Getting Consulting Clients: Reaching Out to a Prospective Client Challenge
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
Is there someone you have on your prospect list that you keep delaying reaching out to?
I get that there are many reasons for not reaching out. Maybe you don’t feel confident enough or you are afraid they’ll say no. Maybe you don’t feel ready or don’t want to seem salesey with someone you know and respect. I get it!
But here’s the most important question: do you have some good-enough reason to think that you could help them achieve something that matters to them or solve a problem they have?
If so, why are you keeping yourself from them? They need your help!
Ready to Challenge Yourself?
I want to challenge you to get past whatever is holding you back and go for it! This week. Pick someone on your prospect list or, if you don’t have one, pick someone who you can get a meeting with and is relevant to your market and what you do.
Reach out and set up a meeting.
Don’t overthink it. Don’t worry if you don’t feel ready or feel insecure about it. Just reach out and set it up.
Now Ready Yourself
Once you know it’s happening, you will feel a greater urgency to be prepared, right? You want to increase the likelihood that it will yield a result.
The key to that is doing your homework. Let me walk through the process step by step.
1. Conduct Research
The goal in this step is to gain a basic understanding regarding the company or organization and the person you are meeting with and anything that you may be able to help them with. This is important even if you know the person. It’s not a social call. It’s a business call. So the more you know about them and their circumstances, the better you’ll be able to get business.
At minimum, look at their website to get a thorough understanding what their company or organization is doing (e.g., their services and products, areas in which they are growing) as well as how they are doing (e.g., are they having sustainability problems, have they had any recent public relations issues, have they had any recent or significant turnover, or are their products and services aligned with industry trends?).
Do an Internet search on the person you are meeting with to see what they are saying publicly. Review their LinkedIn profiles and other professional social media. Look for videos of them or podcasts they’ve been on to get a feel for who they are and how they talk about things that matter to them.
Also research what is happening in their industry or sector. Do this even if you are familiar with or work in the same field. Look for insights about the context in which they operate, including market shifts, industry trends, opportunities, and threats.
2. Codify Your Learning and Map It to What You Can Do for Them
I suggest creating a “cheat sheet” with key points you want to remember for your meeting. It should include top industry trends, positive developments/accolades for the company or organization, and potential needs and/or issues for the company or organization determined by your research and expertise.
Then map what you have learned about them to what you can do as a consultant. Focus on how you can solve their problems and achieve their outcomes. This may not be an exact fit to what you hear when you talk to them, but it will likely be close enough to enable you to more easily adjust during the conversation.
3. Prepare for What You’ll Say and Ask
A common mistake consultants make is having the first time they say critical things to be when they are meeting with prospect. The problem with that is that you may be nervous and start to babble. Sadly, I’ve seen that more than I have seen tight, clear, and relevant messages. I'll confess. I’ve even done it when I didn’t prepare correctly.
The two most important things you need to practice are:
How you introduce yourself
How you describe what you do
No One Cares About Your Resume
When you introduce yourself, you are not reading your resume! Why? Because they don’t care about your resume. Really. As impressive as it may be. What they care about are their problems and aspirations. Your introduction only needs to sets the tone for the conversation, demonstrate relevance to them, and give them a tiny nibble of your credibility. So your description should be short and directly relevant to who you are introducing yourself to.
And you should practice saying it aloud until it feels comfortable and natural saying it.
Same thing when you describe what you can do. It should be about them—their pain and gain points! Not your passions or work history. It should include relevant real-world examples that relate to what you are talking to them about and results that demonstrate you make results happen.
Again, practice saying it aloud so it sounds natural and hits the points you want to hit.
Ask Revealing Questions
One of the most powerful things you can do during your meeting is to ask questions. And not just any questions. You want to prepare and then ask questions that do three things:
Demonstrate your knowledge of them and the context in which they operate
Enable you to gain a clearer and more nuanced understanding of their pain and gain points, what they have a demand for, and how you might help them
Allow you to pivot the conversation to discussing how you could help them
“X is a major shift happening in your market. How have you been preparing for that?”
“What will happen if you don’t solve this problem?”
“What is this problem costing you from a [financial, operational, personnel, or cultural] perspective?”
“What have you tried before to solve the problem and what happened?”
“What outcome would make this process worth it for you?”
Plan for the Expected
You should expect that the person you meet with may have concerns or objections that may stop them from hiring you. The most common ones are allocating resources, price, timeframes, scope, or approaches to the work. Sometimes they have had negative experiences with consultants in the past. Spend the time before you meet with them to think through what some of those objections may be and prepare to address them, including addressing them before they arise.
And…you know what I’m about to say…practice saying your responses aloud so you say what you want in the moment.
If you have a great meeting, they may ask you for a proposal. But that doesn’t always happen. So be prepared to offer a next step. If you identified ways that you can help them, tell them what those are. I often say something like, “I think I could be most helpful working with you to achieve [the outcome(s) they want].” Then suggest what you could do to help them achieve their outcome(s).
No matter what, get a next step. If you have enough information to write a compelling proposal, suggest it. If not, suggest you write up a scope of work for them that lays out options for them to consider.
Then get your next meeting on the books!
The key here is not to make them do the work to know what to hire you for or to define a next step. Do it for them!
Rise to the Challenge
It’s as simple as this: taking action and preparing for the outcome you want will increase the likelihood being successful. So do yourself—and your prospective client—a favor. Get in front of them and be prepared to get a yes so you can make their pain go away and their aspirations reality.
How About Some Free Help?
If you need a little more help to get you to accept the challenge and wow your prospect, click here to get two tools that will make this easier for you:
An Initial Prospective Client Meeting Checklist to help you prepare for your meeting step by step
Tips and Scripts for Tricky Client Conversations, which includes my proven strategies and scripts for responding to common objections
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