Controlling your expectations and never giving up will produce marketing results.
In the world of selling consulting services, you don’t often have product innovation or technical breakthroughs that provide you with a compelling sales pitch for a new client. In fact, most clients are already well served by one to four other consultants who could be regarded as having equal expertise and have delivered past positive results. The incumbent consultants differentiate themselves by applying excellent service provider personalities and a track record of successful work. Rarely do technological offerings significantly differ, so it is always a challenge to figure out how to break through with a new client and be given a chance.
When opening a new geographical office, we used to sort the potential clients into two pools: ‘nice to have’ clients and ‘sustainable foundation’ clients. The former was necessary to pay the overhead while establishing our presence. But it was not until we won the critical ones that we gained office sustainability. Selling the first one was difficult.
When inexperienced marketers initially go after a client they visit the decision maker once or twice, submitting a proposal when asked. They pour significant effort into that first proposal to assure the best graphics and content. And most times, without fail, they lose. Many of these novices are surprised and go back to the client for a debriefing. The client will reluctantly give specific reasons for not selecting them, most of which are fictitious. I use the expression: “the winner knows exactly why they won, but losers will never know and probably will be misled by the feedback.” This is based on past experience that clients rarely reveal the truth of their inner thoughts to the losers whom they don’t know well. Many invent reasons to avoid addressing their rationale for not selecting you, as it makes them uncomfortable. The truth is, the client selects a consultant based on instincts and their desire to lower the risk of failure.
So how is a seller going to improve their future chances if the potential client will not even be truthful with them? My advice has always been tenacity and managing your expectations. Frankly, a new service provider without a technological advantage has to endure numerous quality client interactions and three proposal losses before being given the first chance. If you don’t have that kind of endurance, don’t expect miracles.
You will know you are getting closer when you lose by lesser margins with each bid, but don’t expect the client’s quality feedback to necessarily improve each time. The client is choosing the provider with whom they feel most comfortable and presents the least risk—although this reasoning is rarely articulated.
Most consultants give up after two or three losses because their optimistic expectations get in the way. They don’t want to continue to be disappointed. Further, when they discover that the potential client is not candid with them, they lose faith in the sincerity of that prospect and question whether they are the type of clients they want to serve. Or worse, their frustration leads them to challenge the potential client and, when that happens, it is ‘game over’ forever.
So why does it take so much effort to win the first job? Well, the client may feel they don’t need a new consultant as they justify the consultants they have are already ‘good enough.’ Secondly, the client takes a risk using a new consultant—why take that risk for a stranger? And finally, it is easier for the client to work effectively with someone they know rather than develop a new relationship.
Tenacity on the part of the seller reduces these excuses. Most clients feel an obligation to give some reward to a tenacious, patient new vendor. They are not unaware that your past efforts have cost you money. As more interactions are encountered with them, more comfort in the developing relationship reduces the thought of risk in their mind. Clients are sincerely complimented by the apparent effort that you really want to serve them, regardless of your frustration with past losses.
I have hardly ever encountered a client that I cannot win over, if I can show enough tenacity, patience and desire to serve. These characteristics are the principle attributes of great sales professionals.
© 2015 Robert Uhler and THE UHLER GROUP. All rights reserved.