What selling programs wont teach you

Selling situations in consulting are as varied as pricing options for projects, and slick sales techniques aren't much use in any of them.

But for all selling circumstances, guerrillas have secrets for gaining the competitive edge, including how to:

► Prevail over incumbent consultants.

► Fend off new competitors.

► Compete with low-priced contenders.

► Proceed when there's no money.

► Handle the client as a competitor.

► Respond when you're late to the game.

► Sell in an unfamiliar industry.

► Prevailing over Incumbent Consultants

When a client contacts you about a consulting project, an incumbent consultant may already be entrenched in the client's organization. Clients call in new consultants for any number of reasons. Perhaps they don't know whether incumbents are qualified to complete a project, or they may want fresh perspectives on continuing problems. Sometimes they just think it's time for a change. Whatever the client's reason, incumbents often have the inside track, and you should expect vigorous competition. However, unseating an incumbent can be easier than it seems.

Clients, especially those you don't know, may not be totally candid about why they call in new consultants. It's unlikely that clients will say, "Look, the consultants we have now are doing a fine job, but we want someone to keep them at the top of their game, so we'd like you to come here and mess with their heads." But there are ways to figure out clients' motives.

The client and project qualification process described in Chapter 15 will help you. Ask why, out of all the consultants available, the client called you. The answer you want to hear is that the client called you because of a great referral or your expertise and ability to do the proposed work. Prequalify every lead before investing your time and energy. That analysis is crucial when incumbents are there ahead of you.

In such situations, the discovery process involves more than an evaluation of the client and the project. You must also assess the strength of the incumbent competitor. You want to learn what work the incumbents are performing for the client, what they have completed in the past, who their supporters are in the client's organization, and how successful their work has been.

Some might advise you to ignore the competition and stick to your own game because you may have been contacted to keep the incumbent honest.

After you have prequalified the project and completed your preliminary research on the incumbent, visit the client's site to conduct discovery. If you want to pursue the project, look for ways to change the client's thinking about how to approach the work. You are, after all, the expert.

Clients, anticipating that their customer satisfaction project would take three months, asked the incumbent and two other consultants for proposals. The incumbent and one of the challengers put together solid proposals that would generate the results the clients requested within the three-month period. But the clients awarded the project to the third competitor, who proposed to deliver results every thirty days so that the clients would not have to wait three months to receive the benefits. The winner's new approach was the decisive factor in the award.

The most important objective of your discovery investigation is to determine incumbents' strengths and weaknesses. Identify incumbents' weaknesses, but don't talk about them. Instead, focus on your strengths in areas where incumbents are vulnerable. Beat incumbents on quality and substance, not fees.

In another case, a client asked for consulting help with a manufacturing strategy project that spanned the company's six global divisions. The incumbent consultants were well qualified, but the new consultants learned that the incumbents did not have consultants in all the client's locations. The new consultants, who had people on the ground, ready to go in all the client's locations, won the project because they highlighted that strength in their proposal.

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