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Monthly tips to improve the business and practice of members of The Society for the Advancement of Consulting, LLC - Issue #116: May, 2013

The key to maximizing income is to give things away. That's not an oxymoron. Whenever you are communicating with a prospect—whether in person, by e-mail, by phone, by correspondence—provide something of value. (No, your brochure isn't of value to the prospect!)

You can give away only one of two classes of value: tangibles, such as books, tapes, articles, documented models, etc., and intangibles, such as advice, referrals, feedback, empathic listening, etc. The idea is to have the prospect think, "If I received this much value in a casual contact, how much would I receive if I actually hired this person?"

The articles or advice don't have to be yours. Simply providing something that the prospect can use, no matter what the source (and assuming you use proper attribution) creates value in the eyes of the client. When I learned that one prospect was a wine aficionado, I sent along a list of an expert's choice of the best domestic wines. The value doesn't have to be business—related, but it should stop short of gratuitous gift (i.e., bribery). If you're seeing a prospect in person, either bring something along or provide it immediately after the meeting.

Prospects must see something of value beyond your charming personality. You can manage this aspect of the sales process, whether your consulting work is as a generalist, in computers, in outplacement, in sales, or anything else. Just ask yourself: "How will the prospect be better off having communicated with me?"

Short lesson: You've got to give to get.

If you want to maximize the size of initial contracts, be prepared to walk away from the business. Don't walk into the initial meetings (prior to the proposal) with the fixation of "How will I get this business?" Instead, think about, "How will I get this business on my terms?"

When the buyer perceives us as supplicants, "begging" for the business with our hat in our hand, he or she has the upper hand. In return for "granting" us the business, the prospect will be very demanding about fees, time frames, scope of the project and other variables. We're inclined to give—in to successive demands as it appears we're close to a sale. But, in reality, all we're close to is a low— or no—margin project and a lousy relationship.

When the buyer insists early in the exploration, "What can you do for me?" respond with a simple "I don't know." Similarly, if the prospect demands, "What will this cost?" respond honestly, "I don't know." Explain to the prospect that it's premature to determine what you can do or what investment is required before you've had the opportunity to find out a great deal more about the prospect's condition. In this way you demonstrate several things simultaneously: first, that the relationship is collaborative, and not something you're going to do to the client; second, that you're not willing to be rushed or "cornered" before you can provide a reasoned assessment; and third, that this is a relationship between two peers, not a "buyer and vendor" dynamic.

When you appear ready to walk away from a possible sale, it says that you don't want business at any cost, but only business on professional and peer—level terms. In the end, you'll be able to charge much more for the projects you "accept" and you will walk away from those buyers who try to view you as an indentured servant.

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