There are 49,195 businesses listed as management consultancies in U.S., according to Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) issued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. If you add a similar code for Engineering, Accounting, Research and Management, then that is another 331,921 businesses or nearly 400,000 potential competitors that consultancies have to navigate! Adding unique value to clients and communicating this value through all the noise can be challenging. Your consulting pitch matters.
Over the past few months, I met with a number of 9Lenses customers in the consulting space in an effort to understand their challenges and goals. It didn’t take long until I started to hear a pretty consistent refrain; “I’ve got to define and articulate our value proposition, and create a compelling pitch to win new business.”
While that challenge is not necessarily unique to the consulting industry (we at 9Lenses are refining our own value proposition), the data in SIC revealed that it might be a particularly acute issue in this industry. To help tackle the sales pitch, this will be the first in a two-part blog post with thoughts on the challenges and steps to creating a winning sales pitch.
For the top consultancies out there, a sales pitch is probably less of a challenge as these businesses have rightly built a reputation on long standing performance, thought leadership, and talent. However, for individuals at these firms looking to establish their own book of business, for those breaking out on their own, capitalizing on a particular expertise, or just in growth mode, new business is not won without describing the value you promise to provide and how you will deliver on that value.
Whether you are presenting to a boardroom of executives or at lunch with a referral, your pitch will be vital to helping your potential clients see the pain you will help them solve and will help them remember you in the cacophony of pitches they are likely to hear.
Consulting Pitch Mistakes
Before we outline the steps for creating that winning pitch, it’s important to sidestep a few mistakes we’ve seen and heard that often prevent consultants from differentiating and winning new business. Three mistakes in particular require your attention:
Talking about yourself too much
This is true in any situation where you are meeting someone for the first time or looking to establish a long-term relationship. How many dates are scuttled by a person talking about himself/herself too much? Aziz Ansari has a number of great anecdotes in his book, Modern Romance. One story in particular, delivered in his usual voice over genius, describes a date where both participants essentially recite their resume in an awkward attempt to begin to get to know each other. The result was that both walked away wondering why the date was a failure and began looking for their next match.
The same is true in your sales pitch, if you stand up there talking about your history, your client list, or worse, your geographic location, you’re going to lose your audience and miss an opportunity to establish the long-term relationship you are looking for. That’s not to say credibility doesn’t matter, who you are and your expertise gets you in the door, but you’ve got to lead with your understanding of your client and their goals if you want to get to a proposal.
Not having a clearly defined value proposition
“What keeps you up at night?” This question is the best example of not having established the value that you provide to clients. If you’re working at McKinsey and have the ear of the CEO, the resources, and the broad knowledge to solve whatever comes out of the client’s mouth next, then please disregard this section.
But for the rest of us, asking that question demonstrates that you haven’t done your homework to anticipate the client’s challenges and chances are the answer will put you on your proverbial heels. Perhaps an important nuance here is that this does not mean that you should not be focused on the client’s objectives. You absolutely need to have both your goals and your client’s goals aligned to establish a long-term engagement.
However, by asking an open-ended question to get to those goals, you are opening that conversation up to issues that potentially can’t be solved, that are outside of your core expertise, or simply aren’t profitable.
Instead, consultants need to stake a claim on what value they provide and how they provide it. Your consulting pitch then becomes a method of teaching your clients why your value is important and what it will help them achieve. The outcome will be that you both have a shared objective; solving their problem with your solution.
Believing you’re unique when you’re not
Ok, let’s say you are convinced – you know that you need to start your conversation with your client, the challenges you will solve for them, and how you will do it. But why should they buy from you? If you get through the first two stages and someone asks that question, chances are, the value you’ve staked a claim on is a crowded space and that your client can’t see your difference.
Don’t tear up your pitch yet, it could be that you’re just so familiar with your solution that you’re differences are not as readily apparent to the client.
The above issue is not uncommon and CEB has gracefully diagnosed this as “proximity bias.” Anyone with identical twins might understand this better. The parents of twins are likely to see the differences in their children clearer than those less familiar with them. So while parents can tell twins apart, to others they look identical.
Just a shot in the dark, but many consultants are likely framing their pitch along the lines of “We help companies capitalize on great ideas, to create change and deliver world-class results.” So are the other 399,999 consultancies out there.
Your pitch needs to guard against that, do your research to stake a claim on what you do differently. For 9Lenses customers, that means developing a digital framework that they run over time, using the benchmarked data to create teaching points. This quickly develops into a differentiated value proposition that only gets stronger with each engagement they run with clients.
So hopefully, you have some more insight into what not to do when refining your consulting pitch. Check out part 2 of the Consultant’s Guide to a Winning Sales Pitch to learn how to structure your consulting pitch to teach your clients, stand out from the crowd, and establish a renewable business model.