Selling Consulting Services: Why Client Value Starts Before The Sale

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Consultants must sell their services.

Some like it. Some do not. Some are great at it. Some are not.

And some consultants downright dread selling, confessing to me over the years that consulting sales feels somewhat dirty to them.

Many consultants see selling as a “necessary evil,” and they wish to get it over with as quickly as possible so they can get to the good stuff: the work.

This view of sales causes too many consultants to rush through the sales process, failing to view proposals, pricing, and negotiation with the same deep care and consideration they apply to all the rest of their work.

As a result, consultants often make one of a few critical errors that put them in a very weak position and hurt the client’s view of them as trusted advisors:

  • Letting the client define the path
  • Offering too many options
  • Giving in on price pressure

In this article, I’ll share 3 consulting sales strategies that enable you to price and sell your consulting services from a place of authority.

1. Give the client what they want, but not free reign to define the path

I routinely see consultants give the client too much room to define and design a solution of their choosing.

Sometimes the client belongs in the driver’s seat, but most often it’s the consultant that’s in the best position to define the right solution to solve the problem.

Be bold enough to lead with your expertise and thought leadership. Build trust by pushing back on the client. Say no to requests that won’t work or that will negatively affect outcomes. Be willing to tell them which parts of the solution can’t be removed without a negative impact on results.

Have the courage to propose what the client truly needs, not just what they asked for.

Besides leaving the client with a sub-optimum solution, saying “we can do anything you want” can send a very desperate message and create suspicion.

Are you just out to sell anything the client will buy, or are you out to sell them what they truly need?

The former is wishy-washy and weak.

2. Give the client what they want, but not too many options

A close cousin to letting clients define the path is offering too many options.

Even if the options aren’t confusing or overwhelming, too many options grind the sales process to a halt.

A paradox in selling is that clients love to choose, but too much choice is the death of a decision.

Human beings love choice. It gives us a dopamine rush to experience it.

However, given too many options, buyers become paralyzed by choice.

This phenomenon, known in neuropsychology as choice overload, is the death of a sale. This is a particular challenge in consulting, since what we sell tends to be somewhat complicated to start with, even without a myriad of options.

You are the expert in what you provide and how to solve client problems effectively.

Present a clear, well-curated set of solutions appropriately packaged based on your expertise. Especially when the solution is complex and differentiated, clients look to you as the consultant for leadership and expertise.

Putting all the options in front of the client and asking, “What do you want?” doesn’t position you as the expert you strived to be throughout the sales process.

You are the expert in what you provide and how to solve client problems effectively. Present a clear, well-curated set of solutions appropriately packaged based on your expertise.

Consider the wisdom of car manufacturers offering only a few trim options (Honda CR-V EX, EX-L, and LX, for example) rather than offering every single feature individually.

Offering and pricing each feature separately would substantially slow the buying process, not to mention dramatically increasing the price sensitivity.

The same is true for consultants who offer a laundry list of a la carte services for clients, positioning the client in the “expert” seat most appropriately held by the consultant.

3. Give the client what they want, but don’t give in to price pressure

Even if consultants have done an excellent job creating clear, well-curated proposals, they can destroy client trust if they cave to customer price pressure at the drop of a hat to win the deal.

Standing firm on price shows that you have the backbone to give them the support and help they need post-sale to improve their business even in the face of opposition.

If you must modify the price to win the deal, what scope change makes sense? Or can you ask the client for something such as a written testimonial or an introduction to someone in their business circle you’ve been trying to reach?

If you are a pushover on price negotiation, how can they trust you to consult effectively? How can they trust you to tell them where the pitfalls are in their marketing programs or their financial projections or their engineering plans?

If you will say anything to keep them happy like you did to win the business, can they really trust you to give them the information they need post-sale to improve their business?

Takeaway Thoughts

Consider that your client’s perception of your value starts well before the sale is even completed.

Clients begin to experience how you operate, how you deliver value (or not), and how they can trust you (or not) from the first interaction.

How you propose, price, and negotiate sends a signal to the client about how the rest of the relationship will go.

Do you operate with price integrity? Do you lead the sales process with clear, decisive, helpful information to guide them to a prudent decision?

Can they trust you?

Casey Brown is a self-proclaimed pricing geek and president of Boost Pricing, a firm that helps companies sell at higher prices. Her passion is for organizations to be paid well for their excellence.

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