Updated: Sep 23
I get it. Selling has a bad rap. When you say sales or selling, what comes to mind? Do you picture a sleazy used car salesman trying to manipulate you into buying an overpriced lemon?
I’ve experienced that version of selling—and not just when I was buying a car. When I was employed, I had consultants approach me like that. It felt icky and I sure as heck didn’t hire them.
It doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, you will be much more successful if you do it with integrity, genuineness, and heart.
But first, you have to get past your aversion to selling.
This is where a lot of consultants get stuck. And there’s a lot of advice floating out there on the Internet that doesn’t help. I’ve too often seen folks try to say you don’t have to sell to get business, or they’ve found less-charged euphuisms to describe what is, ultimately, selling. It’s like we’re afraid to speak its name.
Like it’s Lord Voldemort or something. That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.
Facing the Need to Sell
As thought leadership and growth coach Kasey Jones and I discussed during a recent podcast interview, if you don’t name it, get past the stigma associated with it, and embrace it as an essential element of having a successful consulting business, you will be less likely to do the work you need to do to master the skills of selling.
And, unless you are independently wealthy and just consulting for fun, consulting is a business. You may be consulting because you like to help people and make good things happen. (I hope that’s why!). But you are also in the business of consulting to make a living. And that’s a good thing. But that means you have to sell your services to make that good living. The basic premise of having a consulting business is: I sell; therefore, I consult.
(Yes, Harry Potter and Descartes references in the same blog!)
And, here’s the thing. Prospective clients know that you are selling. They know that you offer your services for money, and, that when you meet with them you, are trying to sell your services to them. You can call it anything you want, but they know that. And, generally, they are OK with it or they wouldn’t meet with you.
Embracing the Right Way to Sell
Now just because they know and you know that selling is how deals happen, it's not a license to sleaze. Clients want it to be a good experience as much as you do. And, if you want more prospective client doors to open to you, you want the good version of selling to be part of your brand and reputation.
So let me offer a way to understand selling that doesn’t shy away from naming it but shows how it can be done with integrity, genuineness, and heart.
Here’s my take:
Selling my consulting services is essentially the process of removing any obstacles between me and my being able to help the folks I want to help. If I know that I can help them achieve an outcome that matters to them or avoid a risk that threatens them, then I want to work with them. And, because I derive my livelihood from consulting, I get to work with them if they agree to purchase my assistance.
If I can’t help them or I’m not the person best suited to help them achieve their goals, then I don’t try to sell them my services. I tell them the truth and, if I can, I try to help them get the right consultant for what they need.
That’s how I sell my services with integrity.
I also tell them the truth about what is possible and not possible to achieve, what the uncertainties and risks are, what they will need to do to make the outcome possible, and how I will work with them. If they have objections or concerns about any aspect of the work, my price, or any terms of the contract, I talk to them about it honestly. If they want me to do something that I think will not lead to their outcome or will harm people, I tell them that. I’m diplomatic but honest. But, no matter what, I do not tell them anything they want to hear to close the deal.
That’s how I stay genuine in every step of the selling process.
The prospective clients I meet with are often trying to achieve something meaningful and important. Or they have aspirations that matter to them, but they don’t know how or need help to make them a reality. I look at the potential engagement through their eyes. If they are struggling or have had difficult experiences in trying to achieve their outcome, I empathize if I can and sympathize if can’t. I don’t fake it. I don’t manipulate them or pretend to care to close the deal. I care about them and what they want.
That’s how I sell from my heart.
Selling to Yourself
I also know that my services are worth selling. That’s one of the most important aspects of selling. I have to know what my value is and what the value of my services is. And I have to believe it so when I’m talking to a prospective client, I don’t have to convince both of us that my services are worth buying. Remember the used car salesman picture of selling? Well, you have to know that you are not the overpriced lemon!
So, if you aren’t there yet, that’s really the best first place to start. You have to first sell your services to yourself and embrace their value. Because once you truly know the value of your services, then selling them will get much easier.
Do you have to be 100% confident in your value before you try to sell your services clients? Absolutely not! But you have to have done enough of that internal work to at least believe it enough to get started.
Look back at your previous work to look for the ways that you achieved outcomes or contributed to them. Look at your hard and soft skills to get a clearer understanding of your secret sauce. Ask people who know you and have worked with to tell you what makes you and what you can help clients achieve valuable.
Then, when you begin to learn and, ultimately, master the strategies, techniques, and tactics of selling, you will have a solid foundation. And, as you do more work in your market, you can gather even more evidence of you and your services’ value.
Need Your Own Plan for Getting Consulting Clients Faster?
If you need more help to get clients and get them faster, I'm hosting a weekend virtual intensive retreat. Over 2+ days, I will work with a small group of soon-to-be or new consultants to get them ready to get clients and start to build a pipeline of work for their consulting businesses. The next one starts on October 23, 2020. Find out more here: https://bit.ly/33z3DUC