Contrary to popular belief, consulting actually starts long before a project ever formally begins; it starts at that very first presales call. But are consultants really prepared to make the most of those first few interactions with a new client?
Research suggests it takes only 1/10 of a second to start determining trustworthiness in a new person, and only seven seconds to form a complete impression. For consultants, whose work depends not only on technical know-how but also relationship-making, those numbers can be terrifying.
Here are ten tips to help guide consultants through presales and make sure that first impression lands well:
1. Be a good listener, but don’t just listen. You need to develop some trust with this new relationship, and the best way to do that is to step into the shoes of the client and understand the problem they want to solve from their perspective. Listen to their pain points, worries, and make sure you understand “what’s in it for them?” by the end of the call. Listen so well you become invested in their needs and develop more questions to ask.
2. Understand the problem. It’s crucial that you take this time to start understanding not only the project they are pursuing but their business at large. What’s the industry like? What are the roles and processes involved? What objectives are they trying to meet? As consultants, there’s a tendency to immediately start solutioning when presented with a problem. Fight that urge, focus on discovery instead. If appropriate, you can point to some high-level solution ideas you’ve used for others before. But save the real solution conversation for later.
3. Have an agenda and follow up promptly. Make sure you enter the presales call with an agenda so that you can cover what you need to in the time allowed. Send out the agenda before the call and ask for the roles and responsibilities of the attendees on the call for future reference. If tangents arise, politely steer the conversation back on schedule and table any new ideas for a follow-up discussion. Include scheduling a follow-up as part of the agenda, and get that call on the calendar within 24 hours of the first call while it’s still on everyone’s minds. Send a recap of the call that shows the agenda and what was discussed during each part soon after the meeting closes.
4. Get an overview of the problem. The most important thing you can do in the initial meeting and presales call is get an overview of the problem. This includes the key players, their responsibilities, what’s at stake, KPIs or ROI wanted, a walkthrough of how they do things today, and the next steps to discuss in follow-up meetings. Cover each of these in general terms, save the particulars for future scoping sessions when you can break out into more detail.
5. Don’t try and answer sizing or cost estimate questions. If you try and answer the client’s inquiries about cost, timeline, or sizing too early, you’ll be eating those words later on more often than not. And that will foster mistrust down the road. Instead, focus on your knowledge, expertise, capability, and the root problem you are trying to solve. Don’t be afraid to ask for upfront documentation, ideal budget, and timeline goals on their end in preparation for later calls.
6. Ask, ask, ask. In order to leave them with the understanding that you are competent, you don’t have to tell so much as you need to ask. If something is unclear and you’re not sure what they’re after, ask for more detail. Because if you shy away and assume anything about the project, it’ll come back to bite you later and make you look like you don’t really know what you’re doing.
7. Get right to the problem. It’s tempting to shower the client will loads of collateral about why you’re the best, why your team will get it done, and why they should pick you. Don’t focus too much time on that. Spend more time talking about them, their problem, and how to solve it. That alone will impress the client and show off your skills more than an extensive talk track about you.
8. Walk them through the system first. Be sure to have a walkthrough done before moving on to targeted questions. This allows your team to evolve your line of questioning as needed and present a fuller, more prepared solution to the client when it’s time.
9. Pull in experts. If there are follow-up presales calls, pull in more resources who are particular subject matter experts in the industry, pain points, or solution you’re working with. These experts will not only help you win over this new relationship but also make the client more confident in your abilities.
10. Don’t throw out the immediate solution. If there are multiple ways to solve the problem, ask questions to get you to a distinct solution and tell them you can come back with options. But don’t throw out the immediate solution before you have enough info to really know.
Presales can be an exciting team full of discovery, new relationships, and the initial stages of innovative projects. But take it slow, be strategic, and focus on the client. You can get into the weeds of the solution, analysis, and design later on during our next topic: scoping. Stay tuned!