When the CEO put his hand on his forehead and said, “Oh no, we’ve been so stupid”, I knew that within a couple of weeks he’d sign a contract to buy £3m-£4m ($4.5m-$6m) of consulting from us. Then if we played our cards right and became the organisation’s main consultants, there would be several millions more for us plus, of course, the biggest prize of all – tens of millions to replace the company’s computer systems. The reason why the CEO made the admission of his company’s failings was that I had once again effectively applied a series of well-tested selling techniques aimed at maneuvering management teams into buying large (over £1m or $1m) consulting projects.
Before becoming a management consultant, I had never sold anything in my life. Yet, after just a few years learning the tricks of the trade from experts, immigration consultants in chennai I found that I needed just four to six weeks to take clients from being convinced that there was nothing consultants could do for them, to enthusiastically signing up for major consulting projects. Here I touch on just five of over thirty common selling techniques used by many consultancies.
1. First and second phases
When a client is not convinced they need consulting help, asking for a million or more to improve their organisation’s performance would clearly get you thrown out the door. So what we used to do is find some way of getting into their organisation at low cost and low risk to them. Then, once we’d established our bridgehead, we would use our presence there to start expanding out to earn more and more fees. We would do this by offering a first “study” or “analysis” at a reduced cost or even free, in the knowledge that once inside the organisation, we would always find something large and expensive to sell them.
2. The “greatest fool” approach
There is a saying, “the greatest fool can always ask more than the wisest man can answer”. This is the principle underlying much of the “analysis” done by consultants. You take a junior consultant with little to no experience, give them a simple questionnaire and send them round middle managers asking about the company’s strategy, their department goals, communication between departments, customer service and so on. Invariably they will come back with a series of juicy quotes that you can build into an emotionally powerful story claiming very few people understand the organisation’s strategy, most people believe communication is very poor, middle managers find the management numbers all but useless, departments don’t work together and few people believe that customers or clients get good or excellent service.
3. Creating client dependency
Buying a large consultancy project is a fairly major and risky decision for a top management team. Often, to get clients to take this step, you have cut the bond of trust between management and their own staff. We used to call this ‘selling by creating client dependency’, because the more worried the client got as you gradually but forcefully undermined what their own people were saying to them, the more they would switch their loyalties away from their own staff and start to bond with you. Then the more they bonded with you, the more they would become dependent on you to guide them. It is possible to sell a consulting project by doing lots of analysis and presenting lots of data, but if you can create client dependency, it’s unlikely they’ll ever ask you to leave.
4. Using client staff to sell for you
There’s always a risk that a client’s management simply won’t believe you, when your team tries to prove that a client must either buy a pile of consultancy from you or else their organisation will immediately collapse. They may not agree with your approach, they may dispute your figures, they may find fault with your conclusions, they may even suspect the whole thing is an enormous smoke-screen designed to let you slip your people past them so your consultants can attach themselves to the very entrails of the client’s organisation. And in many cases, they may be justified in suspecting some or even all of the above.