The Consulting Pitch: How to Sell & Close the Right Customers
With this post, we aim to help you work your consulting magic more easily, more effectively, and with the end goal of winning your consulting pitch, closing the right clients, and scaling your practice.
As a consultant, you’re a catalyst of change. You bring your unique brand of magic to every engagement, from your ability to reason, lead, and communicate, to your capacity to foresee, solve, and partner. Helping us (and you) achieve this vision is our very own Steven Nicks, CEO of SlideShop and an established consultant in his own right.
Steven got his start in corporate strategy and IT consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers and soon after launched out on his own as co-founder of The Phelon Group, a results-driven, strategic consultancy serving enterprise-level customers. He also served as Senior VP at Satmetrix Systems (the company that co-created the Net Promoter Score…NBD), and as an executive coach and consultant for his own consultancy.
In other words, Steven has the goods. He knows what it takes to create and execute a consulting pitch and understands how to identify a prospect that may not be worth your valuable time. We interviewed Steven to learn how he approaches the selling and pitching process and are excited to share his expert advice.
We’ll look at the art of consultative selling and closing through the lens of:
All improvement begins at home; your consulting practice is no different. Steven recommends periodic self-assessments to understand what’s important to you, your company, and your team.
Discovery is the necessary process of you and your prospect deciding on what is (and what is not) included in the project. The goal is to arrive at an agreed upon scope and project definition that will guide you in creating your pitch. There are two main phases of discovery: qualification and needs assessment.
Consulting Pitch: Qualification
Is there a fit between you and the prospect? Do the results of your service align with the results the prospect is looking for? Deciding on which customers to work with is an integral part of the selling process, one Steven says is easy to overlook but crucial not to.
“Taking on the ‘wrong’ customer can be costly for two reasons: one, because you may have to put in more time and effort than you anticipated, making your engagement less profitable, and two, because you may not wind up with a customer who promotes you and your business.”
Building a pool of loyal customers willing and eager to promote you is important to Steven, who spent half a decade developing customer reference programs at his own consultancy and the other half at the Net Promoter Score company.
“Loyal promoters and reference customers—customers who are willing to speak to your prospects—are just as important as your particular brand of consulting magic,” he says. “Nothing builds your credibility as well or as fast as loyal customers willing to speak on your behalf.”
Consulting Pitch: Needs Assessment
One question consultants wrestle with is related to needs: “In the selling stage, what questions should I ask a potential customer to get to know their needs?”
Although questions will differ based on what you’re selling, one of the easiest ways to prepare is to look through the lens of desired outcomes.
“If you’re not selling one-off projects, you know what the outcomes of your offering are,” says Steven. “Show samples of your outcomes to the prospect. Set expectations for what they’ll get, and for what they won’t get, and ensure that the outcomes you’re offering are how they define success.”
It’s always a good idea to question other project stakeholders, too. “Make sure to repeat the process with others who have a stake in the game to avoid getting entangled in an internal power play or debate.”
Here are a few examples of the types of questions we’re talking about that focus on outcomes instead of problems:
This customer of ours achieved this outcome; is that what you’d like to see for your organization?
The process will take four to six months; is that in line with your expectations?
What would make this engagement wildly successful for you?
3. Differentiation and Solutions Creation
After you’ve qualified the prospect and determined needs, it’s time to hunker down and work your consulting magic, a process that includes competitor analysis and solution creation.
Consulting Pitch: Competitor Analysis
Knowing who your competitors are and what types of solutions they offer is critical, especially if you’re selling against someone else. Steven always starts his competitor analysis by asking prospects who else they’re talking to.
“Sometimes, they don’t want to tell me, but either way I respond by saying that I’m equally as interested in helping them achieve the results they want as I am in winning a new project. I tell them that if I don’t think my team or company is a good fit, I’ll let them know. I also tell them that knowing who else they’re looking at will help me better understand their needs and what they’re looking for.”
“A word of warning though,” says Steven. “If you come out of the competitive analysis realizing you’re not a good fit, or that someone else could better serve the prospect, come clean right away. In the long run, you need to build a network of champions for your business, which means starting every engagement from a place of strength with full confidence that you and your team know how to achieve a successful result.”
We’ll leave the solutions creation component up to you—that’s where you brainstorm, research, and determine how you want to help your prospect achieve the outcomes they’re looking for. This is where your unique brand of consulting magic shines.
4. The Pitch
The pitch refers to your presentation—the noun, i.e., your PowerPoint, Keynote, or Google Slides presentation—and the verb, both creating and presenting it.
In the pitch deck and when presenting, start off strong. You are likely presenting to an audience of influencers and decision makers, most of whom have sat through dreadfully boring presentations before and are not expecting your presentation to be any different.
For an effective, captivating presentation, consider utilizing the following elements (all slides found within the template):
Consulting Pitch: Statistics
Questions that get readers thinking are good presentation openers. Start by presenting a ‘Did you know’ statistic that generates an emotional response—this will grab attention and set the stage. Your prospect needs to understand that they are partnering with someone who can guide them through the complexities of their business challenges to reach the agreed-upon solution. This presentation technique helps build knowledge-based trust right off the bat.
Consulting Pitch: Story
Customer case studies work well to guide the story aspect of your presentation. Pull in customer stories and share information about past successes. Be sure to leverage your reference customers here to help establish credibility. They are in a much better place to establish your credibility than you are and they’ve already given you the go-ahead to send prospects their way.
Consulting Pitch: Competitive Advantage
There are two avenues you can take when presenting competitor analysis. Use this slide to present how your consultancy provides superior service and solutions vs. your competition. Or use this slide to present the competitive advantage your prospect will achieve by using your services. In either case, focus on positive outcomes and on why your prospect will choose you over your competitors.
Consulting Pitch: Quantifiable Results
What unique data can you share to increase your prospect’s knowledge currency? Include data on industries, trends, or competition that’s hard for your prospects to find on their own.
Consulting Pitch: Next Steps
To maximize your deck’s persuasive power, include slides that touch on the results or benefits for each stakeholder. After slides that outline the project definition and scope, prompt the discussion around next steps. The last slide in your presentation is your call-to-action, which will hopefully result in an official agreement.
Consulting Pitch: Humility
A closing piece of advice from Steven around humility:
“When I engage with a prospect, I never set myself up as ‘the’ authority on anything. Going down that path sets you up for potential failure. Instead, simply share your knowledge and talk about what you’ve seen in other businesses and how you’ve helped.”
5. After the Consulting Pitch
After the pitch, send another copy of the deck to key stakeholders. Keep your promises around reference requests and requests for follow-up information. This process is about building trust, and much of that trust will be based on your commitment to following through.
Finally, instead of focusing on “the sale,” focus on “the relationship.” Look for ways to bond with your prospects, both professionally and personally, and then to use those commonalities to build genuine relationships based on trust and respect.
“For me personally, that means avoiding gimmicks,” says Steven. “For example, I don’t create false deadlines to force prospects into making a decision. If there’s a real time constraint, I share it. But I never make up a constraint as a forcing factor. Be true to yourself and treat your prospects the way you’d want to be treated.”
Are you interested in writing for SlideShop? Reach several hundred THOUSAND professionals around the world. Email us a 200-word sample of your work to [email protected]