How to Command Top-Dollar in Consulting

A frequent frustration for many consultants is trying to attract clients who are prepared to pay a premium for their advice. Many consultants are convinced that in the real world; that type of client doesn’t exist. Rather, their experience has been that they often, inadvertently, slip into doing a lot of unpaid consulting or chase after new business by offering deep discounts, hoping that they will get at least a foot in the door. Here are some techniques that will stop those terrible practices from ruining your consulting career.

The first important thing for the consultant to understand in generating new business is that the consultant is in “sales.” Many consultants, especially with academic or highly technical backgrounds, disdain the thought that they are in the sales game. They have a stereotypical image of a salesperson being a fast talking manipulator of the truth; willing to say or do anything to land the next commission, at the expense of the victim (customer).

The art of selling is really the art of persuading others to your point of view. It is a leadership and communication skill that we all engage in on a daily basis as we negotiate our problems with others; whether it is persuading a vendor to correct a billing error, or asking the boss for a raise. Everyone engages in the art of persuasion (sales, for short).

Unfortunately for most consultants, the stereotypical image of a salesperson permeates the marketplace which results in a predetermined pattern of moves by both the prospective buyer and the selling consultant, known as the buyer-seller dance. You must recognize that when you are engaged in a buyer-seller dance with your prospect, that you must immediately break the dance pattern-if you want to command the respect and high fees that are due to you from your new client.

The buyer-seller dance begins when the buyer/prospect is in control of the sales process. It is vitally important for you to understand that until you demonstrate the proper leadership skills and control your sales process from beginning to end; that your buyer will proceed with his own hidden-agenda which in the end-game means that you lose BIG TIME! Nowhere in the prospect’s play book does it say: “Here is a big fat check for all the value you have provided us.”Instead, the prospect/suspect disappears with all of your hard-won knowledge, using it, to negotiate a better deal with your competitor-ouch!

Another favorite trick of the buyer/suspect is to hold out the promise of future business, if you will only solve their problem today– for free. This is called the Wimpy Close. (Remember the old Popeye cartoons? Wimpy was constantly hitting-up Popeye with the line: “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday, for a hamburger today.”

None of that health food spinach crap for Wimpy. He wanted that big fat juicy hamburger now! It’s funny that Popeye never caught on to Wimpy’s little scam. I guess eating too much spinach will do that to you.)

Now the key question is: How do you stop deep discounting and unpaid consulting?

Before you begin, you must realize that in order to command premium fees, you must have a sales system in place instead of just a sales process. A sales system is a disciplined, step-by-step sequence that logically and efficiently moves from beginning to end and always concludes with a win-win sale, or no-deal.(And, no hard feelings.)

On the other hand, a sales process is a grab bag of situational tactics, ploys and techniques that are crafted by the salesperson, in her best estimation, to land the business now! It is fraught with hidden agendas on the part of both the buyer and seller and often leads to unpredictable outcomes. (Think of Time-share or used car salespeople.)

The first step in an effective sales system is bonding and credibility. No matter how valuable your expertise is, you will not be hired if the buyer does not like or trust you. This step is the most important, and overlooked when selling. One of the best ways to build solid bonding is to put people at ease and make them okay with themselves. (Most people spend way too much time feeling not-okay about their inner-selves. You will have an uphill battle, if you don’t address this issue head on.)

A wonderful book on this subject is “I’m OK, You’re OK” by Thomas Harris. There are many powerful leadership and communication ideas in it. After reading it you will understand why people do the things that they do and you’ll instantly become a more skillful persuader.

The next step is to establish an up-front agreement with the prospective buyer on what’s coming next on your agenda. In your up-front agreement, you discuss all of your agenda items ahead of time and mutually agree on them before you actually begin the meeting. This cuts down on misunderstandings, hidden agendas, misleading intentions, and most importantly, unpaid consulting!

If you are expecting your prospect to make a decision at the end of the meeting, then make sure he is prepared to make that decision. (Please note, mediocre sales people misread the last sentence and interpret it to mean that only a “Yes” decision will be acceptable. All high performing consultants construct win-win outcomes and accept “no-deal” if win-win can’t be achieved.

Always preserve the dignity of the other party in negotiations. A “No” decision just means not now. You will be an advantageous position in the future when the other party is feeling good about you)

By developing your skills in bonding and credibility, along with establishing an up-front agreement before you begin your meeting, you will be well on your way to commanding premium fees for the expertise that you can deliver. Remember that when you create profitable value in the lives of others; you will in turn create profitable value in your own-a true profit sharing plan in the pursuit of happiness. Good consulting!