develop a business growth plan that is uniquely tailored to your business vision. Learn more in our blog, “How to Create a Growth Strategy for your Small Business.“
How to Find New Clients
Even if you are comfortable selling your services, finding new clients can be challenging for independent consultants. Use the tips in this section to create your own customized list of lead generation activities.
- To get more ideal clients, talk to your own ideal clients. Your best customers can provide you with much more than referrals. Your best customers can help you identify unmet needs in the market, illuminate key selling points you may be missing, and point you to lead sources.
- Optimize your website. Unlike you, your website can sell 24 hours per day, 7 days a week. Make sure that your website provides a clear path for prospective clients looking for information. Writing case studies, articles and whitepapers can provide rich sources of information that can help clients learn more about you and develop interest. Add a visible opt-in form that offers clients an easy way to connect for more information.
- Become a thought leader. By becoming a trusted expert you can develop a platform for cultivating sales opportunities. Speaking, teaching, training, and publishing are just a few of the ways that you can become a go-to expert in your market.
- Cold call. Who are your dream clients? Make a targeted list and reach out by phone to decision makers. Build cold calling into a regular routine. For example, you may set aside 30 minutes a day for cold calling or have a goal of calling 3 people per day.
Local business journal, newspaper or trade publication. Organizational news is a great way to identify potential business opportunities. A change in
management plans for expansion or a new product announcement may all be opportunities for your services.
- Corporate departments. You may already be selling to corporations but think about departments you would not normally approach. For example a marketing consultant may find work from the training department, human resources or even the IT department.
- Learning institutions. School districts, colleges and universities frequently hire outside consultants. From hiring marketing consultants to risk management
professionals there could be a wealth of opportunity for solo business owners.
- Media. The media can be a powerful vehicle to achieve visibility in your market and they are always in need of expert content and sources. Network with targeted media contacts and let them know that you are an expert source. Social media makes it easier than ever to develop relationships with journalists.
- Make a list of your target media outlets – include industry verticals, local print and broadcast journalists, and broader business publications. You can also subscribe to Help a Reporter Out (HARO) which connects media sources with experts for free.
- Industry events. Use websites such as Meetup.com, ConferenceHound.com and EventBrite to discover conferences and events in your area. Rather than passing out business cards to everyone in the room, focus your efforts on having deeper conversations with fewer people. Listen to discover potential clients and referral sources. Ask questions and listen for the answers. Be sure to establish the next step for moving the relationship forward. You may agree to connect on LinkedIn, follow-up with an email or phone call or commit to scheduling a one-on-one meeting.
- Social networking. Social networking can help you identify new business opportunities but can also be a tool in moving relationships forward.
- Create a LinkedIn company page. In addition to your profile you can create a company page for your business. Use it to share expert insights, news items, photos or videos.
- Join a LinkedIn group and participate. Just like offline networking groups you need to be active to be top of mind. Find a group that has active discussions and set aside a little time each day or week to participate.
- Blog. If you enjoy writing, or have the resources to hire a blog writer this can be a wonderful resource for selling your expertise. You need no more than two posts per week to be effective. Focus on creating relevant content that benefits your ideal audience. If you do not want to maintain your own blog, guest blogging is another alternative that can help you be a visible expert.
- Segment your social circles. You can communicate with and deliver targeted information to your social circles. Create a twitter list of potential clients and partners. This makes it much easier to track and monitor conversations that matter the most to you. In Google Plus you can segment people into circles. Use this to communicate relevant news items or offer tips to targeted contacts. Another bonus of Google Plus is that it provides a huge lift to your search results.
- Repurpose your presentations. Share your presentations using social networking tools such as SlideShare. You have already done the hard work of creating the content and delivering the presentation so why not make it continue to work for you? Presentations demonstrate your expertise and also function as social proof that others consider you a trusted resource.
- Video and Podcasts. Create a YouTube channel or podcast as a vehicle for sharing expert insights. You can use it to educate, teach how to solve a specific problem or even interview other experts. Both video and audio have incredible reach and can be a useful tool in generating new business leads.
- Advertising. Today you have traditional and digital platforms for advertising. You can create highly targeted ads on Google, LinkedIn or Facebook in addition to traditional ads in newspapers and publications. It is critical to spend your advertising dollars wisely. Before you commit to an ad, you want to make sure that it will reach your target audience. Like all sales and marketing efforts, advertising is not a one and done activity. You will need to commit to a focused and consistent effort to get results.
Many new forms of advertising yourself involve online platforms. It is important to understand technology in order to reach new audiences.
EXPERT TIP: “It may seem tedious, but doing homework on the person you’re calling will make a huge difference. This can be as simple as doing a google search on the company or looking up the prospect on linkedIn, says Sam Richter, author of Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling (adams business Press, 2012).”
It can be tempting to keep your head down, do the work and hope that the business will come. However, as an independent professional it’s your job to let people know about the solutions you offer. People may not like being sold to but they do like to buy. Organizations need your knowledge and
expertise to solve problems and help them move their business forward. Selling is the first step to connecting their needs you’re your solutions.
With the right mindset and a little planning anyone can master the art and science of selling. Always approach the process from the client’s perspective. Be honest and transparent in your sales efforts. You do not need to put on a show to be successful. Clients will appreciate a straightforward, sincere approach. Listen more than you talk. You want to create a meaningful dialog and you can only do this by actively listening. Ask lots of questions and listen for the answers. Your clients will lead you down the cobblestoned road to a deal if you pay attention.
Before you can sell to others you must be convinced of your own value. You can genuinely offer solutions when you are confident that you are a problem solver. Not every sale will go your way, but this should not dampen your confidence or enthusiasm in your ability to help others solve a business problem.
On the surface, it may seem that it would be easy to sell something that you know and are passionate about. However, just because you’re an expert in your industry doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve developed the skills and techniques to excel in the sales aspect of your business. Learn more in our blog, “How to Become a Better Salesperson.”
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