As a consultant, one of the most important activities that you spend significant time on is business development. It helps build your pipeline, creates opportunities for work, facilitates networking opportunities and strong relationships. It is literally the blood that flows in to the vessels that are the foundations of a successful and sustainable consulting practice.
Having been in consulting in a variety of different industries and organisations over the last fifteen years, I am staggered with the investment of wasted time and effort in this area. It can represent over a third of a consultant’s time which if done poorly is not a good return on investment in terms of translating in to actual work with clients. It is the classic case of a consultant being busy but not productive when it comes to business development activities.
Unfortunately, I have met and worked with many consultants who are the victim of this predicament. They do not understand the difference between good and bad business development for a consultant. It is costing them lost opportunities, significant time and energy and work opportunities because their approach does not translate to the outcomes they are seeking.
Given this, I thought I would document what I see as good business development practices for a consultant that is focussed on building a sustainable pipeline of work:
- ensure your intent in meeting with the client is the right one. That is, you are focussed on understanding their problems;
- listen two thirds and speak a third of the conversation. That is, you are genuinely engaged in what they are saying rather than what you are looking to sell to them;
- your intent should be around a long term relationship. This means there is no expectation that you will have work after the first meeting. Your entire focus is on whether you can add value to the client and can solve their problems;
- you provide value post the meeting. You provide insights, papers, blogs or other information that benefits the client with no expectation of a sale;
- you are seeking whether there is a fit with you and the client around how you work together. That is, do they value your approach and what you offer and will they trust you to deliver outcomes;
- you speak the kind truth. That is, you tell them what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. This differentiates an average consultant and a great one in that they are driven by what is best for the client not them;
- you undertake business development with your existing clients rather than chasing new ones. One of the secrets to building a successful consulting practice is servicing your existing clients exceptionally well and keeping in contact with them even when you don’t have work with them. They will remember these interactions and have you front of mind when the right opportunity to engage you eventuates; and
- when you get your first opportunity to do work with a new client, make sure you deliver exactly what the client wants and more. Exceptional delivery is what generates repeat work and referral opportunities. This is probably the biggest focus area of great consultants. Your clients then become your biggest marketers as you continually offer insights and services that they value.
There is a big difference between business development for consultants that translates in to outcomes and those meetings and activities that occupy the diary and keep you busy. Clients can detect the desperate consultant who is only looking for a sale. Take the long road, focus on the relationship and deliver outstanding value. It will be far more beneficial in terms of outcomes for you and the client.