The 3 Sales Mindset Shifts for Independent Consulting Business Owners

May 06, 2022

Introduction

I was working with an independent consulting business owner client the other day on her business development process.

We were examining a sales call she had and figuring out what went well (so she could repeat and amplify that) and we were also identifying areas of opportunity for her to adjust.

As we pulled back the layers, we uncovered that she was seeing this meeting as an interview of her.

That seems logical, right?

You might be thinking this type of meeting with a potential client IS an interview.

Today, I want to share with you how it’s a mistake to think of a meeting with your prospective client as an interview, along with the 2 other common thought errors when it comes to selling your consulting services.

For each mistake, I'll cover:

  • An Example of the Mistake
  • Coaching on the Mistake
  • Why The Mistake Is So Common
  • The Impact of Making The Mistake
  • The Fix To The Mistake

 

Mistake #1 - Thinking Your Meeting With A Prospective Client Is An Interview

An Example of Mistake #1

So, back to that client I told you about in the introduction.

Here’s what happened.

  1. I’ll share more background with you.
  2. Then I'll tell you how we realized it was a mindset issue.
  3. Finally, I'll explain how she shifted her thinking so that she was able to improve her sales results.

Here's the background:

My IC business owner client (let's call her Nancy) met with an internal stakeholder at her prospective consulting client. That meeting went well and they agreed on the next step, which was a meeting with the CMO.

Nancy went into this CMO meeting treating it as an interview. She was thinking that the CMO would want to ask her questions & vet her capabilities.

So, Nancy approached it as an interview. She established rapport, shared her elevator pitch, answered the CMO's questions, and established next steps.

For Nancy, at the time, it all seemed to be going great.

Then, a few days later, Nancy received an email from the CMO saying "it was great to meet her but now wasn’t the right time, and that they’d need to budget for her to start in a few quarters."

 

Coaching on Mistake #1

Nancy brought this scenario to her next coaching call with me.

I started to ask her questions about the business case for the CMO. As I asked those questions, we both realized that Nancy hadn't gathered the details she needed to:

  • Articulate the specific value for that prospective client
  • Understand their budget (if they had one)
  • Understand the internal approval process and who would be signing off

 

Why Mistake #1 Is So Common

I want to tell you that making this mistake is incredibly common.

It's not only Nancy (or you) who has approached these types of meetings like an interview.

It would make sense if you're making this mistake because you're much more used to interviewing potential candidates and/or interviewing for roles in your corporate life.

 

The Impact of Making Mistake #1

So, now you know you are making mistake #1 (at least some of the time).

What's the big deal?

Here's the impact.

When you come into a conversation with a potential client thinking it’s an interview, you set yourself up to be more passive. And so, you don’t set the tone or get all the info you need to craft a solution and a proposal.

 

The Fix To Mistake #1

The fix to this mistake #1 doesn't involve strategy. Nancy has a powerful strategy in place to sell her work when she's in the right headspace.

The fix to mistake #1 for Nancy (and for you when you find yourself falling into this trap) is to shift her thinking about the purpose of the meeting. For Nancy, her shift was changing from "this is an interview to vet me" into "I'm interviewing the client to understand what they need and if I want to give them a coveted spot on my client roster."

When she shifted her thinking about the purpose of the meeting, Nancy was able to shift from more of a passive, proving and justifying mindset into a more clear, confident and leaderly frame of mind.

Think about it for you:

  • How do you feel when you think you're being interviewed? Nervous, awkward, reactionary?
  • How do you feel when you think this is a mutual conversation where you're interviewing them for a spot on your client roster? In command, clear, confident?

The "fix" - Making that subtle shift in thinking.

 

Mistake #2 - Thinking A Meeting With A Prospective Client Is A Sales Call

An Example of Mistake #2

So, I'll share an example from another IC Business Owner client of mine.

Here’s what happened for her.

  • I’ll give you the background.
  • Then tell you how we knew it was a mindset issue and
  • Then what her reframe was.

My client (let’s call her Jane) had an initial conversation with her potential consulting client.

That potential client had reached out, to inquire about how and if Jane could help them.

Jane went into the meeting thinking it was a sales call.

And, that seems logical she would be thinking it was a sales call, right? It kind of is a sales call.

But, when Jane thought about it as a sales call, she immediately tensed up and felt awkward and scared....as most IC business owners do.

As a result, Jane went into that meeting and came across as hesitant. Then she overcorrected and started over-explaining and unnecessarily justifying throughout the meeting.

Ultimately, Jane's conversations with that potential consulting client didn’t move forward.

 

Coaching on Mistake #2

Again, I want to point out that this mistake is very common. Jane isn't alone, and neither are you if you've been thinking your meetings with potential clients are sales calls.

You may even be confused right now because these meetings are frequently called sales calls. So, are we just parsing words?

Here's what Jane and I dug into from a coaching perspective. I asked her:

  • What does a sales call mean to you? She responded that it means, in part, that she's convincing someone to buy her services.
  • When you think you're convincing someone to buy something, how does that feel? She responded that it feels gross and awkward and hard.
  • And, when you're in that convincing mode, how do you come across in the meeting? Jane described that she was always anticipating and thinking about what to say next. She was also thinking about what other people (who she thinks are good at selling) would be doing in this moment and why she's not as good as they are at this. In all, Jane realized she checks out of the conversation and figuring out how she might help the consulting client. Instead, she's in her head mostly thinking about herself and what's wrong with her.

From this, Jane was able to see that the root cause of her coming across as disconnected and not leading the client to co-develop a solution all stemmed from the way she was thinking about this meeting.

 

Why Mistake #2 Is So Common

I find almost all independent consultants think of their meetings with prospective clients as sales calls.

Of course we do. That's the language we learned throughout our corporate career.

 

The Impact of Making Mistake #2

Thinking about meetings with prospective clients as "sales calls" isn't a mistake in and of itself.

It's only a mistake if you thinking about the meeting as a sales call causes you to freeze up.

When you think about the meeting as a sales call, check in with how it makes you feel:

  • Do you feel awkward?
  • Do you feel inadequate?
  • Do you feel scared?

If the feelings you have after you think about the meetings as sales call are not fueling you to show up as your most impactful self, than you'll experience the negative impacts:

  • Being in your own head and not present in the conversation
  • Dilutes your ability to build rapport
  • Blocks you from asking high-quality questions of your potential consulting client

 

The Fix To Mistake #2

The "fix" to this mindset mistake #2 (thinking of a meeting as a sales call) is to shift your thinking about the meeting into a frame of mind that serves you.

For example, Jane reframed the meeting in her mind and her approach from "sales call" into a "requirements gathering/solution design call."

An important caveat here: I'm not recommending that you just need to think positively. This isn't an exercise in positivity. No. Instead, I'm recommending you reframe your thinking into a mode that is (1) believable and (2) productive.

For Jane, and probably for you too, she's facilitated 100s (maybe even 1000's) of requirements gathering/solution design sessions over the course of her career.

When Jane shifted her thinking from sales into requirements gathering/solution design, she noticed an immediate shift into a confident, leaderly, curious energy.

This is the power of using mindset as part of your business owner strategy.

For you:

  1. Think about how you want to feel in a meeting with a prospective consulting client?
  2. What do you need to think that will create that emotional state for you?

 

Mistake #3 - Thinking You're Selling Yourself

An Example of Mistake #3

I had a consulting business owner client (let's call him John) who had a meeting with his potential consulting client.

He went into that call with a subconscious belief that he’s bad at selling himself.

It felt so true for him.

He could tell me (and later did) so many examples of how he’s bad at selling himself.

 

Coaching on Mistake #3

Let's break this down. For John, we identified two mindsets to work on here:

  • Bad at selling
  • That he's selling himself

I started asking him a lot of questions about what he’s actually selling.

Through this, he realized he’s not selling himself.

AND he’s not even selling.

 

Why Mistake #3 Is So Common

I hear this from so many of you (and I thought it too)….

This thought: I’m not good at selling myself.

We're taught from an early age that we should be humble, that we shouldn't brag.

And so it's natural to feel terrible when you think you have to do all those things you've been taught not to do in order to be successful as a consulting business owner.

 

The Impact of Making Mistake #3

When you think you're selling yourself, how do you feel?

  • Exposed?
  • Nervous?
  • Anxious?
  • Inadequate?

These are all common feelings.

And, as you can imagine, feeling exposed, nervous, anxious and inadequate in your meeting with a potential client is not going to serve you.

 

The Fix To Mistake #3

Like I explained in the story about John, the key here is to examine what you're really selling.

You're not selling yourself.

No one wants to buy YOU.

They want to buy an outcome that you can help them achieve.

They want to buy the benefits that you can help them realize.

They want to buy the progress you can help them accomplish.

So, the fix to mistake #3 (thinking you're selling yourself) is to focus on selling the outcomes and benefits you'll help them achieve via the framework, methodology or process you will guide them through.

This removes the pressure and enables you to shift into demonstrating your skills of walking the potential client through a process to better understand their challenges and goals and to design a solution that will get them the outcomes they want.

 

Pulling It All Together

Do you see how your mindset about selling can make or break you?

It’s your thoughts & frame of mind that cause you to either show up as feeling:

  • Awkward
  • Uncertain
  • Tentative
  • Inadequate

Or

  • Confident
  • Clear
  • Certain
  • Curious

 

Put This Into Action - The 3 Steps To Adjust Your Consulting Sales Mindset

The key is to purposefully get into a productive frame of mind before your meetings with prospective consulting clients.

To do this, here are 3 simple steps to add to your meeting prep protocol:

1. Examine your thinking about selling

Brainstorm:

  • What you're thinking about (1) you (2) your potential client and (3) the meeting itself.
  • Get the good, the bad and the ugly out on a piece of paper so you're aware of what's lurking under the surface.

2. Notice what feelings are created by these thoughts

3. If you uncover that your emotional state won't serve you, then you'll want to reframe your thinking until you purposefully create the emotional state that does serve you and the potential client. Here are a few examples of reframes:

  • I've done 100's of requirements gathering & solution design sessions in my career (feeling = calm)
  • I'm great at asking questions (feeling = curious)
  • My goal is to uncover their challenges and to see how I can help them (feeling = curious)

 

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