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Client Development for Consultants: How to Grow & Keep Clients

By Michael Zipursky
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Client development is what you do to develop clients — one of the most important practices of any consulting business.

Right now, in the middle of a pandemic, client development can be tough. You need to bring in new business to keep your business running — but a lot of clients have minimized their budgets.

Experts at client-development don’t seem to have this same problem.

To help you become an expert at client development, we’re sharing a summary of the talk Andrew Sobel, client development expert, gave at our Clarity Coaching Virtual Mastermind event this summer.

An Introduction to Andrew Sobel - YouTube

By the end of this post, you’ll understand how to become an expert in client development — and how to keep your sales pipeline full.

Sales Confidence: It Starts With Your Mindset

What does it mean to become proficient at client-development?

At what point can your client development skills create tremendous value for your consulting business?

Here’s your client development goal: to get 10-20% more leads than you can handle.

Once you can do that, the magic happens:

  • You can turn down the lowest value leads — and focus on only your highest-value leads
  • You gain the courage to stand firm on your fees — and charge what you know you are worth
  • You can invest in your business and your thought-leadership — two of the best long-term strategies for growth
  • You will begin to radiate confidence — creating a feedback loop that makes you believe in yourself and your services, which your clients will feel

But first, you must sell to the most important buyer of all — yourself.

As Andrew said during our Mastermind talk:

“You have to make the first sale to yourself. You have to believe that you have something great and valuable to offer your clients — and that you are really going to be helping people. That is the fundamental idea.”

How you think about client development plays a big role in how it affects your results.

Misconceptions About Client Development: Do You Think This Way?

Andrew then spoke about the common misconceptions about client development.

These are harmful beliefs that consultants have about marketing and sales that hold them back.

Do any of them sound familiar to you?

“Business development is different from project delivery.”

Wrong — project delivery IS marketing and client development. Think about what you’re doing while delivering an engagement. You’re building key relationships. You’re learning where and how to add value. This is the most natural time to build trust, learn about your client’s business, and then plant the seeds for new opportunities.

“Consultants are chosen based on rational thinking.”

False. Client’s base their decisions heavily on emotional factors, and then justify their choices based on rationality. So, if you want to appeal to their emotions, get to know your client’s personal agenda — not just their business agenda. How can you help them advance in their career? How can you help improve their day-to-day life? How can you help facilitate and grow their network and learning? Of course, your clients want to cut costs and grow revenue — but focus more on them personally, and they’re more likely to choose you.

“I don’t want the client to think I’m selling.”

If you’re worried that the client will think you’re selling, you haven’t developed enough trust with them yet. Once a certain amount of trust has been established, clients know that you are being sincere when you make an offer. Develop more trust, and ditch this mindset for good.

“I don’t have enough time.”

Wrong. You’re ALWAYS doing client-development — whether you realize it or not. You have enough time, you just aren’t approaching it the right way. More on that below.

“Great rainmakers are born great — I wasn’t.”

Wrong. Andrew LEARNED how to become great at client development — and you can too. You don’t have to be a natural extrovert full of confidence. Instead, by practicing certain habits, you can practice and learn how to become a master at developing new consulting business.

How To Become A Rainmaker: 7 Habits Of Highly-Effective Rainmakers

Andrew talked about the habits that make a “Rainmaker”: a master at attracting clients and bringing in new business.

Source: TechTarget

Here are a few of those habits:

  • Adopt the advisor mindset rather than the expert-for-hire mindset: Experts are all about “me”, while the trusted advisor is focused on “you” and/or “we.” Forget about being seen as an expert, and focus more on helping your clients reach their most important goals.
  • Get comfortable talking about things outside of your area of expertise: Unlike “experts” trusted advisors have business acumen. They can tease out real problems/aspirations instead of trying to solve narrow problems using one method. You can only do this when you get comfortable talking about things outside of your area of expertise.
  • Stop relying on presentations, and focus more on unscripted conversations: Become adept at speaking with your clients about their problems and goals. Instead of speaking at them, collaborate with them. Asking great questions will help with that.
  • Ask “power questions”: Power questions — the name of one of Andrew’s books — are questions that help you make an immediate connection with your clients. They give power to your conversations. They help you learn critical details about your client. Rainmakers ask good questions — and those conversations turn into new business.
  • Focus less on building your credibility, and more on personal trust: Chances are, you’re focusing too much on building your credibility. Balance that out by building personal trust with your high-value clients. The more you can make it about them, the better.
  • Be “in the flow”: Be out there talking to people in your market. Talk to people in your client’s market. This is known as being “in the flow” — and in doing so, you’ll create serendipity.
  • See abundance instead of scarcity: Look for scarcity and you’ll find it. Or, look for possibility, and you’ll find that instead. Rainmakers make a deliberate choice to see possibilities instead of scarcity — and you can make the same choice.

If you can turn these habits into daily, consistent actions, over time, you will become a rainmaker.

It won’t happen overnight, but with enough practice, developing new clients will become second-nature.

Action Step: The One-Pager

Early on in Andrew’s business, there was one action he took that had a MASSIVE impact on his client development.

He wrote 30 of the toughest problems his clients were dealing with.

Then, he wrote a one-pager on each problem.

Doing this helped him create thought-leadership, gave him valuable material for follow-ups, and ultimately, helped position him as a trusted advisor to his clients.

Now, it’s your turn.

But instead of writing 30 one-pagers, you’ll start with one. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Examine your emails with clients, LinkedIn feed, past conversations, and intuition to write down 30 of the toughest problems your clients face.
  2. Select one of the problems that you feel would be easiest to write.
  3. Create an outline for the 1-pager:
    1. Intro: Describe the problem.
    2. Why: Explain why it is a problem.
    3. How: Demonstrate how one should think about, approach, or solve the problem.
    4. Next Step: Give your reader an action — the very next thing they should do to make progress on solving their problem.
  4. Set aside an hour to write 500+words for your one-pager.
  5. Publish the one-pager to your consulting website — and share it with your network, your LinkedIn page, and your email list!

If you can eventually create 30 of these one-pagers, you’ll create an impressive client-development asset: a collection of work that markets and sells your consulting services for you.

What are you doing for your consulting practice’s client development? What is — or isn’t — working for your business?

Leave a comment below and join the discussion!

(For more on client development, read Andrew’s book: It Starts With Clients)

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