The 7 steps of selling a consulting engagement

When I start working with my clients, I analyze and look at their entire sales process. 

And across the board, there is one mistake I consistently see consulting companies making.

They fail to follow the steps of the sale.

They try to leap several steps at a time, and this leads to them failing, falling and losing the deal.

This post outlines, the steps of the consulting sale.


The 7 Steps of the Consulting Sale

  1. Contact
    The sale starts with some initial point of contact. An email, phone call, referral, or direct mail piece.
    The purpose of this initial contact is to get a response.
  2. Secure a meeting
    Once you get a response, you need to then reply to the prospect.
    The purpose of your reply, is to secure a meeting. 
  3. The initial meeting
    Once you secure a meeting, you will then be engaged in a conversation with this prospect.
    The purpose of this meeting is to qualify if the prospect is a fit, gather information, and secure a second meeting. 
  4. Verbal Agreement
    Once you have secured a second meeting, you have a deal that shows promise. 
    The purpose of this second meeting is to have the prospect verbally agree to an entry level offer from you. 

    Your goal here is to ALIGN with the customer on the scope and expectations. 

    You don't want to be submitting a proposal or pricing to someone without first aligning on the correct path forward. 
  5. Written Agreement
    Once you have verbal agreement with the prospect on your offer, you send over the written agreement.
    The purpose of the agreement is to take your verbal discussions and put them on paper.

    Your goal here is to outline all of the small details to ensure that you had a mutual understanding of your verbal agreement. 

    It's easy for two people to hear the same thing and interpret very different results. A clearly defined written agreement helps ensure you are both aligned on any details that could create conflict. 
  6. Collect Payment
    Once you have a signed agreement, you must collect payment.
    The purpose of collecting payment is to ensure the client doesn’t back out. 
  7. Start the work
    Once you have payment, you can begin doing the work. 


Where most companies screw this process up

This whole process sounds simple, yet companies unknowing mess it up. 

The initial contact

Time and time again, I see my clients trying to make the sale in the initial contact. Regardless of if it is a cold outreach, or a response to a warm connection, they find themselves giving a sales pitch via email.


You want to give just enough information to create interest and intrigue to start the discussion. 

The purpose of your initial contact via email or phone is NOT to give a sales pitch.
The purpose of your initial contact is to secure a meeting. 


The reply to the prospect

Similar to the mistake above, when clients engage in an email conversation with a prospective customer, they often immediately want to jump to their sales pitch. 

No matter what the client asks, keep your answers short and focused on how your service can benefit them.
But most importantly, keep your sights on securing the meeting. 

The purpose of your reply is to secure a meeting. 

The initial meeting

The next biggest mistake I see is that a prospect tries to close the client on the very first meeting. 
They get excited, see opportunity and go for the close. 
Sometimes this can work, if the lead is extremely warm, but even then it is risky.

At this point, the prospect has very little engagement with you and trust built up. 
When you try to sell them on the first meeting, their defenses raise like a reflector shield on the Millennium Falcon.

Don’t sell in your initial meeting.

Gather information.
Qualify if they are a good fit.
And then create enough intrigue that they want to schedule a second meeting. 


The second meeting & the entry level offer

Many consulting companies never even make it to this stage, and often when they do, the conversation has been botched by attempts to sell to early in this process.

It is not until this second meeting that we actually go for the sale and ask for the money.

In this meeting, our goal is to get the prospect to verbally agree to an entry level offer that we created. That offer may be a roadmapping consultation, discovery session, or an analysis of their business, or any initial consultation.

These entry level offers are a blog post in and of themselves, but I assure you the failure of most consultants to utilize these offerings is stopping sales dead in their tracks.

Without an entry level offer, this second call turns into a third, which turns into a fourth, all while you try to hash out what your engagement will look like. Each time the client sends you back to rework your deal or your approach. And suddenly you find yourself begging for their business or frustrated and wanting to walk away.

Counter that with utilizing an entry level offer. On the second meeting, you put an offer out there to your client. This is an offer that is too good to refuse for them, and if they really have a pain point around what you are offering, they will take you up on it.

For companies that have never utilized an entry level offer, it can be scary at first. But as you will see in time, it is in the best interest of both you and your prospective customer. 

The purpose of this second meeting is to secure a verbal agreement with your prospect to move forward with your entry level offer. 


The Verbal Agreement

Now even if you don't utilize an entry level offer, you still need to obtain a verbal agreement from the prospect before moving any further into the cycle.

One of the biggest mistakes that consulting companies make is that they pitch out their ideas and deal terms in the form of a written proposal.

This is a massive waste of time and energy.

Instead, have conversations with the prospect on the phone and get aligned with them on the scope of the work. Discuss what your offerings will be and then get them to verbally agree to what you have to offer.

A verbal agreement should always happen before a written agreement. 


The signed agreement

Proposals to clients who have not payed you a dollar yet are a waste of your time. 
That is why you will utilize the entry level offer, or at minimum obtain verbal agreement from the prospect. 

This entry level offer, or verbal agreement is essential before moving to the written agreement.

The purpose of getting this agreement signed is to ensure alignment on all of the small details.


The invoice

Finally, after all that hard work, you send the invoice.
This invoice only comes after agreement with the client has been made.

But this invoice is paid before you ever start the work.
Don’t commence the work until payment is delivered. 

A signed agreement means little.
It’s money in the bank that counts. 


These are the steps of the sale

In some instances, they may get convoluted, or delayed, or more complex.

But regardless of the situation, the steps hold true. 
Sometimes a single step may take you weeks or months to climb.
Don’t get discouraged, and don’t try to jump ahead.

Take the sale by each logical step, always keeping your mind focused on the next step, and your sales will come easier.

P.S. I know many of you are probably hungry to know more about these ‘entry level engagements’. Sign up for my email newsletter below and I promise there will be more content about these in the weeks to come. 

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