The True Buyer of Consulting Services

You think you’ve just landed a new consulting client.

You met the marketing coordinator at a medium sized company and she’s told you that she’s talked to her boss about you and they are interested in your services.

You’re feeling good.

The next week you go to this company’s office to sit down and get things going…so you think.

The marketing coordinator greets you in the reception area. She takes you into a conference room and closes the door.

She begins asking questions about your skills. What you can do for the company? How much you’ll charge for your services? And then she says, “my boss also wanted me to ask….”

Hold up!

Let me ask you a question:

Do you sense anything wrong with this picture?

I hope so, because there certainly is.

This consultant has entered into a project that is surely going to present several challenges.

It’ll likely turn into a project that the consultant regrets taking on once it gets started.

Why, you ask?

Because the consultant has made one big mistake….

They’ve failed to identify the “true buyer.”

The true buyer is not the marketing coordinator. It is often not even the manager. It can really only be the person who is writing the checks or making the final decisions on whether or not the consultant – that’s you – will get paid.

So who is this person? It’s the owner, the partner, the CEO, or the President.

As a consultant, if you’re not dealing directly with the person that calls the shots…you’re wasting your time.

Most of us have been in situations like this at one time or another.

You put in a lot of effort into a project only to feel like you’re getting twirled in circles by the client. The main reason this happens is because you are not speaking directly with the decision maker.

Identify who the decision maker is at the company and then make sure you meet with them. Take them out for lunch. Get to know them. Build a relationship with them.

They are the ones that you need to please. The ones that make the decisions. The ones that will sign their name on the check that gets you paid.

Too many consultants fail to meet with the true buyer. Save yourself time and a lot of stress by ensuring you do.

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  • Lisa Baize

    From a consultant’s view, I totally agree with this article. With that said, I have been on the “other” side of the table as the project manager for the company. I know that consultants and other vendors want to talk with whoever is making the final decisions, but it is sometimes impossible to get the senior manager to sit in on the initial meeting. Many times the very first meeting is for “fact finding”…to gather additional information and to get answers to some of the “basic” questions the senior manager has asked the project manager Once that information has been provided, it is then easier to get senior management at the next meeting.

    This may not be the way consultants want to approach the situation, but this has been my experience as “the client.”

    Just my two cents.

  • Sales 101! Excellent point. Something to keep in mind is that depending on the size of the company and potential project, there may be more than one decision maker, and your job as a sales person (or consultant, or whatever…you’re still selling!) is to identify all of them, build rapport with all of them (people buy from those they know, trust, and like), and find out what their unique needs are.

    • Bart – great comments and notes. For you, my sales genie friend, it may be “sales 101” but this concept is very easy to forget and I see it time and again with consultants of all ages.

  • Lisa – that’s great information to share and always good for people to hear all sides. You’re right, it’s different depending on what side you’re on, however, for the consultant they should always work as closely as possible to the “true buyer” as possible.

  • Todd Noebel

    Seems to me as a good consultant, they would ask “who will make the final decision” as part of their fact gathering during the pitch meeting. It’s best to lead into it with, “Who would I be partnering with on this project?” followed by “And who will be making the go/no go decision?” “Will we be meeting with them or are you going to be the liaison with final authority?” .

    Just some thoughts.

  • Emerald Taylor

    I agree as well with this article… Middle men.. I never liked speaking to them because it breeds confusion, there are miscommunicated details that are relayed to the TRUE buyer and then it just goes bad from there… Big Mistake

  • In some instances even the guy that calls the shot knows that his company would not be needing your services for the present time, still keep you around for no reason rather than just post date a meeting, you are asked to come back the following day knowing fully well nothing is going to happen.

  • Miller Ralph95

    You are in a selling situation with someone who cannot close the sale. You are faced with “”THE BLOCKER”. The question at his point is, Can I SELL this person on me and my benefits to this company. One negative from the Blocker to the Boss and its over. Their power over you is frustrating but real. You are not a consultant now you are an under pressure SALESMAN WITH ABOUT 3 TO 5 MINUTES TO GET THE SALE. The object is getting in front of the Boss in a positive situation. There are no hard and fast rules for doing this as each Blocker has their own motivations and you have to discover what they are to get to where you need to be.

  • Joshthemuller

    Great article. This is especially true in IT consulting at the small business level. You have raised some great points.

  • Hoang Nguyen Vo

    As a consultant or a sales rep., you will always have to deal with decision maker, influencer, end user… and build up positive relationship with all of them. In case the decision maker hadn’t join the initial meeting with you, you should ask a lot of questions on their problem instead of giving any potential solution via your skills which can offer. Your job as a consultant is to listen to your client at the very first step. By your questions, you will be able to identify where are those persons in which position. May be… from your questions, the decision maker will appear to get you directly.

    This is from my personal point of view and experience.
    Thank you Michael Zipursky for this interesting post