Consulting: Too Clever for Clients

Consulting: Too Clever for Clients

Nothing happens until there is a sale. There is no sale unless there is an opportunity and the opportunity is that which is understood to benefit the buyer. If you don’t make the opportunity/offer clear, there is no sale, no matter what you sell or how good a consultant you are. Not to mention, you are selling the invisible, that is, the idea of a better outcome, improvement or progress, which isn’t something you can see, feel or touch, making it an even harder sale. If you can’t get your message across, the prospect doesn’t understand what it is you are selling or there is just too much “noise” around your offering, then there is no sale and no consulting. Welcome to the difficult world of consultants and innovators. Few make it, even fewer last. 

There is nothing harder to do than to educate and sell to a prospect that is living in the dark ages, when you are living in and offering a chance to leap forward to the future. Yep, I lost some of you there, as you will with prospects and middle managers that stumble through life with their head down and a mountain of their own worries to keep them occupied. But even the willing and learned don’t buy if they aren’t convinced by or confused with the offering. Keep it simple, and build from there.

The best professional consultants possess the experience, talent, and expertise for a business or individual/s to jump from their current state to a new, improved and more profitable future…with your help. The problem with this equation is that you have to share some of that magic and experience during the engagement and sales process in order to get the sale, but you can’t give it all away during this process. Depending upon how quickly or well the client understands the benefit or outcome, will depend upon how much education is required. If you are “too clever” for prospects and clients, you don’t sell anything, no matter how beneficial your offering and experience is. If they never “get it” you have tried to sell to the wrong audience, you have your message wrong or you didn’t understand the opportunity as it was…..a dud. Welcome to the world of professional consultants.

Note that I haven’t mentioned “deliverables” in any of this. Deliverables aren’t the benefit of real/professional consultants, rather the fodder produced by contractors or outsourced providers. Consultants deliver value, progress, innovation, results and other definable and measurable outcomes but not necessarily printable/touchable products.

I have created, developed, delivered, and sold a variety of consulting products over the years, worth millions of dollars. I still have a significant number of products and services that I am yet to sell, because I haven’t found the business or individuals that understand what it is or how it benefits them. I have tried to craft the sales message and education sequence to facilitate a sale but it is too lengthy, costly or slow in order for it to be worth the pursuit at this time. These are definitely the “too clever for client” type products, even though many have saved/made millions already.

As part of a strategic business roll out, we built a marketing and open source intelligence company, primarily to defend and protect. However, by chance, it became apparent that our approach could also be used offensively to make money, grow market share and increase profits. So naturally, we offered it to a small group of prospects and very quickly it grew in size, complexity and benefit. One client in the hospitality industry experienced over $1 million dollars in additional revenue, in a single quarter. They had no understanding about our methods or the technology, only the extra money we made for them. For every dollar they spent on us, they made $100-$10,000 dollars in return. That was their motivator and they understood that. So much so, I spent quite a bit of time up-skilling and conversing with their 8 person, in-house marketing team on what we did and how we did it, so they could better engage us and increase their earnings even more. We went on to support most of the business franchise, across multiple markets, all within highly competitive markets. When the franchise was sold, the new owners met with us and just couldn’t understand “what” we “did”, regardless of the outcome. They didn’t understand, they canceled our contract, and we watched as their business lost millions of dollars in a very short period of time, because we weren’t “doing” what we had been doing for the business what we had for the proceeding year. Valuable lessons all around.

Technology and business processes orientated sales and conversations are the hardest. You are sitting opposite a large multinational that still writes your name on an adhesive post-it note for you to wear around their office as a visitor, all the while their thousands of employees are using Microsoft Office ’95 [or similar] and the topic of meeting is “business innovation and efficiency”. The individual has never heard of half the technology ideas you discuss as you fish for their baseline competency and the laptop they brought into the meeting has had all the USB ports disabled so you can’t share any files as requested, yet you have in your briefcase more computing power and independent technology capability than their entire department, but they judge you based on how well they understand your briefing. As arrogant as it might seem, it is akin to a primary school student attending an advanced physics lesson as part of a 3rd-year university degree. There are gaps, and it is not in the lecturer’s preparation or subject matter. This is the most significant problem with business and management in 2017, they are soooo far behind on current, best-practice management and technology solutions. You can help, but they don’t understand how. Welcome to the world of professional consulting.

Presenting to a room full of global managers on issues and subjects specific to their responsibilities within the company, yet they understand less than 10% of what you are presenting is confronting. You have to be agile with how you progress and assist in the education gap that is present, all the time being conscious that most of them are only interested in keeping their job and hoping nothing “negative” happens on their watch. I have repeated this experience over and over, just in the past 10 years, all around the world. The outcome is also frustrating. Despite clearly demonstrable expertise and even how/where you can benefit a prospect, you sometimes get turned down because you are not a large multinational yourself. Conversely, I have represented large multinationals, when clients blindly signed up for services they could have done themselves and in some instances the client knew more about the subject than the consultant assigned to the project. Welcome to the world of professional consulting.

Don’t try and teach a cat to sing…..it wastes your time and irritates the cat. 

Buyers and prospects at all levels act similarly in my experience. I have sold and delivered products and services to companies of all sizes, ranging from husband and wife entities all the way up to global multi-billion dollar corporations. Whilst the buyer and benefactor may not be one in the same with some businesses, the buyer/prospect still wants to ensure they don’t buy something they don’t need/understand and that the results will justify the expenditure. This is why you see “deliverables” pushed so hard by buyers also. If the buyer/prospect doesn’t understand it [even worse if their entire industry/profession] don’t understand it or use it] then your chances of conversion are often low.

Are you “too clever for clients”? If so, you would make an ideal professional consultant. Can you sell “simple” though? Can you sell the benefits and outcomes to the right buyer/prospect? Do you have enough skill and experience to totally change your original approach once you start, because the circumstances within the client are so very different from how they told you they were? If you can do this, then you will be a good consultant. You many not get frequent work, you may have a lot of under utilized experience, products, and even services, but you will make a sale from time to time. Also be prepared to have a significant amount of products and services [not to mention experience] held in storage because buyers are so hard to find, let alone convert.

By all means promote your products, services, and skills in public but be prepared for lesser and even lazier/dumber consultants and even businesses to steal your ideas and work, then claim it for themselves. Don’t be offended, they poach from everyone and lack the ability to create new ideas or quality/valuable solutions, no matter how big or small the brand might be. Welcome to the world of professional consulting.

People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.

Don’t go to trade shows and industry gatherings. Buyers go for the free trip and other giveaways whilst all the vendors spend a fortune to out “bling” each other and parade themselves under a branded banner, all in the belief it is a sign they have “made it”. All the while, the event organizer has paid for very little and is the one making the profit from the event, and they got that upfront, before the event was even held! Don’t forget, if your buyer/prospect only buys products from a little booth at some obscure trade show every so often, they aren’t that evolved nor sophisticated. Do you want to try and sell to this entry-level prospect? I have sold tens of thousands of dollars of consulting from a few YouTube videos I made, years ago. I made $25,000 profit on a single ad campaign we set up in the space of a couple of weeks. Don’t follow the herd, use that “too clever” approach to find the right buyers/prospects.

Tony Ridley

About The Author

Intelligent Travel

International travel health, safety, security and risk management services company. Created concept for services, raised capital, structured operations team and lead product development and role out, in support of key partnership, service agreements. Executive management of finance, marketing, vendors, compliance and reporting requirements.

Safety and security subject matter experts and mentor for new hires and key support resources. Brand and services representative in various international and public speaking engagement, expert panels and other public forums. Created and delivered strategic marketing and communications strategy, in addition to management of all supporting marketing, information and intelligence systems.

Proven ability to combine vision and strong business acumen with well-developed project management and leadership qualities to support business operations, risk management consulting, security operations management, business intelligence, vendor management and commercial security services.

Former special forces and government/police professionals.

Areas of expertise include:

Security Operations Management, Executive Protection, Travel Safety & Security, Terrorism, Security Guard Force Management, Online Marketing, Video production and Editing, Marketing Automation, Open Source Intelligence, Counter Terrorism, Protective Security, Security Services Audit, Product Launch, Product Development, Management Systems Development, Website Creation & Management, Business & Marketing Analytics, Social Media Management, Content Creation, General Marketing