10 April 2006

Selling consultancy

I have been fortunate to work with a number of first class:
  • consultants
  • salespeople
  • salespeople of consultancy
Many first class consultants have difficulty selling, and they engage in all kinds of deflectionary activity to avoid it. Many first class salespeople can't sell consultancy since they have difficulty in selling a service which is so ill-defined and amorphous. First class salespeople of consultancy have more in common with first class consultants than they do with first class salespeople.

The old adage is that people buy from people. In business services including consultancy this is particularly valid. By and large, clients buy from the team that they believe will be responsible for the delivery of the service or the direction and quality control of the work. Successful selling consultants have the ability to inject a delay into the sales process so that they don't talk too early about the solution. That delay allows them to explore in more detail:
  • what the issues are
  • what the benefits might be if they were solved
  • obstacles to change
Only when the client is beginning to champ at the bit do selling consultants become specific about the nature of the solution. Much of the sales process is about building a relationship built on mutual respect. The deliberate delay allows the consultant to think through the risks and paybacks associated with all the issues that have been explored and to develop a solution which allows the client to enjoy some quick wins. The extended sales process helps to de-risk the purchase for the client since they will have experienced the way the consultant has responded to points as they were raised as well as their ability to take a helicopter view at appropriate points in order to provide a context for the detail.

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