Guerrilla Intelligence What Does the Client Want

Some clients want advice and counsel from a senior practitioner, which small firms are more likely to provide. In the big firms, the senior practitioners—the partners—tend to be revenue generators who help sell services, but rely on project managers to work directly with clients. The project managers are knowledgeable and skilled, but often their experience can't match that of small firm senior practitioners. Small firms can level the playing field by providing access to their experienced senior practitioners.

those of a larger firm. However, large firms may cut rates to beat the competition. When smaller firms focus on their lower rates, they risk starting price wars. They might win, but ultimately regret it because of eroded profit margins.

Even if you think it's true, don't suggest that a large firm will "back up the bus" to train a legion of inexperienced youngsters on the project at the client's expense. Also don't point out that a larger firm's fees are bloated because of its huge overhead. Experienced buyers know the score and will factor that information into their decisions. Again, emphasize your strengths, not the competition's weaknesses.

► Handling the Client as a Competitor

Many consultants forget that their most formidable—and invisible-competitor in the sales process may be the client. In every consulting opportunity, clients have two choices that don't include consultants: They can decide not to do the project; or they can do the project themselves, without outside help.

Competing against an undeclared rival is the most complicated selling situation you can face because it involves so much you don't know. You don't know what will kill the project or what will keep it alive. You also don't know what criteria will drive the project to the client's team. The only certainty is that if clients believe they can complete a project without consultants, you won't get the job—regardless of your qualifications.

Your best approach is to stress your firm's ability to deliver the proposed benefits (1) fully, (2) quickly, and (3) with little or no disruption, while (4) giving the prospective client a significant role in all phases of the project. Describe every instance where you've worked this way and back it up with calls from past clients.

Stress your intention to share the knowledge gained from the project with the clients and to work collaboratively with them. Some clients are motivated to run projects themselves because they want to keep control of the process. Be sensitive to this need and make it possible for clients to retain the control they want. Never claim that you have a "superior" plan for completing a project; it could alienate clients who think they have a better approach.

If the client decides to go it alone, position yourself for the future. Offer to provide advice, guidance, or assistance during the project if needed. Clients often reverse themselves or change direction in midstream, especially when they encounter roadblocks. When and if they do, you want to be the first one they remember and turn to for help.

► Responding When You're Late to the Game

You are excited to get the call from a client who wants you to submit a proposal on an interesting project, and your brain goes into overdrive thinking about all the questions you want to ask. Then the client adds, "The proposal is due in one week, and we've already received two from other consultants." The line has formed, and you are bringing up the rear.

The client has probably had extensive interviews with your competitors, heard their ideas, and helped with their proposals. By the time you enter the competition, a front-runner may already exist. The client's team may be tired of answering questions from other consultants, and the last thing they want is more of the same from a latecomer.

On the other hand, it's possible that the client is unhappy with the current choices and is still shopping. Even though time is short, don't budge until you complete the prequalification step in Chapter 15. Your hope is that you are not LIFO—last in, first out.

If everything checks out, take your best shot: Show how fast your team can get up to speed. Call in all your chips to connect with people who know the client and who can help you with the proposal. Bring the A team to the assignment. When playing catch-up, you need the creativity, insights, and experience of your best people to promptly clarify the problem, develop a solution, and prepare a proposal.

At the risk of sounding cliché, others win when you're playing catch-up. If you pursue a lead in this situation, be prepared to log long days and nights to meet the deadline. Without that commitment, you'll surely lose. Remember—to come from behind and win, you must be moving faster than the current leader.

► Selling in an Unfamiliar Industry

The services of some consultants cut across many industries. For example, human resources consultants can be as useful to hospitals as they are to consumer products companies. But many clients want "industry experts" and won't hire consultants who lack specific industry expertise. It can be tricky to compete for projects in industries in which you haven't worked, but it can be done. Apply a two-part strategy.

First, study the client's company and industry. Find out about the issues the client is facing. Discuss the company with your network contacts. If possible, talk to the client's customers. Develop insights into the company and industry.

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