We meet many independent consultants who have a passion to go into business for themselves, but find it very hard to market and communicate their skills effectively. According to CIO.com, many independent consultants fail to get new business because they fail to give the prospective client the confidence that they can deliver what the client is looking for.
When you are your own brand, every communication and interaction you have with a prospective customer reflects your brand. Unlike Coke, FedEx, or Apple where customers will still consume the products even if they have a bad customer experience, your next contract can depend on how you communicate in your next email or phone conversation.
The following are 3 quick communication tips to help you as you try to win new clients.
Stop blurting out your feature statements, start asking questions.
Many independent consultants work very hard to get an audience with a prospective buyer. They then feel a tremendous need to cram in as many interesting features about themselves, their services and their accomplishments. Although there are few instances where this is required, most prospective buyers don’t really want to hear about everything you can do first. They really want to tell you their problems and make sure you understand their needs.
So, instead of blurting out names, projects and your accomplishments, take a more consultative approach. Learn to guide your prospective client through an exercise where they can enumerate their problems and requirements for a desired solution. Focus your skills and communication on knowing which questions to ask. By guiding a prospective client through a very well structured requirements capture process, you will understand which aspects of your value and solutions are truly important to them. This will enable you to only present aspects of your value that are interesting to them. More importantly, it demonstrates to them that you are adept at listening and understanding their needs.
2. Stop selling customers on your previous successes; start demonstrating confidence that you can solve their problem.
When a prospective client describes to you the problems they have, it is very tempting to immediately want to provide an example to them of where you were successful in the past. You may be tempted to name drop here. Resist the urge to list all of your accomplishments and successes. While this is an effective tool, if it is your only tool, the situation can get tiring very quickly, especially if you go on for five minutes per example.
Instead, demonstrate that you have the confidence and ability to solve the problem. In the professional services business, the only thing that really matters is whether or not you can deliver a valuable outcome relative to the statement of work you will sign with your customer. All the customer really wants to know in the sales process is, “Can you really do what you say you can do or are you an idiot?.” Communicate a genuinely confident posture and demonstrate how your abilities quickly satisfies this. A simple statement like, “What you’re describing is very familiar to me. I know how you feel about it. Other customers like you have felt the same way. What we have found is that we can apply this solution and it fixes your problem effectively.”
From here, strategically tell small anecdotes from other customer successes to strengthen and support your confident statements. Provide detailed case study examples only when solicited.
3. Stop sending graduate thesis emails. Instead, send virtual sticky notes.
Since communication with the prospective buyer can sometimes be limited and you have very few opportunities to sell your value, it’s very tempting to use email to cram in as much as you can. Keep in mind that in most cases, your prospective client has 1 million other things going on and communications from you are going to be low priority. So, if you provide multiple different data points in your email (flyer) in excruciating detail, you will quickly lose the buyer and he or she simply will ignore your email until a later time… which is usually never.
Instead, use written communications to remind your buyer that you are here and you are interested. If you want to ask questions or make points, try your best to limit the email communication to only one at a time. Make the ask something simple like yes or no with the buyer where they don’t have to think. Person-to-person or phone conversations close business; emails maintain momentum.
In conclusion, you are your own brand. Everything you do or say matters when trying to win new or maintain existing business. By asking careful and thoughtful questions, you demonstrate your understanding of the customer’s problem. By demonstrating confidence and competence to solve the problem, you win their trust. By keeping your written communications short and sweet, you can drive momentum towards the sales outcome you are looking for.
About the Author
Darren Hoch is a managing partner and president of Stone Door Group, a Cloud and DevOps consulting company founded by independent consultants for independent consultants. Stone Door Group takes all the guesswork out of becoming an independent consultant by providing opportunities to certify on new technologies and offering a pipeline of meaningful IT consulting jobs. To learn more, drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.