Step 5 and 6: Mastering Context Discussions
This post has step 5 and step 6 in building your consulting firm, as I learnt and applied from The Irresistible Consultant's Guide to Winning Clients.
In this post, we discuss how to engage prospective clients (“prospects”) through context discussions. Understand prospects’ needs and goals to customize your solution. We discuss a six-step process.
Step 5 Context Discussion With Prospects
Focus on specific needs rather than offering generic consulting services. Engage in context discussions to unearth the prospect’s deepest needs and goals. These discussions should happen with the ultimate decision-maker. Bring up a context discussion when given the opportunity.
Ensure to have these discussions with the ultimate decision-maker, even if you also talk to other employees. The duration of these discussions can range from 30 minutes to 30 days.
Avoid these in a Context Discussion because these do not get the innermost thoughts of your prospects:
“What are your objectives”
“Five whys” technique
“What deliverables do you want from me”
I found this challenging because I didn't do enough prospecting. So I had fewer calls of this type.
Six Steps for Context Discussion
Here are six steps:
1. Situation: Understand the situation and what triggered the need for consulting.
a. What is making you focus on doing X activity?
b. What’s changed? Uncover the catalytic event.
c. How did you decide to turn to hiring consulting instead of hiring full-time?
2 . Desired outcomes: Discuss the desired outcomes and the ultimate goals of the project.
a. What is the project's goal? See more probing questions from David Fields’ handout.
b. Aim to get the most value from the project, not just first-degree outcomes.
3. Indicators of success: Define success indicators, both lagging and leading.
a. How will you know you've reached your desired outcome?
b. What change in metrics would mean success?
4. Perceived risks and concerns: Talk about risks and worries to build trust.
a. What are the main risks and your concerns about this project?
b. What concerns you about bringing in an outsider?
c. What worries you?
5. Value: Assess the project's overall value and the role of consulting in achieving the value.
a. What is the overall value of the project? How much of that is from bringing in a consultant? What is the likelihood of success of getting a consultant in? So, what is the value of the consulting opportunity?
b. What if you don’t meet your objectives? What is the cost of that?
6. Parameters: Discuss the project logistics. Timing, budget, people, and more.
Tips To Increase Urgency Or Awareness
We’d earlier discussed we should aim to solve problems that are "known" to the prospects and require an immediate solution.
But, you may sense a problem. But, the prospect is not aware of it. Or, they are aware of it but don’t see any urgency in it.
What to do if you identify a problem in a prospect’s business but the prospect is not aware of it? Use a low-cost, low-risk, and client-focused approach like a diagnostic.
A diagnostic is a short-term project to evaluate the business and find areas of improvement.
If a prospect knows about a problem but doesn't feel its urgency, try these methods:
Use Loss Aversion: Highlight the negative consequences of not addressing the problem.
Use Conformity Bias: Compare their performance metrics to benchmarks. Show how they stand compared to peers.
Influence Decisions: Remove roadblocks. If a stakeholder is a roadblock, work with them to resolve their concerns. Or empower your champion to convince them.
I was confused about whether to offer my diagnostic service for free or to charge for it. Some consultants advised never to give away anything for free, while others suggested providing as much value as possible at no cost. I wondered: Should I hold free brainstorming sessions? Offer free benchmarking to demonstrate a need?
Why Should They Hire You
Explain that working with you
increases the chances of achieving their goals and
minimizes risks to them or their business.
Use the principle of Occam's Razor to simplify solutions.
Focus on meeting the prospect’s specific needs rather than differentiating yourself.
Step 6: Propose, Negotiate, and Close
In this step, propose solutions, negotiate terms, and close deals.
Never offer only one price. Offer 3 pricing options.
Handle price objections.
I presented multiple pricing options to my prospects. This approach guided my discussions well. I also applied this principle to my resume checker product.
In this series, I’ve shared my notes from reading David Field’s book and my take on experimenting with those approaches.
If you are starting or have done consulting for a while - what stands out as counter-intuitive advice?
What worked for you to identify your niche or build relationships?
Since it is hard to navigate within a long post with a table of contents, I split this into 5 articles, (about) one for each step. All posts in this series:
Step 5 and 6: Transforming Consulting Prospects Into Projects