Junior consultants are not expected to sell all that much… but if they want to advance, they will have to. To get there, they will need to provide consistent client value and establish personal rapport right from the start. They may not yet be dealing with decision makers who can sign off on a huge consulting contract, but as careers evolve, a carefully nurtured client relationship can pay off big time.
At first, junior constants might not think about sales, but it’s critical to start to hone these skills. After all, consulting is a game that is played amongst friends.
Let’s begin at the beginning and let’s use a situation everybody knows.
Let’s compare sales to dating – You’re nervous, awkward, and looking to see if there is any chemistry. You’re likely overly self-conscious and every word is magnified in your mind as you figure out a way to connect. You’re closely monitoring the other person looking for approval or clues. Is there potential?
It’s same when you meet someone new – client, prospect, or hot date. Did they make you feel relaxed? Did you laugh? Did they pay attention to you? Were they thoughtful or complimentary? Relationships are relationships, and ‘first dates’ reveal quite a bit about whether this is a solid bet for a good consultant/client experience.
There are folks out there who can walk into a room and exude confidence, take control of any situation with courage and clarity right off the bat. The truth is most of us aren’t like that. Most of us have to overcome shyness or even a severe case of the butterflies! Don’t worry. That’s normal.
First and foremost, acknowledge any fear. Some of us are wallflowers, some of us get tongue-tied. It’s okay!
Most people who are afraid of sales or afraid of approaching others make the mistake of thinking they’re the only one with that particular affliction. The truth of the matter is that it’s the one’s who are not a little afraid that are the freaks! Most of us have to take a deep breath and plow forward battling a racing mind and a strong fear of possible rejection.
Know your fear going in, and you’ve taken a big step to manage the situation. Gather your thoughts, say, “Okay, I’m nervous.” Then take a breath, enter the room and greet your new client or prospect.
Ok, now what?
Whenever you’re meeting someone new, look them in the eye, smile, say hello, and introduce yourself. It’s as simple as that. Be curious to know people, to know what they do and what they care about.
People are interesting. Everybody has an interesting story to tell. Job # 1 in your new relationship is to draw out their story and then ask questions to show you’ve heard, you’ve connected. Be interested in them. Ask thoughtful questions, both personal and professional. The first meeting sets the tone.
Notice any need or desire to dive into your business pitch or build your credibility right off the bat. Remember the goal is to build a long-lasting relationship. Let it evolve naturally. You’ll know when the time comes for you to pitch yourself, your story and what you bring to the table.
Be patient and don’t try too hard to impress. We are building relationships and playing the long game.
Keep your intention set on finding ways you can be helpful. Focus on listening to decipher an opening where you can deliver value. You’re there to see how you might make their business run more efficiently, to identify problems, and offer solutions. By being curious, by asking questions, you’re taking the time to understand who your client is and how they see things. You’ll soon get an idea of how you can help.
That’s how you begin, but how do you move forward? How do you nurture this new relationship into something more, something that gains depth and becomes long-lasting?
The question in a new client relationship quickly becomes what do I do next?
You met this person, said hello, and got their name. You connected on LinkedIn. You invited them to an event or a coffee. Sometimes you hear back, often you don’t. So you follow up, just enough but not too aggressively. Figure out how often and in what ways they’re open to hear from you. Find out what kind of information they’d like to receive from you that’s relevant to their world.
Consistency of effort in your outreach and follow up is key.
Finding the right cadence for each prospect / client takes attunement, high intent and sometimes creativity. Sit down and map out a stay in touch process to help you navigate this part of the relationship. Find ways to stay present in your client’s mind. Be thoughtful and customized in your approach to them. People like to know that you’ve put some thought into your message and what you’re sharing with them. No one really likes receiving generic messages that you also sent to 500 other people.
Remember, a key is to uncover your client’s interest. Ask them directly what intrigues them and shape a stay in touch program to that.
A well thought out prospecting and network building process emphasizes just enough ‘touches’ and less pressure to find immediate deals from any one source. Slow and steady wins the race.
We find most consultants are good at process and systems in their work, and yet in their sales approach and networking approach, they forget to be process-oriented and systematic. Apply your consulting skills to yourself. Think of yourself in the third person and lay your process out. Then apply it and refine it as you go.
Focus on the kind of people you like working with and who’ll help you to grow. Life’s too short to waste your time with people you don’t like. You’ll have more success with people you have a natural connection with, so find those people and work with them.
Sometimes younger professionals feel they have to work with people that are difficult or not very kind. Difficult people make us flustered, frustrated, and cause self-doubt. But nothing is more rewarding and a quicker path to success than finding clients you work well with and who like working with you. Invest in those relationships that help you grow. Actually you don’t need many to build a strong foundation. A few powerful relationships will lead to others.
Not everyone is going to like you. That’s okay. It’s a two-way street. You won’t like everybody either. Decide who’s in and who’s out and move on as quickly as you can. Prioritize people who get you. Find people you resonate with. Your path to success is filled with people you like. It’s as straightforward as that.
There’s another reason to seek out people you like as potential clients. You need to be yourself. You need to speak openly and passionately about your work, your plans, your ideas. Be prepared to share your thoughts, how you go about things, and what you’re working on. We all have our unique perspectives and experiences. People have a natural tendency to downplay their own story. Find a way to tell your story that feels easy and comfortable. If you’re in an environment you feel comfortable in, this part of your process will emerge naturally. You never want to feel like your selling. You want to feel like you’re helping.
All of this has to do with one career-long goal.
When we meet with people who are influencers in our space, our question is always, “Well, what type of people do you want to get to know?”
By offering to make introductions, they’ll often reciprocate with an introduction of their own, and the conversations that result are the easiest conversations to have. It’s a way to super-charge your network build.
People assume their clients know they’re always looking for new business. Avoid making this assumption.
Acknowledge you’re looking, you have room for some new business. Be specific about what you’re looking for. And make it clear what problems you solve best, where is your area of expertise, what solutions you offer.
Everybody is building a network. People get it.
Then ask this:
“Is there anyone else that I should know? Anyone else here in this organization? Anyone else in your network? Anybody else that you think that I should know?”
Those are simple, open-ended question prompts, that lead in our experience to all kinds of exciting things. Be the architect of your future. Continuously look to build your network.
Remember – Sales is all about relationships – particularly in consulting. People don’t bring on strangers to help them solve career changing problems – that is reserved for trusted relationships built over time. You will build quality relationships by being genuine, showing interest and curiosity. If you consistently provide value you will create the runway you need to build a sustainable consulting practice. Happy hunting.