In April, over 170 young consultants from large, medium, and small firms joined an online workshop to learn best practice on selling consulting. It was a great opportunity to learn some extra skills and tips from one of our very own members, David Freedman, Director of Sales at Huthwaite International. Here’s what David had to say at the workshop:
Consultants in the early stage of their careers have an important role in sales, even if their own firms mightn’t yet assign any targets to them. Every client engagement involves an opportunity to build personal business, and every exposure to client problems presents an opportunity to discuss those challenges more deeply and to see whether there would be an opening for sales development. Surprisingly few young consultants in the live poll during the event (52%) currently see themselves as having any kind of selling role and perhaps the session will have changed their thinking in that respect.
Such attitudes are not unusual in professional services firms, where traditionally management consultants along with lawyers and accountants, would rather not even use the word “selling”. Many believe they naturally possess the skill simply by being intelligent businesspeople. In fact, it’s a set of specific capabilities and behaviours that people can only acquire through learning and focused practice.
We carried out a short simulation in which Emily Ireland-Jones, Managing Consultant at IBM and Chair of the Young MCA gamely played the role of a consultant having an early cycle conversation with an old-fashioned nationwide printing company that had failed to move with the digital times or to keep up with the changed market and economic circumstances. The roleplay served to emphasise the importance of understanding the psychological phases that any buyer goes through when making a potential investment decision (for consultancy services or anything else) and how the seller needs to understand where the multiple decision-makers within the prospect stand at any one time, in order for the selling firm to deploy the right behaviours to build value for their solution. Huthwaite calls this the ‘Buying CycleTM’ and we discussed both the best times in the Cycle to engage with the prospect, and what influences are bearing on the prospective client’s thinking that might incline them to prioritise the services it could buy from your firm over other budget calls it may need to meet instead.
This is all about knowing when to ask questions about a client’s current situation and to resist offering prescriptive solutions until the understanding of the need is so precise – and the client’s feeling of urgency to do something about the problem is so strong – that it would make no logical sense for them to ignore the obvious value in making a purchasing decision. This involves a subtle journey not only to uncover problems but to use very specific kinds of questions based on decades of Huthwaite research to further probe impacts that problems are having in areas such as finance, production, human resources, strategic planning, investor confidence, marketing credibility, etc. Such a line of questioning will create opportunities for consultants to offer help, not in terms of Features or Advantages (which we defined in the session) but in terms of Benefits which clearly link the detailed needs, fears and ambitions of the client to specific solutions that the consultant can offer – in ways that are laden with value and which clearly differentiate you from competitor offerings.
Alessio Orlando, an Analyst at BearingPoint, said his key takeaway from the session was, “Anyone can sell. You don’t need to wait until you become a senior manager to engage in a selling mindset and consultants need to help their buyer see how the value of change outweighs the cost or other concerns. You should give buyers more airtime to understand their needs. This will give you a runway to build up a relationship and guide their decision-making over time. Happy selling!”
If any firms would like to find out more on this topic, please click here to contact Huthwaite International.