The Dirty Truth About Success as a Management Consultant

“It’s true, around the time you are promoted to senior manager, a partner will tap you on the shoulder and say, ‘You do know you’ll need to start selling projects.’ But, they won’t tell you anything about how to accomplish it.” This is my friend Stamos Kanellakis, the practice lead at Compunnel Digital, confirming my suspicion that the skill critical to wildly successful consulting careers is not related to people’s ability to be a good consultant. Rather, those most successful in this industry are fantastic sales professionals.

The thing is, most of the training and development in consulting has nothing to do with sales. You get plenty of information on how to run a good project, the latest strategic concepts – but how to develop relationships? Not so much.

And here’s the really crappy part of the equation – those folks who are on the partner fast track? They have never been taught how to sell, either – it is an inherent part of their personality. The folks who are most successful selling projects are born relationship developers (not necessarily the best consultants) and it is their ability to bring in business that promotes their success, leaving the heavy lifting of the mandate to all of you nice folks who have trained to be good consultant worker bees.

So, your success as a management consultant depends on your ability to sell – and you have no idea how to sell. Even worse, the word “sales” brings shivers down your back because you immediately think of a sleezy car salesman trying to pitch a broke down jalopy.

So if you are reading this, 10 years into a consulting career, and experiencing heart palpitations – don’t fret! The truth is that, as a consultant, selling and building relationships is not all that hard and only takes a small modification to your practice.

For the most part, people buy from folks they know, trust, and have a strong relationship with. The folks who are great at selling in consulting are just leveraging relationships they have been making since they were first on the job. On each project, those gifted with the relationship-making gene make connections and keep in touch with those connections. Eventually, someone gets promoted into a place where they can hire consultants, and they naturally pick up the phone and call the contact they have known for several years.

Here how you can replicate their success –

  • Identifying A Players – At your next engagement, take a look around. Ask yourself: who are the 2 or 3 of your peers at the client who show the most promise?
    Always be Giving – Once you have identified the people most likely to have successful careers, look to create relationship with them BY PROVIDING VALUE. Can your understanding of strategy and execution be helpful for these folks in advancing their career? Can you provide insight into how they can be more productive? Are you sharing research that impacts the industry? It is your ability to help and make a difference when their problems scale as their careers improve that will, over time, lead to you getting hired by your contact. Make sure you have some facetime with them do just that.
  • Don’t Stop the Music (or staying in touch) – Continue reaching out every three to six months and finding new ways to provide value. When that contact is in a position to hire consultants, you will be their first call. Remember – one problem solved does not a relationship make… you need to regularly stay in touch and provide value. Repeat the process of finding out what they are working and providing value and research that would advance your prospects careers.
  • Keep a Contact Schedule – Create a process around being in touch with your contact list – after you talk to someone, make a note to reach back in 3 to 6 months. Look to do this face to face whenever possible. People are more likely to share their struggles when you are in front of them. Keep a time on your weekly calendar to reach out, send some industry research and schedule time to get together.
  • Be Selective – Over time your list will grow. Be selective in who you keep on your list – I have a friend who every Christmas goes through all of his social media contacts and unfriends everyone with whom he does not want to stay in touch. My cousin unfriends people who she is not all that crazy about on their birthday. It sounds harsh, but you have limited time and you can’t make more of it.

The trick with sales, especially if you are not inclined to do it naturally, it to make it into a process. You were not born with the habit of brushing your teeth yet you (probably) don’t even think about doing it. If you keep doing it, the whole thing will start to feel natural.

It might seem like extra work, but it will save you a lot of time in the line to make partner.

Happy consulting.

Peter Laughter

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