Our company owner Adam Carbonneau offers a Q&A for how to effectively find and pitch another business on your services. Business management consulting is an area where the value of what you bring to the table can be difficult to convey.
Q1: How does a business consultant find new business? Do they pitch only companies that have open positions similar to what they do or offer?
I’ll have to give you the classic and say, “it depends”, but I don’t recommend this approach at all. From my experience, you don’t want to try to fill an open position, you want to find out what challenges the prospective client is having and work to solve those.
Consultants and freelancers that try to fill open positions will inevitably have their wings clipped if they get accepted for the position. As employees, they will now need to fill the requirements of the role instead of providing the unique value they offer that allowed them to become consultants in the first place. If you’re looking for a client to tell you what to do, in my opinion, you’re not much of a consultant. In fact, you’re limiting your ability to come at the situation as an authority on how to bring about positive change.
The other issue, if you accept a full-time (40+ hours/week) consulting or freelance engagement, it limits the time you have to gain new clients. If (but more likely when) the engagement is complete, you’re back to square one finding new business and having to take whatever you can get instead of doing what you’re best at.
Q2: If you don’t reach out based on open positions, what’s your strategy for attracting attention from prospects?
You must find a likely challenge or pain-point that the decision-maker is facing. Like it or not, business decisions are more emotional than you think. By finding an angle to solve someone’s pain, you could be lifting a huge weight off their shoulders which to them, is a bigger motivator to buy your services than just filling in for a job role.
If you’re a business consulting firm, the pitch must be UNIQUE to the prospect you are reaching out to. A boilerplate pitch of your offerings won’t do. Your message has to focus on:
- What your research is telling you is a likely pain-point they are facing
- How you are uniquely positioned to help
- Why they should act right now and not down the road
I’ll give you an example, at Take the Stairs. We focus on marketing and operations consulting. Generally speaking, marketing is a more approachable way to get your foot in the door with a business because almost every company sees the value of more sales leads.
We do our research, look into the prospect’s website, their blog and the maturity of their content, their domain authority, their social engagement etc. Once we’ve done our research, we determine if there’s a way we can make a significant positive impact for them. If the answer is yes, we begin to develop a multi-touch campaign.
A multi-touch campaign is a targeted reach-out to a prospect by means of multiple delivery outlets. The outlets you can use to reach prospects are vast but here are a few of the most commonly used in business:
- Social media targeted ads
- Cold calling
- Gift baskets
- LinkedIn connections
The most common touch today is email, but it’s unlikely you’ll stand out if you don’t reach out through at least one additional outlet. Think about what outlets will be best received by your prospects. For example, a lot of small businesses like to have a face behind the name. Simply asking to connect on LinkedIn provides your face to the name that keeps hitting up their inbox. It could be just the boost you need to get your prospect to pick up the phone and call you.
The frequency of your reach-outs must also be taken into consideration. For the same reason you always see the same ad more than once, you need to do somewhere between 4-7 reach-outs before a stranger is ready to talk to you. If you reach out any more, you risk them getting irritated and never wanting to buy from you; any less and you’re still more stranger than friend. It’s a delicate balance.
You won’t win them all, but it works better than you think. If you can truly show your impact, a prospective client is willing to listen.
You should also try to propose solutions to the challenges that got you on the call in the first place. This will allow you to get a temperature check before your pitch in the next meeting.
The pitch should be hyper-targeted to your audience. If the prospect is more analytical, bring a lot of relevant data. If the prospect is more of a relationship person, don’t bring a pitch deck, and talk more conversationally. Make your client feel comfortable and focus on how you can say what you need to so they best understand your message.
Bottom-line, be curious. You’re talking to people, not robots: learn as much as you can about what works best for them. They will appreciate your willingness to meet them where they are at.
Q3. How long should a pitch be?
There shouldn’t be a set time to any pitch because it can depend on the complexity of the work you are proposing, but generally, less is more. I try to keep any pitch I do under 20 minutes because people can get bored. Reiterate the problem, discuss your solution, and how you are uniquely qualified to complete it, then shut your mouth and let the prospect talk.
Most of the meeting time should be spent addressing the prospect’s questions and overcoming common objections. I recommend taking as much time as the prospect needs to ask their questions. If you need to get to your next meeting, politely ask to set another time to finish answering their questions.
Q4. What are the most important and lesser known elements of a successful pitch?
Speak to the prospect and the business you are working with as your generic pitch will not work. Every prospect wants to know how you’ll solve their specific problems.
Read the room but you should show a level of excitement about solving their problems. Likely the prospect has hit a wall and your positive energy can be a major factor to showing a business you’ve got what it takes to make a real impact.
Be early to each meeting and don’t expect your prospect to be. They don’t feel the pressure to be early because they are the buyers here. This is a great opportunity to show your prospect that you value their time and are serious about their business.
Know when to shut up
It’s not all about you. The meeting is about the client. If they ask a question, stop your pitch and answer it or address that you’ll get to that point in the presentation. It’s their meeting, not yours, so know when it’s best to let them talk. You may just hear a pain-point that can win you the client.
Setting next steps
You’d be surprised how many times I see salespeople just leave a meeting without putting the next meeting on the calendar. This is the crucial step to tell you if the client is still interested. After the meeting, always put it on the client and ask, “Where do we go from here?” When they tell you, start to set a meeting time to review after that milestone.
“I need to speak with my board before making a decision.”
“Great, when is your next board meeting?”
“Uh, looks like the end of next week.”
“Perfect, let’s set time the following Monday to discuss what they said and we can go from there.”
If they are unwilling to set the next meeting, this is likely a “nice way” of letting you know that you lost the opportunity. It’s time to wish them well and move on to the next prospect.
Q5. How do you know who to pitch?
The person you need to sell to is the person who approves the spend; without their approval nothing gets done. Try to find out your contact’s ability to purchase during the discovery meeting to see if there’s anyone else you need to involve. If someone else needs to sign off, calmly show them why it’s beneficial for them to join your pitch meeting.
Q6.How do you know which individuals / companies to pitch?
Generally job titles. With smaller businesses you want to focus on the owners and larger corporations, it’s more about the Vice Presidents and C-levels as they generally have control of the department budget. Anything lower will likely be more hoops than you would be looking to prospect for. Regardless, don’t assume: find out how who signs the check.
Q7. What else can you share for new business consultants to be successful in pitching their services to gain clients?
Before you start pitching to anyone, you need to pitch to yourself. You need to have a strong “why” statement that explains the drive and purpose behind why your business exists.
Then you need to understand your buyers’ personas. Based on your experience, what are your clients generally like? Where do they go for information? What are their most common pain-points? Once you understand this set of information, you can start to develop a general understanding of the most common ways you can help.
Finally, you must create tangible ways that your business is different and better than your competitors. It’s not enough to say you have quality services or the best customer service, you need to prove it.
For example, my company focuses on being the world’s most transparent consulting firm. One of the ways we show this is by providing monthly task breakdowns for all the activities we will complete on their behalf within their retainer. You must show your clients how you are pursuing greatness in a given area.
There are many factors to consider but if you understand your why statement, your top buyer personas, and what makes your offering different and valuable, you can start an effective reach-out campaign.
And that’s about it. There are obviously lots of intangibles around the people involved and what you’re offering, but the main thing I always like to remember is this: people do business with people they like. If you’re honest, know your stuff, and work hard to put forward a decent proposal, you’ve got a good chance of getting that initial meeting. Good luck!