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3 Psychological Tactics To Land More Consulting Projects

Consulting Psychology

I was re-reading a few books on psychology recently by authors that focus on marketing, advertising and sales…and thought I’d share with you 3 tactics that you can use to win more consulting projects.

1. Make the First Commitment Small

You’re speaking with a prospective client about consulting for them on a new project.

Things are going well, in fact, this is your second meeting with the owner of the business and the VP of Operations.

The owner looks over at the VP and then looks back at you and says “Well, that’s more than we can afford right now….”

You’re feeling good about yourself and about closing the deal today.

For weeks now you’ve gone back and forth answering questions they had about how you can help them. You’re here today, so you figure that you must be the right person in their eyes.

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The owner looks across their makeshift boardroom table and says, “So, how much is this going to cost?”

You respond, “For a project like this, I typically charge $15,000”

The owner looks over at the VP and then looks back at you and says “Well, that’s more than we can afford right now….”

Let’s pause right here!

You’ve just made a potential mistake that will lose you this consulting work.


Before I tell you exactly what the mistake is and how to avoid it, let me first tell you a story.

Joe Sugarman, famous copywriter and ad man, writes in his book Triggers about the time that he was in New York and was craving an ice cream. His favorite dessert at the time.

At a restaurant and once he polished off his email, the waitress asked him if he’d like any dessert, he said yes. That he’d like chocolate ice cream with whip cream.

The waitress said, “That’s a Sundae without the syrup”. Joe was insistent that it wasn’t…and that he simply wanted chocolate ice cream with whip cream.

This happened at several restaurants. The price for ice cream was 25 cents at that time. While a Sundae was 35 cents.

Once someone makes a commitment, it’s much easier to have them say YES to the next request.

Then one day he asked for just chocolate ice cream. The waitress went off to get it for him. But Joe was craving that whip cream. So before the waitress brought him the ice cream he asked “Could you put some whip cream on that for me?” The waitress was happy to. She brought him the ice cream with whip cream, and his bill…it read only 25 cents.

This got Joe thinking about the whole situation. What he realized, is that once someone makes a commitment, it’s much easier to have them say YES to the next request.

His research has shown that almost 50% of the time, the person will agree to the next request once a commitment has been initially agreed to.

Now back to our original example. Let’s hit play again…

Instead of requesting your fee of $15,000 for the complete project right away…you can take a different approach with this new prospect.

You can break down your fee and turn the complete project into several stages. That way, instead of a $15,000 fee, maybe your fee is only $3,000 for stage 1.

It doesn’t matter that you’ll have 4 more stages. In the prospect’s mind, the initial $3,000 fee is much easier to digest.

Here’s another way…

You can propose only stage one to begin the project. You don’t have to talk in detail about the other 4 stages – rather just cover them briefly (so they know there is a complete solution).

Now, once you’ve sold the smaller package and the prospect becomes a client and you build your relationship with them, they will be much, much more likely to continue investing in working with you.

That’s how you get commitment.

2. Deal With The Objection Before They Can

Most consultants, especially in your early days, have some area of weakness.

And that may be a concern, both to you and your prospective client.

Maybe it’s that you don’t have experience in their specific industry.

Or that you won’t be able to provide the level of direct involvement that they are used to.

Or that your fees are much higher than they would usually pay.

Don’t hide your weakness. Don’t give the prospect a leg up and let them expose their objection.

Or maybe, your company is much smaller than you think they have in mind.

All of these could be objections for not choosing you as the consultant they hire.

They COULD be…but don’t have to be.

Your job is to turn the obstacle into an opportunity.

Don’t hide your weakness. Don’t give the prospect a leg up and let them expose their objection.

No, do it for them!

Come straight out and tell them about the obstacle. And then go on to tell them why that obstacle is actually a benefit for them.

Let’s say you don’t have direct experience in the prospect’s industry. To overcome this obstacle and turn it into an opportunity, you can bring up that you don’t have direct experience right away, but that because you don’t, it allows you to bring a fresh pair of eyes to the issue. That you’re able to bring all the best practices you’ve learned from in other industries and apply them to your prospects industry where you are confident they will work…and then you can go on and tell them why.

Do you see how that worked? You’ve responded to an objection your prospect would definitely have brought up at some point…and you did it before they even could.

That puts you in powerful position.

3. Use Negative Emotions to Get the Yes

When you meet with a prospective consulting client you know they are unhappy with their current situation.

Whatever their current situation is can also be a source of fear and perceived risk in their mind…and a reason they may hesitate to pull the trigger and work with you.

You see, decisions are based on memory.

And a prospect’s negative memories of working with another consultant or a marketing investment they made that went wrong will haunt them eternally….

…unless you can break the memory cycle for them. How do you do that?

Kevin Hogan, an expert in psychology and persuasion suggests the following:

First get them to think about how bad the negative experience was. Get them to ‘feel’ it.

Next, ask them about one of the best successes they’ve had in their company or life.

What you’re doing here is moving their memory from a negative situation to a positive one.

Almost like recalibrating their mind and memory.

Now, you go back to the negative emotion that they have and suggest specific actions they should take so they don’t end up with that negative experience again.

This may sound like some psychology voodoo. It’s not. It’s based on the research of professors Knowles, Crawford and Linn at the University of Arkansas.

We good? Okay, onward…

Let’s put this into context. Imagine you’re meeting with a prospective client and you ask them all sorts of questions to understand their current situation and their hesitations.

You can then ask them to talk more about those hesitations and why they have them.

Next ask them about a positive experience.

And now you go back and explain why the negative experience they had likely occurred and what specific actions and steps they need to take to ensure that doesn’t happen again.

The actions and steps will be the consulting services you provide.

This works because you’ve clearly shown your prospect that you understand their situation. That you empathize with them and that you have a coherent plan of action to get them the results they really want.

Here’s an exercise that Kevin Hogan recommends in his book Covert Persuasion:

Write down 10 things that if people don’t choose the actions you are suggesting they will have a negative effect.

This process is helpful to improve your website and marketing copy. You can use it in your emails.

And of course you can do this exercise before each client meeting. You’re then in a strong position to control the conversation and really understand where your prospective client is coming from.

I hope you found these 3 tactics interesting and helpful. If you did, please share this article with your friends and colleagues.

And if you have a comment or questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


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19 thoughts on “3 Psychological Tactics To Land More Consulting Projects

  1. waako garvin says:


    • Thanks Waako – appreciate your support and glad you enjoyed this article.

  2. Sara L says:

    These are such great insights. I must make use of these especially thye first point.

  3. Miki says:

    Thanks, this is very helping article, keep more of them for us, especially we junior Consultants. I am an Independent consultant on Resource mobilization, project planning and writing.

    • Welcome Miki! Thanks for the comment and happy that you enjoyed the article.

  4. Trudy Phillips says:

    These are excellent. When I first started my business 30 yrs ago I had not a clue how to sell. I had to work it out on my own. What you outlined is close to what I developed and have been very successful. Your points are right on. Glad you shared them so others could benefit.

    • Trudy – always happy to hear from others that have put these principles into practice. Thanks for the comment and look forward to keeping the conversation going.

  5. Kola., says:

    This is really great. Simple but powerful tool. Thanks

  6. VK SONI says:

    This is very simple but simply excellent. Another reason people give is that they need initial report to bag a job and therefore cannot pay enough now though a consultant has to spend normal hours.

  7. Dave F says:

    These are some great tips I will apply in my consulting practice. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Bharat says:

    Tease are very good and useful thought to grow IT business. Thanks

  9. Excellent tips and it’s amazing how often these (especially the one about offering a fresh perspective) isn’t being used by consultants (and other service providers) more often.

    We constantly see providers trying to mimic and play catch-up to existing market suppliers and short-selling themselves because of it.

    Thanks Mike.

  10. Mike Tandy says:

    Michael. I tried leaving a comment yesterday but I guess I’m not used to the LinkedIn GUI and I ended up commenting on someone elses’ content.
    This kind of information is excellent. I don’t sell consulting, but I do sell a service…I think consulting takes more finesse. I attended a webinar regarding collaborative selling. I’m studying both to re-energize my sales efforts. Thanks for the info!

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