Control Your Client From The Start
Note: This article originally appeared in The TAKING COMMAND BLOG
To all of our TAKING COMMAND! Readers:
If your firm is a consultancy, and you are finding it difficult to win fee-paying clients, the letter which I recently wrote to a friend and colleague might provide you with some serious insights into what is required in order to actually land clients instead of just engaging with them. Could you be selling too hard? Could you be talking too much? Could you be permitting your prospective clients dictate terms and conditions to you?
I am sorry to hear that following a month of conversations, your prospective client has decided to freely try to solve its capitalization objective on its own without having retained the services of your firm. Your client most likely doesn't know just how difficult it is and how much work is required in order to obtain capital for the growth of its operations in this difficult economy... where so many deals are competing for limited, sophisticated investor and institutional dollars.
Something must have gone wrong – and that “something” might just have been your over-indulgence of your prospective client. You've spent too much time coaching (for free), educating and selling the prospective client on your interest in acquiring it as a client and on your capabilities as a consulting firm. Sadly, the more you try to sell, the more that you will reduce your value in the prospective client's eyes. That's just Human Nature.
You've invested your time with that prospect in educating its president rather than in positioning yourself and your firm. Too bad. A great deal of conversation must have been wasted because you didn't set up the ground rules and frame yourself and your firm's role at the initiation of the relationship. Maybe you've forgotten that every step in communicating with a prospective client is actually a (gasp!) negotiation.
You see, prospective clients secretly want to be lead by a competent and confident consultant. They just are very hesitant to say this openly. And this means that you must establish yourself and your firm as competent, confident and in command and control. It begins with your very first conversation with the client. An you must assume the alpha role right from the inception of the relationship.
Now, getting back to the case of your consulting firm and your prospective client...
It appears that your prospective client's president views your firm not as a consultancy, but as a mere "money broker," to serve the purpose of just shopping his unsupported and somewhat amateur financing proposition to "real" investors and arranging to simply connect him with them in exchange for some unspecified commission -- without the burden of even executing a fee agreement or paying a much-required retainer to your firm. He was simply not made to be emotionally, intellectually or financially invested in your firm, or in your value proposition.
His perception is that you are merely hungry intermediaries and that his company has a "deal" which you will happily shop. He evidently does not see your value-added as a consultancy, and is taking an alpha (dominant) posture and position in your relationship. He might have arrived at (for whatever reason) this misconception of your value from the start.
You might have made some inadvertent missteps in the process of negotiating with him from the very beginning of our conversations - if you don't introduce yourself powerfully and establish a position of strength from the very outset of the relationship, you might find yourselves faced with a truckload of prospects, but no signed clients. That would be awful.
There's a definite demand in the market for what your firm does and for the valuable service that it provides. You'll definitely get many leads, and generate even more through your website and through your networking efforts. But you must establish yourself and your professional firm to every prospective client as a valuable resource and achieve that understanding from your very first communication! You must frame the relationship and set the tone. You must take command.
Perhaps one of the things that you should add to your weekly management meeting agenda is how you present yourselves (as leaders of a firm) to prospective clients from the very beginning, so that each and all of you can properly represent and position your firm to prospective clients to better insure control of the course of the relationship.
Additionally, you might consider letting your wayward client's president take two weeks (to shop his deal to "real" investors via LinkedIn and other means), and let him meet with some failure and frustration before you even accommodate him with further correspondence. Perhaps your errant prospective client's president should be left without a reply from you for two weeks – and then you can re-visit and engage with him again – this time taking a dominant role and re-framing the relationship. This short span of time might provide you and your firm with additional negotiating leverage and an opportunity to, in effect, start the relationship over and set it on its proper course.
Please give my suggestions serious consideration. I look forward to discussing this, and to my helping you to building a standardized approach for handling prospective clients. You have a powerful and intelligent Team -- it's just a matter of better-defining yourselves to prospects, taking the controlling position in each relationship from the start, and using your respective skills and talents with better organization and united coordination to subtly overwhelm prospective clients. Yes – they [prospective clients] want and need to be rapidly overwhelmed by you and your firm.
I am confident that you can have a full roster of fee-paying clients under contract if you simply refine and polish your approach. You will win more signed clients, and simultaneously limit any wasted time – consider this to be a means of increasing your operating efficiency in client capture and retention.
Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to offer my comments in response to your prospective client's president's most recent email to you, which was tainted with a bit of condescension, dismissiveness and some disrespect for your value. Be confident that he will not get any financing ($50.0 - $100.0 million!) by his current scatter gun methods and amateur approach. I would suggest that you and your firm cool down and let this wine (i.e., your straying prospective client) ferment a bit more. Then come back heroically when your prospective client has predictably failed in its efforts without your firm's help.
In Friendship and With All Of The Best,
Contact me directly at http://bit.ly/CASTLEDIRECT
TAKING COMMAND! ACHIEVING YOUR OBJECTIVES.
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