Consulting Sales: Tips & Tools To Help You Get More ClientsJan 13, 2023
Table of contents
- What is different about selling as an independent consultant?
- How to develop a consulting sales strategy
- The 3 components of an effective sales strategy
- My top 6 consulting sales tips
- The best tools to support your consulting sales process
- Additional resources
- You have your consulting sales strategy and process in place, now what?
Sales is a necessary evil for most independent consultants.
If you’re like most independent consultants, you want to work with ideal clients where you’re making a difference in their business, where you’re working on your own terms, and where you’ve exceeded your corporate income.
But, in order to have all of this, you have to first sell your consulting services.
That’s where the challenge lies in most independent consulting businesses
Independent consultants either choose to avoid selling altogether and take client work that comes to them. Many times, this “bird in the hand” work is lower paying and less challenging than the work you truly want to be doing.
Or, independent consultants choose to sell their own work but often leave money on the table because they’re worried about being too salesy or aren’t sure how to lead the consulting sales process from a value perspective.
It doesn’t have to be hard to sell your consulting services.
In this article, Consulting Sales: Tips & Tools To Help You Get More Clients, I share what you need to know to build a powerful, effective consulting sales process for your independent consulting business.
What is different about selling as an independent consultant?
The difference between selling as an independent consultant and other types of businesses, such as larger consulting firms or small businesses, is that independent consultants are responsible for everything from marketing and selling all the way through delivery.
In other words, you’re wearing both the sales and delivery hats in your business.
Other types of consulting firms and small businesses have sales teams that are separate from the delivery team. As a result, there’s a layer that makes the sales process much less personal.
How to develop a consulting sales strategy
It takes 3 steps to develop a consulting sales strategy.
Step 1: Ensure you have a lead generation process so you’re able to input leads into your sales process
First, build a repeatable process that generates leads. Leads are the input to your sales process. If you don’t have a queue of potential clients, then you don’t need a sales strategy. There’s no one to sell to.
Step 2: Define the information, inputs, and buy-in you’ll ultimately need to formulate a proposal
List out all the information, inputs, data, artifacts, and stakeholder types you’ll need to collect in order to understand your potential client’s pain points and desires and ultimately formulate a proposal.
For example, you’ll want to document all the questions you need to ask to:
- Qualify potential clients as either ideal, acceptable, or an organization you’d refer to other solutions/providers.
- Clarify their goals and why they want to achieve them.
- Quantify the impact of the outcomes they want to achieve.
- Understand the impact of not doing anything.
- Build out an approach(es) for them to achieve their objectives.
- Navigate their organization to drive consensus from the decision makers, buyers, and any other stakeholders.
- Agree to one of your recommended approaches.
Step 3: Reverse engineer your sales process starting with the contract execution stage and working backward to the first meeting
And then in step 3, you’ll parse out all the needs analysis and stakeholder buy-in inputs you collected in step 2 so that you end up with a series of steps for your sales process.
Length of the consulting sales process:
Your consulting sales process may take one, hour-long call or it could take multiple meetings. The number of touchpoints and duration depends on what you offer and your client’s ability to make decisions.
Number of steps in the consulting sales process:
You’ll want to map out a repeatable process where you know the standard touchpoints (e.g. meetings, emails, proposal reviews, etc.) it takes you from the initial conversation all the way through contract execution and engagement kick-off.
You’ll want to define exactly how you’ll handle exceptions that occur during the consulting sales process, such as the potential client stops responding to you.
The outcome of the consulting sales process:
Ultimately, you want to ensure that the process you’ve defined results in the potential client making a decision to move forward to work with you or to say no explicitly.
Note that these sales processes may differ by service offering type and/or client type.
The 3 components of an effective sales strategy
There are 3 components of an effective consulting sales strategy:
Component 1: Your consulting sales process playbook
The first component of an effective sales strategy for your consulting business is to have a documented consulting sales playbook.
This consulting sales playbook consists of the following consulting sales techniques:
- The steps required to sell your services to an ideal client.
- The optional steps you employ on an as-needed basis to sell your services.
- The guidelines you want to use for making decisions about when and where and for which types of clients you’ll engage with; your company rules on what type of clients and engagements you won’t agree to take on.
- Your process for determining pricing.
- Your process for determining availability and start dates, so you can input those into your proposal.
- An evaluation process so you can continuously improve your consulting sales process.
Component 2: Your sales assets
The second component of your effective sales strategy is your consulting sales assets. Know that these are living documents and templates and that you’ll be consistently evolving them. With that, I caution you to avoid trying to perfect these before you start using them.
Examples of consulting sales assets are:
Your service offering definitions
Define your value proposition, the pain points you solve, the typical outcomes you help clients achieve, and the pricing strategy for each of your service offerings.
You might be at a place in your business where you consult on a variety of topics and deliver a variety of services and results. Even if you do have this variation in your business, it will benefit you from an efficiency and thoroughness perspective if you create straw model offers to use as your starting point as opposed to starting from scratch with each potential engagement.
This is a document, typically a presentation format, where you describe the services you provide, including benefits, typical outcomes, methodologies, or frameworks you utilize, and case study examples.
The capabilities briefing is a mechanism to facilitate conversations with potential clients and to demonstrate your knowledge, understanding of their pain points and desired solutions, and your experience.
The consulting proposal template is your standard template that describes the:
- Client background
- Client objectives
- Proposed solution(s)
- Miscellaneous terms
You’ll have a different proposal template for each service offering.
Component 3: Your sales mindset
The final component of the effective consulting sales process is a process to build an effective consulting sales mindset.
One of the keys to success as an independent consultant is to think of yourself as a business owner. A business owner’s primary responsibility is to generate revenue for your company. You don’t have a company if you don’t have revenue.
As a result, it’s important to:
- Uncover where you’re thinking about yourself and your business from an ineffective mindset. For example, you may still be thinking about selling from an employee perspective and that there are certain rules for what you think it’s appropriate to ask for because of a hierarchy. In other words, it’s common to think about the CEO as someone “above” you in a hierarchy, and results in you not coming across as confident or direct.
- Have the tools to build a new business owner mindset and self-identity so you come across as confident and capable during the consulting sales process. You won’t want to wait until you feel like you’re good at sales to be confident. It’s the opposite. First you need to create confidence (through your mindset) in order to get good at selling your consulting services.
My top 6 consulting sales tips
Here are my top 5 consulting sales tips:
Tip 1: You’re not selling yourself:
Even though it seems like you’re selling yourself, you’re not. You’re selling an outcome(s) that the client wants to achieve. Selling consulting services is so much easier and more effective when you take yourself out of the equation.
Tip 2: Selling consulting services is not the same as interviewing
When you’re selling consulting services, you’re selling the solution to a problem that the client wants to solve or an outcome they want to achieve.
Often, it can feel like you’re interviewing for a “position” with that potential client and you fall into interview mode.
Consulting sales can turn into an interview when interviewing (as opposed to engaging external consultants) what’s most familiar to the person who’s engaging with your consulting firm.
It’s your responsibility as the consultant to facilitate the sales process so it doesn’t turn into an interview.
For more on interviewing versus selling consulting, listen to episodes 027 and 028 of the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business Podcast:
- Episode 027 - 5 Key Differences Between A Job Search and Selling Consulting (Part 1)
- Episode 028 - 5 Key Differences Between A Job Search and Selling Consulting (Part 2)
Tip 3: Don’t get too mired in the details and miss the big picture
It’s common for consultants to miss the big picture because they’re so focused on saying and doing the “right thing” in the sales process. Make sure you keep your eye on the big picture so you have a clear and deep understanding of why the client wants to achieve the outcome(s) you deliver.
Tip 4: Don’t get ahead of yourself (qualifying out too early)
When you feel nervous, awkward, or inadequate as a salesperson, it’s common to qualify out a potential client. Your brain is trying to help you escape feeling uncomfortable emotions.
And then, you end up missing the opportunity to improve at sales, to get better at qualifying, and to be the leader in the sales process.
To avoid this mistake, set your qualifying criteria in advance and then stick to it.
Tip 5: Sell yourself first
When you aren’t 100% sold on your ability to deliver outcomes for your consulting clients, you will come across as hesitant and tentative in your consulting sales conversations. This hesitancy can be subtle yet make all the difference between your potential client trusting you and not.
Sell yourself first on what you’re delivering so you feel confident and expertly.
For more on sales mindset shifts for independent consultants, listen to Episode 060 of the Grow Your Independent Consulting Business podcast.
Tip 6: Use the proposal as a confirmation, not a decision-making tool
It’s common for independent consultants to send proposals too early. By too early, I mean sending a proposal to drive a final decision by your consulting client.
Instead, send the proposal as a formality after you’ve had a chance to gain buy-in, select the option that you both feel is best to pursue, and finalize pricing.
The best tools to support your consulting sales process
It’s common to run an independent consultant business with a couple of sales tools. Nothing fancy or complicated is needed.
There are 3 specific sales tools that are important for your consulting sales process.
Tool 1: A sales tracker or CRM
A Sales Tracker or CRM is important so that you can track the details regarding your sales pipeline. The Consulting Sales Tracker is important to ensure you follow-up in a timely manner and that you’re tracking your deal flow (projected revenue, timeframes, and probability) against your revenue goals and capacity.
Example Consulting Sales Tracking tools include:
- Microsoft Excel
- Task management systems (e.g. Asana, ClickUp)
- CRM solutions (e.g. PipeDrive, HubSpot, Zoho)
- Note: There’s no need to use a robust, complicated CRM like Salesforce.
Set up the tracker to capture consulting sales information, such as:
- Consulting leads
- Deal status
- Probability of close
- Weighted contract value
- Estimated engagement start date
- Next steps
Tool 2: Consulting sales account plan
Creating a Consulting Sales Account Plan for each of your consulting prospects will help you design an account specific sales strategy that’s tailored to each specific client organization, stakeholder/decision-maker group, and set of solutions you’re offering.
The Consulting Sales Account Plan will help you take a step back to think about the overall sales strategy so you plan ahead, think about potential obstacles, and facilitate the sales process more strategically.
You can use a simple Word document to document your Consulting Sales Account Plan.
An effective consulting sales account plan consists of the following:
- Account Summary (e.g. Company name, engagement sponsor)
- Deal Status
- Account Details (e.g. potential revenue, relevant company information,relationship strength)
- Account Objectives
- Account Solutions
- Stakeholder Analysis Map
- SWOT Analysis
- Decision-making process
- Sales Action Plan
Tool 3: Your Corporate Presentation Template
Create or hire someone to create a corporate presentation for you/your independent consulting company.
You can find a presentation designer on Upwork or design a template yourself using one of these software products:
- Microsoft PowerPoint
- Apple Keynote
And finally, for your consulting sales, here are additional tips & tools to help you get more consulting clients.
- Consulting lead generation guide - the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to fill your consulting pipeline in less than 30 minutes a day.
- Independent Consultant’s Pricing Assessment - answer ~12 questions and receive a detailed Independent Consultant’s Pricing Scorecard that highlights your areas of opportunity to increase your rates and pricing structures.
- How Independent Consultant Rates and Retainer Fees Work - a comprehensive guide to pricing for independent consultants.
- Grow Your Independent Consulting Business Podcast Episode 25 - 3 Sales Strategies for Consultants Who Hate Selling.
You have your consulting sales strategy and process in place, now what?
Do you know that you need to evolve and enhance your consulting sales process but you’re not sure where to start? And, even if you do know where to start, do you find it difficult to carve out the time to do this work to refine and improve your consulting sales process?
Helping independent consultants fine tune their consulting sales processes is one of my specialties as a business coach for independent consultants.
I help independent consultants to build out their sales playbooks, uncover their blindspots, evolve their pricing strategies, and grow an effective sales mindset.
If you’re interested in working with a private coach to make more progress in your consulting business with less stress and second-guessing, click here for more information on my private coaching program.