How to Scale Your IC Business With a Consulting Sales Funnel

blog article Jul 11, 2023

 Estimated time to read: 12 minutes


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What you will learn in this article

When I started out as a management consultant, my network provided a steady trickle of clients. But there was a catch: the work they provided often paid less than what I knew my expertise was worth, and it lacked the challenge and fulfillment I craved. 

My underlying problem wasn't about finding consulting clients; it was about finding the right clients and selling my services effectively.

The truth was that I I was running a business that was dependent on my network, and I had no idea how to market and sell myself to consulting clients who would pay for my expertise and who had interesting, challenging, and fulfilling projects.

Back in my corporate role, I had always depended on the marketing and sales teams. They landed the project work and my teams implemented them. 

Now, as an independent consultant, there was no team.

There wasn’t a SDR who prospected for leads.

There wasn’t a seasoned sales executive who knew how to navigate a prospect through a sales process, negotiate, and close.

There was just me.

I had to wear all the hats.

The problem was that, even though I had been part of that corporate sales team as an implementation SME, I didn’t know how to sell my own work from inception to contract.

The concept of a consulting sales funnel was an alien one to me.

Recognizing this, I immersed myself in the world of consulting sales funnels. I started constructing strategies for each stage: building awareness about my services, generating interest with engaging content, offering initial consultations for evaluation, and streamlining the decision-making process for potential clients.

The transition wasn't immediate, but gradually, I noticed a shift

I started meeting potential clients who had interesting projects and budgets to pay for them. I started getting referrals for work with high-paying consulting clients who valued my expertise.

My transition from a “take-what-comes-to-me” business model to a predictable, thriving consultancy comes down to one thing. I figured out how to build a consulting sales funnel for my business.

This journey into consulting sales funnels was a turning point in my career. Now let's explore how it can make a difference in yours too.

What is a consulting sales funnel?

A consulting sales funnel is a strategic process used by consultants to attract, nurture, and convert prospects into consulting clients. It’s a framework to visualize a prospect’s journey from first hearing about your services to ultimately hiring you.

Understanding the consulting sales funnel

The 5 stages of a sales funnel for getting consulting clients

There are five stages of a consulting sales funnel.

  1. Top of the Funnel (Awareness): This is where you catch the attention of potential consulting clients. In this stage, you engage in marketing activities such as speaking at events, networking, referrals, and publishing thought leadership to generate awareness about your consulting services.
  2. Middle of the Funnel (Interest): Potential consulting clients start showing interest in your services. This could be through engaging with your content, subscribing to your newsletters, or requesting more information about your services. Here, you’re seeking to generate interest in your specific consulting services and expertise. You can cultivate relationships and stand out with these potential clients by sharing case studies, offering assessments or strategy sessions, and sending personalized, value-laden emails. This phase is about building trust and demonstrating your expertise. In this stage, it’s important to differentiate yourself by demonstrating your expertise.
  3. Middle of the Funnel (Consideration): In this stage, the potential client has engaged with you to better understand your services. You’ll lead them through a sales process so you can acquire a deep understanding of their business problem, their goals, their drivers, and the full spectrum of potential solutions for them. You want to lead a discovery process that uncovers the value-drivers for the project, and so you have the inputs to build a compelling, value-based proposal. 
  4. Bottom of the Funnel (Decision): In this stage, potential clients are ready to make a decision. This is where you can provide a valuable proposal, clearly describing and quantifying the value to your potential client, and diligently setting next steps can also help seal the deal. They may be comparing you with other solutions such as utilizing internal resources or engaging larger consulting firms. 
  5. Post-Sale (Retention, Expansion, and Referral): This post-sale stage isn’t often depicted in the traditional funnel, but it’s crucial to your longevity. Continuing to develop and strengthen relationships within the client organization, delivering value, and uncovering additional opportunities while working with them can lead to repeat business, additional business in that organization, and to referrals. 

As an independent consultant, having a clear understanding of this consulting funnel can help you strategize and plan your marketing and consulting sales efforts to attract and retain more consulting clients.

Why having a sales funnel is important for consultants 

Implementing a consulting sales funnel is important for several reasons:

  1. Gives you a framework to advance prospects to a decision: Knowing where your potential clients are in the sales funnel allows you to tailor your marketing and sales strategies effectively. For example, if a potential client is at the interest stage, you might focus on making compelling mini-offers, such as a strategy call or assessment, to move them to the consideration phase.
  2. Leads to continuous improvement for your business development process: The funnel helps you understand your customer's journey, from the moment they first hear about your consulting firm to when they decide to hire you. Understanding this process can help you identify areas where you can improve to convert more leads into clients.
  3. Fuels predictable business growth: With a defined sales funnel, you can track how many leads are at each stage, which can help you predict future sales and growth. This data can also inform your revenue projections and business strategies.
  4. Improves your efficiency: A sales funnel helps you allocate your resources effectively. You can focus your time and effort on the leads that are most likely to convert into clients, thereby improving your efficiency and ROI.

Overall, a well-defined sales funnel and consulting sales process are fundamental tools for your business's success. It can help you streamline your sales process, make informed decisions, and grow your consulting firm.

How to measure success for each stage

Measuring the effectiveness of each step in your consulting sales funnel is crucial for understanding what strategies are working and where you need to make improvements. Here are some ways to measure the effectiveness at each stage:

  1. Awareness: You can track metrics such as website traffic, LinkedIn engagement (shares, comments), number of speeches, number of articles published, and the number of subscribers to your newsletter. The number of new leads or inquiries about your services also gives an indication of the effectiveness of your awareness strategies.
  2. Interest: Measure the engagement with your expertise and content. For example, you could track the open and click-through rates of your emails, the number of webinar attendees or eBook downloads, the number of 20-minute strategy calls, or the time spent on specific pages of your website.
  3. Evaluation: Track how many prospects move from the interest stage to requesting more detailed information or a discovery call. You can also monitor the time it takes for a prospect to move from showing interest to evaluating your services, and the number of follow-on discovery calls booked.
  4. Decision: Key performance indicators (KPIs) here include the number of proposals sent versus the number of accepted proposals, the conversion rate from proposal to contract, and the time it takes a prospect to move from the evaluation stage to becoming a client.
  5. Post Sale: Track client satisfaction levels through surveys or direct feedback. Also, monitor the rate of client retention, the number of repeat contracts, and the number of referrals you receive from existing clients.

By monitoring these metrics, an independent consultant can identify where potential clients are dropping off in the funnel, and strategize on how to improve the process to increase overall conversion rates.

How to create a consulting sales funnel step-by-step

Creating a consulting sales funnel involves several steps, each one designed to attract, engage, and ultimately convert potential consulting clients into paying clients. 

Here's a step-by-step guide to setting up your consulting sales funnel:

Step 1: Define your target consulting clients

Understand who your ideal clients are. What are their needs, pain points, and goals? What type of industries or roles do they work in? 

Get clear on what you offer to your ideal clients. What problems do you solve for them? What experience and approach make you uniquely positioned to help these ideal consulting clients? 

This clarity will guide your marketing efforts and help you create content that resonates and stands out with them.

Step 2: Build mechanisms to drive awareness

In step two, you’ll create mechanisms to drive awareness for your consulting services. This could include a LinkedIn presence, blog posts, videos, webinars, speaking to organizations and groups, a website, and/or networking at industry events. 

The key to success in this stage is consistency. It’s called “top of the funnel” and it’s common for consultants to overlook the importance of consistently adding new people to their audience in the top of their funnel.

From this Awareness stage, you'll work to move potential consulting clients to the Interest stage by providing valuable content that resonates with their needs and having a well-placed call to action, such as asking them to subscribe to your newsletter, which can guide them toward showing deeper interest.

Step 3: Create interest so your ideal clients interact with you

As clients become aware of you and your services, you’ll want to make offers to them so they reach out to meet you and learn more about what you do and if you are the right person to work with them.

For example, when the prospect attends an event where you’re speaking, you can invite them to schedule a 20-minute strategy call with you, to help them apply the concepts from your presentation to their business specifically.

Or, if you’re meeting someone on a Zoom networking call, you can suggest you have a follow-up 30-minute assessment where you dive into specific problems they shared in the meet-and-greet type call.

In this stage, one of the mistakes consultants often make is not being direct, specific, or compelling enough when making offers for their potential clients to reach out for an initial call.

Once a prospect has shown interest, it’s time to lead them through a sales process, to help them evaluate your services.

Step 4:  Help your prospects evaluate your services

At this stage in your consulting sales funnel, you’ll lead the prospect through an initial conversation and detailed discovery so you understand their goals, challenges, solutions, and value drivers. With this information, you can craft a valuable business case, pricing, and proposal.

In this stage it’s important to fully understand the client’s business problems and goals and to use the process to demonstrate your expertise by asking high-quality, probing questions. You want to make sure you’ve built a rapport with the potential consulting client, and also that you have all the detailed inputs you need to craft a thoughtful, valuable proposal.

Step 5: Lead your clients to a final decision

In this step, of the consulting sales funnel, you’ll lead the client to make a decision about working with you.

Make it easy for your prospects to hire you. Provide a clear proposal that the client has helped go-develop through steps 4 and 5, including options, pricing information, roles and responsibilities, timeline, and key performance indicators (KPIs). Proactively schedule time to review the proposal, answer any questions and address any concerns they might have. Be prepared to negotiate with them. Ensure that the process of engaging you is simple and straightforward.

At this point, it’s about driving a decision so you know if it’s a yes or a no to proceed.

Step 6: Intentionally establish your post-sale processes to drive retention, expansion, and referrals

After the prospect executes your contract, the focus becomes maintaining and strengthening the client relationship. 

As a consultant, I know you’re great at delivering high-quality project work or retainers for your consulting clients.

At the same time, don’t forget you’re running a business. Implement business development processes so you have an intentional process for pursuing follow-on engagements with the client, expanding within the client organization to work with other stakeholders, and seeking referrals to other consulting clients.

Step 7: Implement measurements and self-evaluations to drive continuous improvement of your consulting sales funnel

Finally, it's crucial to measure the effectiveness of each stage of your sales funnel. Use the appropriate metrics for each stage. 

If a stage isn't working as well as it should, adjust your strategies or try new ones. The consulting sales funnel should be an iterative process, constantly improving based on feedback and results.

Remember, creating a sales funnel isn't a one-time task but an ongoing process that requires constant evaluation and optimization.

What are the best tools to support a consulting sales funnel?

There are three primary consulting tools that ICs can use to support their sales funnels:

1. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software

CRM tools such as Pipedrive, HubSpot, Zoho, or are crucial for managing and tracking interactions with potential and existing clients. 

They can help you keep track of where each prospect is in the sales funnel, schedule and follow up on meetings, and segment your contacts based on specific criteria. 

They also allow you to automate tasks such as sending emails or reminders, saving you time and ensuring consistent communication.

Click here to read The Best CRMs for Consultants (And Which to Avoid)

2. Email Marketing Software

Tools like ConvertKit or Mailerlite allow you to automate your email marketing, which is especially useful for the Awareness and Interest stages of the funnel. 

You can nurture leads by sending out newsletters, sharing your articles or resources, and inviting leads to events such as webinars, round tables, and workshops.

These tools provide analytics, so you can see open and click-through rates, helping you measure engagement and effectiveness.

3. Scheduling Software

When potential clients are ready for a strategy session, you want to make scheduling as easy as possible. 

Tools like Calendly or Acuity Scheduling allow potential consulting clients to see your availability and book a time that works for them, without the back-and-forth of trying to find a suitable slot. They often integrate with your existing calendar and can send out automatic reminders to reduce no-shows.

Get help taking the right actions to attract, engage, and close new clients for your independent consulting business

As an independent consultant, your expertise lies in solving complex problems and delivering value in your specific field, not necessarily in sales or marketing. 

Developing a successful consulting sales funnel involves learning how to market and sell yourself, including the necessary strategies, tactics, and mindset to be successful.

Getting help from a professional who specializes in consulting sales funnel development allows you to accelerate your success by knowing what strategies will work best for you and your consulting niche, to recognize your blind spots, and help you get out of your own way.

A coach can help you identify the right strategies and tools, avoid common pitfalls, and implement a highly effective sales funnel more quickly than if you were to do it yourself. 

While it's an investment, the potential return in terms of time saved, increased client conversions, and sustained business growth makes it a valuable one. This allows you to focus on what you do best: delivering exceptional service to your clients.

Click here to listen to other consultants sharing their experiences working with a coach.

Click here to learn more about private coaching for consultants.

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