Navigating the consulting sales process is challenging even for consultants and professionals who are experts in their niche. However, there is a winning consulting sales process you can use for selling both normal and high-value consulting services.
As an independent with no courses or mentors, I took years to learn this step-by-step sales process. Knowing you have a system that can handle sales for any size client or project makes an incredible difference.
Instead of considering consulting sales a challenge, imagine using a highly successful step-by-step sales strategy that is straightforward, easy to practice, and easy to use when facing the prospect.
You don't have to use every step in this process. If the consulting project is smaller, off-the-shelf, you can scale back the process. For example, you probably would not want to do a Situational Assessment briefing with stakeholders.
This step-by-step guide shows you exactly how to sell high-value consulting services. I've used this process for almost every high-value and high-income consulting job. But it took me years of independent practice to discover the steps that worked.
Quickly Prepare to Win Your Sales
Some steps in this sales process use the templates in the blogs, like the Discovery Session template and the Winning Proposal Template.
You can accelerate most of these steps using AI. Our Consulting Mastery and other consulting courses include robust ChatGPT prompts that will help you prepare to win the sale with,
- Industry and prospect research
- Researching and practicing key sales points, like objection handling
- Preparing your sales conversation using Neil Rackham's SPIN process
- Practicing your sales conversation with our Sales Roleplaying AI
- Drafting the proposal
- Preparing slides and scripts for the Situational Assessment
- Research the prospect and their situation to tailor your approach & build trust.
- Use lead scoring & BANT framework to qualify prospects for a more successful sales process.
- Discover the client's needs and goals with active listening and a consultative sales approach in a Discovery Session.
- Use a Situational Analysis briefing to bring key stakeholders together and ensure understanding.
- Develop a multi-tier proposal with multiple levels of buy-in and investment.
Step-by-Step to Selling Consulting Services
"How to Sell Consulting Services" does not take magic - once you learn the following twelve steps.
You will not need to use all twelve steps in your consulting sales strategy. All twelve are shown here for high-value sales. For smaller projects, eliminate steps that involve multiple stakeholders.
1. Preparing for Your Prospect or Client Meeting
As a consultant, your role depends on understanding your client’s situation. This understanding begins by:
- Identifying your target market and audience
- Identifying and qualifying your ideal clients
- Implementing lead scoring
- Understanding your prospective client's industry's position and trends
The more you know about your consulting clients’ industry, needs, and goals, the better equipped you are to communicate the value of your consulting services effectively to potential clients.
Understand the Prospect's Industry and Trends
You must know your potential client’s industry and trends as a baseline. It guides your understanding of the company’s position, including market trends, competition, and potential obstacles. It equips you to offer strategic advice and recommendations that match the prospective client’s objectives and difficulties.
Staying up-to-date on these trends enables you to:
- Spot opportunities
- Foresee risks
- Measure performance
- Create strategies designed for the industry of the prospective client
Use Google and LinkedIn Navigator for high-level research. Set Google Alerts to detect quick changes. Become a member of a large city public library (you may have to be a citizen of the state), and often you can get free access to in-depth business research that costs thousands of dollars per subscription. Often local colleges and universities also give local citizens online access to these sources.
2. Qualifying Prospective Clients
When it comes to consulting sales, not all prospective clients are created equal. Some fit your Ideal Client Profile perfectly, while others don't.
This is where the art of qualifying prospects comes into play.
Qualifying prospective clients is more than "can they pay." It’s about your consulting services, your brand, and building a stable of clients that fit your vision for the future.
To qualify consulting clients, use an approach like the BANT framework to evaluate a prospect:
Following this structure helps you to prioritize and focus on clients most likely to become valuable additions to your stable of clients.
Turning an unqualified prospect into a client is not a win if that new client sucks resources, focus, and potential income by luring you off track, working out of scope, and wasting time.
Another reason for qualifying clients is your time. Assessing a prospect's suitability for your services is crucial before investing your time and resources. This is where the power of lead scoring comes in. It assigns a specific value to each new lead based on how well they fit the profile created for your ideal customer, helping you prioritize your efforts and focus on the leads that best fit your consultancy. Some CRM applications for independent professionals include lead scoring. If not, you can develop your worksheets.
3. Getting into the Sales Mindset
In the consulting world, especially when you meet a potential client, a shift in your mindset can make all the difference. Adopting a sales mindset allows you to:
- Build your internal energy and positive attitude
- Focus on building meaningful connections and truly understanding your client’s needs
- Offer case studies and show how similar pain points were solved
- Use a consultative sales approach, one that brings value to the client and strengthens your professional brand
Get a sales mindset and watch your consulting sales hit new heights.
Some of the things I have done to get into the right mindset are:
- Get energized by listening to great, fast dance music before a meeting.
(Yes, that was me going crazy in the car in the parking lot at 7:30 am.)
- Reviewing client notes and key sales points three days prior, the night before, and an hour before a meeting
(Old-fashioned 3 X 5 note cards in a pocket are great for quick memory boosters, or you can put them in an email and send them to your phone.)
- One salesman I knew played Tony Robbins motivational podcasts every morning and before client meetings.
- I've heard from a reliable source that has seen Tony Robbins dance and jump on a trampoline to get energized before his stage presentations. Jumping around also gets rid of nervous energy.
- Whatever gets you up and focused on the client, Do It!
4. Meeting Your Prospect for a Structured Discovery Session
Discovery Sessions are your first meeting with a prospect. You should be in Active Listening mode to discover the prospect's pains, problems, and pursuits. You need to have a structure and well-thought-out questions for your Discovery Session.
Your goal is to understand the prospect's situation and needs. That will be the foundation for your tailored solutions.
A structured Discovery Session is like a treasure hunt. It’s a methodical approach that allows you to:
- Dig deep and uncover your prospect's true needs and challenges
- Discover what the hidden sales triggers are, whether personal, career, or business
- Put your Active Listening skills into high gear
If you have taken a Consulting Mastery course, you can roleplay a Discovery Session using AI-driven role-playing to learn how to ask questions and practice handling common objections.
Using Active Listening
Active Listening is key to consulting sales.
Active Listening builds trust and unlocks insights into your client’s needs. It’s about giving your full attention to the prospect, asking insightful questions, and showing that you truly understand their situation.
It’s not just about hearing what your prospects say; it’s about understanding their underlying needs and situations.
Using an AI-Powered Sales Simulator to Practice Discovery and Handling Objections
AI-powered simulators have become powerful tools for simulating discussions like a Discovery Session.
The Consulting Mastery course uses AI-driven roleplaying to practice your Discovery Session conversation and objection handling.
If you are nervous about the Discovery Session or a sales conversation, using a simulator gives you a safe environment to refine your skills and prepare for real-life scenarios without making mistakes with a human. The roleplaying is done by typing and screen responses, which helps cement the conversation in your mind. And you can print it for later review.
Conducting Your Discovery Session Using the Critical to Success Discovery Template
The Critical to Success Discovery Template guides you in conducting an effective discovery session. Its structured approach and questions ensure you gather the most important client information. Of course, you can open it in Microsoft Word and modify it to add the questions or niche-specific questions you need.
Download the Critical to Success Discovery Session Template.
5. Interviewing Key Stakeholders
Every insight into key stakeholders and their situations is important when you sell consulting services.
Before interviewing key stakeholders, you must have a baseline understanding of the latest trends and issues in the niche. Once you feel confident about the general niche trends and issues, you need to gain insights that are internal to your prospective client.
To understand your prospective clients, interviewing key stakeholders is crucial. These individuals provide diverse viewpoints, resources, timelines, and responsibilities, giving you a comprehensive understanding of the client’s situation. It’s about asking the right questions, actively listening to their responses, and using this information to tailor your approach and solutions.
As you gain trust within an organization, some stakeholders and members may reveal confidential information or opinions. Like a psychologist or doctor, you are ethically bound to keep these sources and information confidential.
Remember, the more you know about your client’s business and needs, the better equipped you are to provide valuable insights, advice, and solutions.
6. Presenting a Situational Assessment
The Situational Assessment is a debrief to the prospective clients of your understanding of the situation, including constraints, resources, timelines, and end goals. Remember, never betray confidential information you may have learned during interviews.
It is critical to success to involve key stakeholders in the situational assessment. Involving them in the process ensures a comprehensive understanding of the client’s situation, leading to more effective and tailored solutions.
Your presentation of the Situational Assessments is how you can build buy-in from key stakeholders and confirm your findings about the prospect's issues and goals.
Emphasize the importance of not jumping to solutions during the Situational Assessment. The briefing is for the situation's Who, What, Where, When, and Why, but not the How of the solution!
You can do a written Situational Assessment, but a more powerful method is to concisely present your findings to key stakeholders.
This gives you a chance to get confirmation of what you have learned. It also allows the group to discuss the issues while you are present. You can build buy-in, gain authority, and better understand your client's needs. This allows you to tailor your sales approach further and to see where there may be differences of opinion.
Conducting a situational assessment lays a foundation of mutual understanding. It’s a process that involves:
- Understanding the constraints, resources, timelines, and end goals of the prospect or client
- Offering strategic advice and recommendations that match the prospective client’s objectives and difficulties
- Establishing your authority and building a bond with your client
This understanding prepares you to offer strategic advice and recommendations that match the prospective client’s objectives and difficulties, establishing your authority and building a bond with your client.
Do Not Propose Solutions
Sometimes, the secret to success lies not in what you do but in what remains for you to do.
As tempting as it may be to jump to solutions during the situational assessment, it’s important to resist the urge. This allows for a thorough analysis and ensures you don’t overlook potential issues or opportunities.
Have a statement in mind you can use when someone asks for your recommendation, and they will say, "So what do you recommend we do?" You do not want to get into a discussion about possible solutions at this point.
Remember, the goal of the situational assessment is to build your authority and influence and to understand the client’s situation deeply, not to solve it.
7. Developing a Statement of Work (SOW)
Complex projects involve many stakeholders, teams, and timelines. And the stakes and your value can be very high.
If a Statement of Work has not been done for a complex project, you may want to lead or participate in developing a Statement of Work (SOW). The SOW serves as the cornerstone of your agreement and expectations. It defines the project's scope, deliverables, timeline, responsible people, and expected outcomes.
Write a Consulting Statement of Work that Stops Problems before They Start
With a well-written SOW, your client understands what to expect and when. You clearly understand what needs to be done, who has each responsibility, and the timelines. The SOW ensures accountability for you and the client.
Without a well-defined Statement of Work, it's very possible misunderstandings will occur. With a well-defined SOW, you, as the consultant, can show where and when you have met your objectives. A good SOW is key to a happy client and a good testimonial for you.
Drafting an SOW builds a bridge between your services and your clients' needs. Creating one is a collaborative process between key players in the project, ensuring that the SOW aligns with client expectations and the project scope.
8. Defining Tiered Solutions
Your consulting proposal can offer different tiers of solutions and prices. This lets your prospect know you can solve and support at multiple levels and price points.
Each tier, from lower-value to mid-level to high-value, should offer different support, training, and ancillary services. Structure these so the client will first look at the highest value tier, scan the lowest value tier as insufficient, and then settle on the mid-tier that solves their needs.
Sometimes, clients may ask you to revise your proposal to include a few highest-tier options.
Alan Weiss has written about having a proposal rejected. He later learned the winner had included additional offerings as an appendix to the base proposal. The prospect realized that one of those additional offerings was important, and so hired the consultant who pointed them out in the proposal.
Limit your tiers to three levels of solutions. You don't want to make your tiered solutions so complicated that they are confusing and overwhelming.
9. Setting Your Consulting Fees
Setting your fee is critical. It communicates the value of your consulting services to your clients.
If it's too low, you look inexperienced, unsure, and have no profit. If it is too high, you lose to your competitor, or the prospect thinks you are taking advantage of them.
Set your prices to match the tiers in your proposal. You will want a high-priced solution with extensive support and services, a mid-level package that solves their problem, and a low-priced package for those concerned about budget.
If you are developing a proposal for a high-value solution, you may want to consider value pricing or ROI-based pricing. Your consulting price can be higher because the probable outcome for the client is far more than your normal fee. To win based on Return on Investment (ROI) you need one of three consulting levers,
- A high-authority, well-known professional brand
- A skill unique to the niche that is critical to success
- A proven worksheet clients can use to calculate for themselves the Return on Investment from your solution. (The Excel ROI Calculator used in our Consulting Mastery course has won millions of dollars in software sales.)
10. Writing a Winning Proposal
Your proposal should concisely guide the value you will bring to your client. It clearly outlines your understanding of your client’s needs and how your services address them.
Your proposal is not a sales tool. If you have followed this process, you should have a good chance of winning by the time you present a proposal. The proposal is there to clarify the agreement between you and the client.
Whether you use the AI-driven proposal system from the Consulting Mastery course or the winning proposal template you can download, the goal is to create a compelling proposal that persuades your client to choose your services.
Use the AI-Driven Proposal System to Draft Your Proposal
If you have taken the Consulting Mastery course or one of our courses powered with AI, the AI-driven proposal system in the course will help you:
- Gather information from your Discovery Session
- Include information and notes from other meetings
- Ask pertinent questions about fees and the Statement of Objectives
- Use artificial intelligence to draft your proposal
Of course, you want to review and edit the draft from the AI-driven proposal system, but it is great for overcoming writer’s block and ensuring your proposal fits your standard template or is modeled on your previous proposals.
Use the Winning Proposal Template
If you do not have the AI-powered proposal generator, download the Winning Proposal Template in the Consulting Toolkits or in the blog<DOWNLOAD>. The template uses a proven structure for proposals that helps you cover all critical elements and presents the prospect's needs in a professional format.
11. Presenting Your Winning Proposal
When you present your proposal, you want to show your prospective clients how valuable it is.
Set up a time to deliver the proposal by hand or send it by email with a coincident online meeting.
Don't just send a PDF by email.
12. Following Up and Providing Guidance
Presenting your proposal isn’t the end of your sales journey.
You need to follow up and provide guidance. Let them know you are there for questions. Ensure your client doesn’t forget about you and the value you provide. Maintain regular contact, address any questions, and provide additional information promptly.
When you learn how to sell and win consulting services, you realize it is a journey with many steps.
The more complex the value you provide and the higher the value of the solution, the longer and more complex that journey may be.
You can sell even high-value consulting services once you are comfortable with these twelve steps.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I sell my consultancy services?
Learning how to sell consulting services is a learnable process. Many consultants who are experts in highly complex and technical niches feel uncomfortable selling their services.
One incident that helped me overcome this feeling of being unable to sell was when a senior consultant for a large tech company told me, "If you were a doctor and came across someone with a wound, wouldn't you feel ethically obligated to help them? It's the same when selling consulting services. You must show them you can help."
How do consultants get their first clients?
Networking and referrals are great for finding new clients. Networking and referrals work well in the first year, but the referrals often dry up, and networking takes a lot of time.
You will want to develop a marketing and sales process that gets both near-term and long-term results.
Getting clients near term usually involves referrals, networking, workshops or speeches at local association meetings, and highly targeted cold calling.
Building an automated marketing machine fills your pipeline long-term. Marketing machines usually take three to six months to generate leads, but they can be semi-automated, so they don't take as much time. Depending on your skills and preferences and your client's channels, your marketing machine could include blogs and downloadable lead magnets, social posts leading to lead magnets, free webinars or workshops, free short online Discovery Sessions, and more.
Why is a Discovery Session needed when so much information about businesses and industries is available online?
One of the most embarrassing moments you could have as a consultant would be walking into a prospect and asking questions like, "Tell me about your business" or "Who are your competitors?"
Those are foundational questions you must know before meeting for a Discovery Session. There are many highly reliable online, print, and community sources for gathering foundational information.
You need a Discover Session and possibly interviews with key stakeholders to learn the opinions, positions, and situations that aren't revealed to the outside world. Used correctly, a Discover Session and interviews give you useful information and build trust and buy-in with key stakeholders.
What is the purpose of a Situational Assessment in the Sales Process?
Presenting a Situational Assessment is another opportunity to confirm what you have learned about the organization's goals, needs, drivers, and situation. It is also a great opportunity to build trust with the key stakeholders and assure them that you know their needs and goals. When you debrief on what you have learned, you may want to relate case studies where you have produced value for a client in similar situations. Do not give them alternatives or solutions. Those are for the proposal or a sales discussion.
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