Getting more consulting clients depends on your ability to walk into a meeting with prospective clients, find out what they need, and show them that they need your help to get them where they want to go. If you got a meeting with a prospective client, congratulations! But before you walk in that room, you have to take some critical steps to prepare that will increase the likelihood of you getting a contract.
Do Your Homework
When a consultant leaves the room after their first meeting with a prospective client, you want the client to say, "Wow. They really did their homework!" You want them to think and feel that you care enough about them to do your homework before the meeting. You want to gather enough intel to understand who the client is. You want to know what they do and don’t do, what they care about, what they have achieved or are trying to achieve, how they are organized, what their history is, any changes they have made recently, what their culture is (or what they say it is), and anything else you can learn about them.
How do you get this type of information about them? At the very least, read their website. Read all of it. I mean it. All of it. Why? Because you want to absorb as much as you can about how they talk about themselves. You want to find out how they promote their company or organization. You want to find out who their leaders and staff are as well as who they serve and how they talk about them. You want to look for any topics or themes that matter to them enough to repeat them on their website. You also want to prevent any common consultant missteps when you are meeting with them—things like asking them questions that they know you could have and should have found on their website.
You also want to search the Internet to find out about the person or people you are going to be meeting. See if they have written anything, had what they have said captured in minutes, have videos of them speaking, have been on a podcast, etc. This will give you incredible insight into who they are and what they care about as well as their style of speaking and interacting. This type of personal intel wasn't as readily available in the past so take advantage of it! It can help you prepare for how you will engage and present yourself once you are in the room. It also can give you a better appreciation or respect for them. I once found a video of a prospective client I was meeting with, and I was so impressed with how he talked about an issue that was near and dear to me and how passionate he was about it. It made me want to work with him! And the respect I felt showed when I was meeting with him—even though I never mentioned seeing the video of him.
Based on what you find out, identify somethings that you do that you could possibly help them with. As you are researching them, think about—and take some notes on—things that you have done in the past that are relevant to who they are and what they do. Identify what challenges you know other companies or organizations similar to them or in their field are facing. Consider what is happening around them that may be impacting them or that they will need to prepare for. Thinking about these things ahead of time will better prepare you to have a conversation with them that will more likely reveal their needs and demonstrate your relevance to them as a consultant.
Prepare to Say Who You Are and What You Do
Because people often make judgments about consultants quickly, the way you introduce yourself is critical. Most clients aren’t interested in hearing anyone rehash their bio or go on and on about what they’ve done in the past. They want to hear about who you are in a way that is relevant to who they are and what they do and care about. So instead of trying to summarize your resume or cover everything you have done in the past, give one or two brief sentences about who you are and then one or two relevant—and very short— examples of work you do. This establishes initial credibility, tells them why they should keep listening to you, and lets them know that you understand who they are and the context in which they operate. If you do this skillfully, people will walk away with those specific examples etched in their brains, which will make you far more memorable than any sort of dry description of your resume.
For most, people, I do not suggest scripting out word for word what you are going to say because you don’t want to sound over-rehearsed or robotic. However, I would suggest you do at least an outline or key talking points about who you are and what you do. That allows you to keep it conversational while also keeping it crisp and clear.
No matter what, there are two essential things I know will make all the difference:
Do not let the first time you think of how you are going to say who you are and what you do be when you are in the meeting and…
Do not let the first time you say who you are and what you do be when you are in the meeting.
This is so important! I’ve seen too many examples of people bombing because they didn’t think about it ahead of time or sketched out what they wanted to say but then didn’t practice saying it. And, to be perfectly honest, I’ve been one of those people! Describing yourself and what you do—in a way that is relevant to the prospective client—is not easy! So it takes time to create it and then get used to saying it.
Prepare to Ask Relevant Questions`
Create a set of specific questions that you want to ask them. I’m not talking about generic questions you ask everyone, such as “What keeps you up at night?” Nothing signals to a prospective client that you have not done your homework faster than questions like that. Because you are also giving them an experience of what it will be like to work with you, you want to demonstrate that you took the time to get to know them, and you want to get a deeper understanding of what could help them. So your questions should come from what you discovered in your research about them and what you know about the landscape or field in which they operate. Questions that are truly about them.
You also want to ask questions that demonstrate your broad and in-depth knowledge of their field. If you talk about something important that is happening in their field and then ask them a question related to that, you not only get to show that you understand what is happening around them, but you also get to learn more about where they may need help. For example, if you know that their market is going through a significant shift that could present an existentialist threat to them, you could talk about what you know about that shift and then ask them how they have been preparing for it. You may even give a few examples so you can show them that you know how to prepare for it.
Prepare as a Team to Look Like the Dream Team
What if you are going into a meeting as a team? Well, that requires even more preparation. Why? Because the client will want to see choreography not chaos! And chaos among team members is the most likely thing to happen unless you do adequate and focused preparation ahead of time. Chaos can look a lot of different ways, including stumbling over each other while you’re talking, not showing clarity about roles among team members, not sounding like you are a coherent team, sounding irritated with each other...and so many more examples. Again, because you are giving the client an experience of what it will be like to work with you as a team, they will want to see that it will be all value and no drama! A few tips:
Keep your team as small as possible for the meeting. The last thing you want to do is overwhelm your potential client with a large, unwieldy team or send the message that this will be an expensive project that has been stacked with consultants who need work. Depending on the client, I generally like to keep it to 3 or 4 people. That makes it easier to have a manageable conversation, but still brings a range of people with different expertise and experiences to the table.
Before you walk into the room, clarify what each person’s role is in the meeting. The key here is that everyone needs a role. You don’t want a client to wonder why someone is there or why they should consider paying for someone who doesn’t have a clear role and whose value is not demonstrated. Everyone should have a voice and contribute something of value during the meeting. At minimum, you need to know who will present as the team lead. They should give the opening and closing and act as the emcee among the team members.
Rehearse together in advance. Practice saying things aloud. Don't just go over an outline and skim over what you expect to say. Say it. Aloud. To each other. That's the only way you will know if it sounds good and you all sound like a coherent, high-value, dream team. Then get and give honest feedback to make it better. Because it can always be better.
Talk about questions you might get and figure out who is the best first person to answer. Other team members can jump in to add to the response, but you don’t want to look like you are competing to respond. This is especially important if you have more than one person with a strong personality on the team.
Decide who is going to ask which questions. Optimally, you want the person with the right expertise and experience to engage in that part of the conversation to be who asks the question.
Decide how you will readjust or interrupt if someone is going too far off topic or talking too much and how to make sure it doesn’t look tense in front of the client.
Now You’re Ready!
Once taken these preparation steps, you are far more likely to have an excellent meeting that leads to a contract. No matter what, you will have developed the beginnings of a relationship with the prospective client by showing them that you care about them, understand them, and would be great to work with. And doing this in all of your prospective client encounters creates a strong foundation for a thriving consulting business!