Expertise Driven Selling
A while back I read Mike Schulz's excellent free report on the “New Rules of Selling Consulting Services”.
One of Mike's points was that to succeed in selling consulting (or other advisory services like coaching, training, accounting or law) you need to set the agenda. It's no longer enough to show up, ask the client “what keeps you up at night?”, then drop in a proposal to address the issues they raise.
Today's clients are looking for immediate advice and help.
In particular, the more complex and difficult their problem and the higher your fees the more risk they're taking in hiring you. If it's vital they get a real expert with experience to work with them then they simply can't take it on trust that you have those capabilities. Testimonials and references help, but nothing works better than them seeing your expertise in action with their own eyes.
If, as part of your sales meeting with them, you open their eyes to new insights on their problem and new solutions they'd never thought of before, then you're immediately elevated to pole position for working with them.
But this brings up a dilemma. Isn't there a risk you'll “give away the store” by sharing your expertise with them before you're hired?
Well, there's definitely a risk – but it's not that you'll “give away the store”.
Let's put that myth to bed.
If you think that in the course of a short sales meeting with a client it's possible for you to give away enough of your expertise that the client will then be able to go away and solve their problem themselves – well, you ought to have a serious think about how much expertise you actually have.
The sorts of high impact issues that high paid consultants and coaches work on are not the sort that can be solved simply by “knowing the secret” as if it had been revealed by the Masked Magician on Magic's Greatest Secrets Revealed.
And the sort of clients high paid consultants and coaches target aren't the sort of people who think that knowing the secret to a trick is the same as being able to do it.
If you want to make it to the top of the advisory professions, you have to be working on client issues that are tough and complex and require significant expertise, experience and judgement to solve. Those are the projects that earn the “big bucks”. If the client can solve the issue by himself simply by “knowing the secret” then you're working on the wrong issues.
By giving your advice and recommendations in a sales meeting you're helping your potential client to evaluate one of the key criteria they're going to use when deciding whether to go ahead with you: does this person know their stuff? Have they got the capabilities to do the job?
So what is the real risk that sharing your expertise creates?
The risk is inappropriate advice.
If you immediately jump into advising the client in a sales meeting on what they should be doing before you've thoroughly listened to and explored their issues – then your advice will most likely be inappropriate. And the client will feel you haven't really understood them.
If your advice-giving consists of telling the client what they need to do – rather than sharing what has worked for others in similar situations or what you would do in their place (but not knowing all the facts yet) – then you're giving inappropriate advice. And the client will feel you're being pushy and taking over.
If you're not softening your advice with phrases like “well, obviously I don't know all the details of the situation – but from what I can see, your best course of action is probably…” then the client will feel you think you know it all and don't respect them.
You see, the other key criteria clients will use in evaluating whether they want to work with you is interpersonal.
“Can I get on with this person? Would I enjoy working with them?”
Often these criteria are applied unconsciously – it's just a feeling. But often it's more powerful than the more rational criteria about your expertise.
After all, how would you feel about working with someone who didn't listen to you, who thought they knew everything, and told you what to do without getting your perspective?
You might put up with that for a little while.
But for a significant project where you're going to be working closely with your advisor, you absolutely have to get on with them.
That means that for consultants, coaches and other advisors you must learn how to give advice in ways that engage and enthuse potential clients. Not in ways that, to be blunt, piss them off.