Episode 198: Embracing Your Buyers—with Deb Zahn
Deb Zahn: Hi, I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So, in this podcast, it's going to be me. And I'm going to be talking about embracing the reality that you have buyers. And I'm going to dig into what I mean by that. But this is something that's absolutely critical for you to ultimately get business, build a business that is going to be sustainable, and ultimately sustain the life that you want to have.
This is one of the first challenges that a lot of consultants, particularly new consultants, have when they get into the business, is embracing the fact that it actually is a business. And what do we know about businesses? Well, we know businesses sell things, and they sell them to buyers. But when you're thinking about doing consulting, often what happens is you think about the cool stuff that you want to do and the helpful things that you want to do out in the market, or out generally in the world. And the transactional part of the thing that you have to do in order to be able to do those good things you want to do, causes a lot of discomfort. And I'd actually call this transactional discomfort. And it is extremely common when folks start. I had it, I had it big time. Particularly because some of the people I was trying to get business from were people I knew, and often were people I was friends with.
And so here's what happens, is that you either try and let yourself off the hook, or you read things from people who are also trying to let you off the hook. And so often what happens is there are euphemisms, particularly for the term buyer. Now, there's euphemisms for selling and all kinds of things like that. But I want to focus particularly on buyers. Because often the euphemisms are things like ideal client, which I use and I have used, and I'm going to talk about that in a bit, or avatar, or something like that. Something that doesn't sound terribly transactional, and it might feel less salesy. It might feel helpful because you don't have to think about that icky part, which is “Oh my gosh, I'm going to have to tell someone to give me money to do the things that I want to do!”
Here's the problem with it, is that it can obscure the realities of what you actually have to do to get business. And what you have to do to get business so that you can go do the good work that you want to do, is if you soften it at the beginning just to increase the comfort, then you might end up not doing some of the things that you have to do in order to create a transaction that gives you business. And that's really at the heart of what you have to do. If you're using fluffier terms for it, you might not realize that that's what you have to do.
And so what ends up happening, again, is that a lot of new consultants will focus on, well, this is the type of work I'm passionate about, or it's less about who's actually going to pay them to do it. And it's more about what I want to do out in the world. It's not that that's not important, it's actually extremely important, and it is part of how you think about who your buyers are. But often what happens is people skip the part at the beginning, which is who's actually going to pay me as a consultant? Who actually is my buyer going to be? And if you skip that, there's going to be consequences to skipping it. And I've seen those consequences more time than I like to say. This is why I'm like, I got to get on a podcast, and I have to talk about this.
What also happens is you might say, “OK, I'm going to define my ideal client, but I'm not going to think about the transactional part. I'm not going to think about whether or not there is somebody who wants to pay me for doing this. I'm just going to stick with the fact that the term ‘buyer’ makes me feel uncomfortable.” But here's what I want to do on this podcast, is I want to challenge you to embrace that word that you have buyers, and that you need to define who your buyers are going to be. And I want you to see, and I'm going to give some examples of how if you allow yourself to do that, it is going to do wonderful and amazing things for you in your business. And I promise you it's going to reduce stress. You're going to give up some of the comfort of not using a term that might feel a little icky, but what you gain is you gain the things that you really want, which is having a thriving business and really getting to do the work that you want to do.
And so, I'm just going to say a few things. I'm going to give you permission to use this word, which is it is OK to make a livelihood as a consultant. If you really want to be a consultant or you are a consultant and you want to go do good things in the world, it's OK to get paid to do that and to exchange value. They want your help. They're going to give you money to do it. It's OK to do that. And the reality is for clients who really want to work with you, and who really need your help, they're going to be delighted to pay for it. And they will certainly think of themselves as buyers, so there's no shame in that at all. There's no shame in taking money to do the good things that you want to do.
When you worked in an employed situation, you did the same thing. It was just in a different circumstance, and you didn't have to worry about necessarily the transactional part of it. So, I want, if you can, to release any discomfort, shame that you have around it because what you're going to gain is so much more important. And the reality is, is that transactions involving money, it's just a normal part of business. Again, it lets you do what it is that you really want to do as a consultant, and why you got into consulting in the first place. It also gives you the benefits of having a thriving business. You have much more to gain than you have to lose by shying away from the word buyer and shying away from the transactional realities that actually come with it. And so, I am going to encourage you to not shield yourself from those realities, and not use euphemisms as a shield from those realities and the things that you have to do to be able to get business, and to be able to get income coming in.
I want to dig into that a little bit more, and I'm going to start with how you identify your buyer. And I'm just going to keep using the word buyer, until you're listening to this, you feel great about it at the end. The one thing I would say is one of the first things that you should do when you're starting your consulting business, or if you've started it and you didn't do this piece, is to go back and do it, is to think about who your buyer is first. That is really one of the first questions that you need to answer. And it's an iterative process, but it's the first stop is the who. And the who basically means who's going to pay me to do the work that I feel like I'm put on the planet to do as a consultant?
And that is not where you ignore your past, and you ignore your passion, and you ignore all of that. That actually gets baked into it. I'm going to break it down for you. You can home in on who your buyer is. One great place I think to start, is pinpointing the overlap among your expertise. If you look at your existing knowledge and skills, your ability to solve problems, your ability to help folks achieve aspirations based on the expertise that you have gained, that's one of the pieces of overlap. If you're thinking of this sort of as a Venn diagram, that's one of the circles. The next is what results you've been able to achieve. So, if you've achieved results or contributed to results in the past, what are those? Because ultimately your buyer wants to buy not just your expertise, but they also want to buy results. They want you to help them achieve things. They want you to help solve problems. You got to think about who that is, that's one of your other circles in the Venn diagram.
Then you got to think about your market. Your market is essentially where your buyer is going to be. And you want to think about markets that you know really want to work in, that you have access to, that you've been in before, however it is you want to define it. You got to think about where you think there is going to be demand for what you're going to do, and that's going to be where your buyer is ultimately located. And demand, by the way, is a need that somebody has that they actually want to pay for.
Now, the last one is your passion, so that's the last circle in your Venn diagram. I don't ignore passion. I just don't think that passion should necessarily be, or ever be, what you use to drive your consulting business. Because you still, even if you're doing what you absolutely love and you feel passionate about, you still have to find a buyer who's going to pay for it. You do consider your passion. You also consider as part of that, the type of work that you want to do, but also the type of person you most want to work with. That gets mixed into your passion.
So, if you look at those, and you think about that as a Venn diagram, then at the intersection of those is really your first pass of who your buyer is. So, who actually would value this expertise? Who would value this result and in particular, value it enough to pay for it? Who is in that market that I think it makes sense for me to actually be working with? And who am I passionate about working with, and would care about the work that I truly, truly want to do? That's the first pass at who the buyer is.
But a lot of that is focused on you. Focused on your past, focused on your abilities, focused on things that you care about. Obviously, the market also has a bit of a focus on you because you got to know that you can do things in that market. But you also then have to say, OK, who is that person? Who is that buyer? And again, it's not a company. It's not an organization. People buy from people. So, you got to think about who the person is at that intersection. And I know that you could probably name a whole lot of people, or describe a type of person, and you could describe a dozen. But you really want to start with a person. Who would be there, what do they do, where do they work, what's their title? As a place to start. You've got to know what it is that they're ultimately doing in the world, where are they working? The difference in your market between one type of company or another type of organization is going to be significant, so you actually really need to know that.
And you need to know what their title is, and what their job position is. Because I know that when I'm a consultant I work with, I tend to be, my buyer tends to be a CEO. Well, for someone else, if they're doing technology work, well, then that might be the Chief Information Officer. If they're doing HR work, that might be the VP of HR. You have to know that to be able to answer some of the questions that I'm going to go into next. Because you have to, once you get a gist of all right, here's who's at that intersection of my expertise, the results, the market, my passion, you then have to answer buying questions. You have to say, why would that person buy something? Forget about you for a second. Why would they buy something? What actually would make them want to spend money? And so, that's where you have to dig into what they actually care enough about that they're going to spend some money.
And then you have to know why they would buy a particular offer. That's where you start to think about what could I do that would be a match for why it is that they would be willing to spend money? And then you have to think through why would they buy from you? And those are buying questions that you have to dive into, to really home in on where you should be spending your time trying to get business. And once you know those things, part of what you're going to dive into is you're going to dive into the things that are going to influence their buying decisions. And usually, there's more than one thing that influences their buying decisions. Hopefully, it's not a client who's like, "I'm just going with the cheapest." Hopefully, they're a little more nuanced because if they are, they're going to get much better results.
But you got to know what makes them spend money, and what would make them spend money on you. So, you have to think through, OK, if I understand who that buyer is, I know where they work, I know what their title is, I know what market they're in, now I can think about what's the context that they're operating in? What's happening in their work environment or in the larger environment around them that's really impacting what it is that they need to do, what they're held accountable for, et cetera?
You have to think about who they answer to. I work with CEOs, I know that they answer to boards of directors. If you work with, again, I'll say the VP for human resources, they might report to the CEO, they might report to a different position. It's important to know that because you also will have to know what decisions can they make? Can they actually sign a contract with you? Because if they can't sign a contract with you, they might be your first stop, but they are not ultimately who your buyer is. Your buyer is who's actually going to sign the contract. Now, they might be influencing your buyer, and you need to know that, but you really need to dig into those things because those will completely change your strategies in terms of how you're going to get business.
You have to be able to dig into their pain points. What are their problems, challenges, and fears? What are the things that are just so difficult for them to do, and difficult enough that they're willing to pay someone to come in and help them with it? If you don't know who your buyer is, that's going to be so generic, or it's going to be vastly different, that you won't be able to ultimately if you're in front of someone, say anything that's going to be meaningful to them. And I'm going to give an example of that in a moment.
You have to know things, like what's causing them the most stress? How do they define success? Success for themselves, success for the organization that they're working in? You can only answer that question specifically enough if you have clarity about who will ultimately buy from you. You need to know what they have to do to be successful, what they have to do to not fail. What is it that they truly aspire to? What do they really want to achieve and would really make them happy if they actually did achieve it? And again, you can't know that with the level of specificity that's going to help you get business unless you are really clear about who your buyer is. Who's going to sign a contract, who's going to pay you to do the work that you want to do?
And if you don't know that buying part, if you can't answer those buying questions, then what ends up happening. I know this from experience because it's what happened to me when I first started, is you're going to spend a whole lot of time reaching out to people, trying to connect with people, pursuing people, and they're not going to be the right people. They're not going to be people that you can necessarily help, or they're not going to be people who are necessarily going to buy from you. They might desperately need what you have, but they might not have a true demand for it. They might not actually be willing to spend money on it. And if you haven't thought through those buying questions, you may not know that, and you may end up spinning your wheels or just throwing spaghetti against a wall and hoping that something sticks. And you can't rely on that to be able to have a profitable sustainable business.
I want to get into a little bit more about the specifics. Because again, you keep hearing me saying specific, specific, specific, and that really is at the heart of understanding who your buyer is. And once you understand it, I promise you it will get so much easier for you. But this is such a major point of confusion and resistance. And I see this all the time when I'm coaching folks who are new consultants or even folks who've been doing it a while but they're not getting the results that they want, is that the more specific I tell them to be about who their buyer is, or to limit it down to start with one person, and maybe you're going to add other people, but start with one person, it feels limiting. It feels like, but I could help a whole lot of people.
And that is probably, and in most cases absolutely true. But if your buyer is a lot of people, you now can't answer any of those buying questions. Because they're all going to be so generic, and fluffy and meaningless that it's not actually going to help you and it's not going to get you in front of the right people. So, starting with a specific buyer, and then if you want to add a couple others, you can, you can go back and answer those questions and now you've got this specificity.
I know that it feels limited, and I also know that it feels scary. Because particularly when you first start consulting, or if you don't have enough work in your pipeline right now, any limitation you put on who you're going to potentially reach out to or who you're going to try and get business from, feels like you are feeding the scarcity beast. I get that a hundred percent. But the reality is, what you're actually doing is you end up doing a scattershot approach, and you're going to have a much lower hit rate in terms of being able to get business. Giving yourself the gift of clarity and focus is what's going to help you get business, and clarity and focus on your buyer is one of the most important things.
And I'm going to use an analogy to explain why this matters. And I used this the other day in my membership, and I think it landed and it made sense, and I think it helped somebody breakthrough. So, I'm going to use an analogy. If you are looking to sell something to someone who has a pet, it's not enough to know that they're an animal person. Animal person is actually a term that gets used. I call myself that, other people call me that, so it's a thing. But it's not sufficient information enough to know what would make sense to sell to me.
You actually need to know that I have cats, a lot of them, and I have chickens, not many of them. You have to know that about me. Because if you show up, or I see your marketing, or you reach out to me and you're trying to sell me a leash, or you're trying to sell me a chew toy, or you're trying to sell me a little hamster wheel, I ain't buying. And there is no circumstance, I don't care how beautiful that chew toy is, there is no circumstance under which I am going to buy that because it has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with what I actually have a demand for.
And I am also, by the way, not going to say, oh, well, they seem to sell animal stuff. Maybe I should ask them if they have anything for the pets that I actually have. Because you've already signaled to me that you don't know me, and you've already signaled to me that you kind of don't care. That you're really just trying to sell stuff, and you're just kind of throwing stuff and hoping that you'll hit a dog person, or you'll hit a hamster person. Now on the other hand, if you know that I'm a cat person and that I'm a chicken person, which I say proudly because I am, then you're going to know, I should sell her catnip, and I should sell her mealworms. Anybody who doesn't know what mealworms are, anybody who has chickens, a hundred percent knows what mealworms are. But that is a treat that chickens absolutely love, and it's how I get them to do what I want them to do.
You're going to know that that is an absolute fit for me. So, when you show up and you're like, "Look at this really cool cat nip thing, it's organic cat nip, the cloth is made from hemp," that even shows me more about who I am because you also know that I care about those things. So, those are going to be things that I'm going to be, I'm going to perk up, and I'm going to say, ooh, wait a minute, this person gets me. And it's worth me having a conversation with them, or it's worth me buying that.
It works exactly the same with consulting. The clearer you are, the more focused you are on the specifics of who your buyer is, the easier it's going to be for you to get business from them. And I'm going to give you a very concrete example that happens to me all the time, and hopefully at some point people will stop doing it because it drives me a little batty, which is... on LinkedIn, you know that there's a whole lot of people that will do a connection request, and the minute they do a connection request, they pitch to you. So, first and foremost, I hate that. Please never do that. And if you're a consultant, please never do that. Because it doesn't really honor the fact that you just asked for a connection, which should be an invitation to a relationship, not an invitation to an immediate sell. I tend to ignore them anyway.
But one thing that I've noticed that is happening more and more, is that people are pitching things to me who haven't even taken the time to see who I am and what I do. I have people pitching to me services that I actually provide. They're actually pitching to me how they can help me get consulting clients, which is kind of funny since, one, I have a ton of consulting clients and I talk about that a lot, and two, I help other people get consulting clients. Now, I understand that it's probably not them doing it. They're probably using an automated system or they're probably using a virtual assistant, but there is no way in heck I am going to even want to get on a call with them or talk to them. And by the way, I never do because they clearly did not do their homework. They did not qualify me as a buyer, which basically answers the question, does it make sense for me to offer this to that person?
And so, it turns me off. It doesn't really make me respect their approach at all, and there's no way in heck I'm ever going to get on a call with them. Nor am I going to ask them on a podcast or do anything else because it looks like a rookie move. And it is. Those are some examples, an analogy and then a concrete one, of why the more specific you are and the more you know about your buyer, the more likely you are going to have things move forward. You're going to know who to reach out to, you're going to know who to market to, you're going to know what to offer, that they're going to value enough to actually pay for, and it's actually going to be more of a fit for them.
Once you're in front of people or in your marketing, you're going to know what to say that they're actually going to care about. Or it's going to be close enough that they're going to perk up and say, hey, I want to talk to this person" Or if you're in front of them, I want to keep talking to this person. Because they're going to know that you get them, and that you may be a fit for them. And you're going to know, by the way, that they're going to be a fit for you. So, it's worth you spending your time and energy trying to pursue business from them because you've already done the homework, and you've already figured out, “Yeah, this is the type of person that would actually buy from me. And if they bought from me, they're going to get some fabulous stuff because I'm going to help them solve important problems that they care about. I'm going to help them achieve things that they really care about.”
You're also going to know can they buy from you? You're going to know is this the person who's actually making the buying decision? And if not, I have to think through my strategy. You're going to know can they actually afford to buy from you? Can they pay you for your value? And if not, then either that's not the right buyer for you, or you have to think of another strategy to be able to work with them, so you got to find someone who is willing to come up with the money so you can do that good work.
Everything gets easier when, again, you give yourself that gift of clarity. And when you give yourself that gift of embracing reality that you are selling your services, you are selling them to buyers. And the more you can home in on finding the right buyers, the more likely you're going to be able to have that thriving business you want. And you're going to embrace that there are buyers who have money and really need your help and are going to be so happy to give you money to help them. And so, that's what I want you to embrace.
Buyers is not a bad word. I was going to say, it's not a four-letter word, and it actually is quite literally not a four-letter word. But it's not a bad word. It's a word that if you embrace it, it's going to help you make decisions, it's going to help take fruitful action, and it's going to help get you connected with and working with the people who truly need your help. That's what I wanted to say to you and thank you so much for listening to this. And I want to start seeing buyer, buyer, buyer pop up in everything you're talking about.
Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up in a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything.
But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those. And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it. Share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up.
So, as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at craftofconsulting.com. Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode.