Advocating to create an image of trust is one of the key things any consultant must strongly do in the process of starting or continuing a consultations business. Harrison Monarth, one of the most sought-after leadership development and executive coaches, shares the contributing factors to his consulting success. He guides us through the key steps in building a personal brand that everyone can trust and leveraging it to land Fortune 50 consulting clients. Harrison offers some advice and steps on how consultants can leave zero doubt on the value that they are delivering to their clients. He also talks about the importance of presence in the real and virtual world, the different stories you can tell your client, and many other useful information about gaining success in the consulting business.
I’m very excited to have Harrison Monarth joining us. Harrison, welcome.
Thanks for having me, Michael.
You’ve consulted and coached executives and CEOs of companies like HP, P&G, GM, Deloitte and PepsiCo. Before we dive into what you’re doing, let’s go back and look at how you got to where you are. I’m very interested to learn how you got into the business of Executive Presence, which is the title of your book. What were you doing before you got into the world of coaching and consulting?
Executive Presence is the title of my book. It’s part of our executive coaching practice. One of the reasons I got into that is because, over the years since I wrote the first edition of this book which was many years ago in 2009, we started getting lots of requests. When I say, we, our consulting firms. We have eight coaches on our team. We started getting lots of requests from companies and organizations asking us to help their leaders with either some behavioral change or helping them develop some new skills and competencies for their roles. It became a bit of a specialty. Ever since then, we’ve been working with some of the top companies in the world on that. Now, we work with clients on other issues that don’t necessarily relate to executive presence as an executive coaching firm but that is a specialty of ours.
I started my coaching practice in 1999. Before that, I worked in various leadership positions at a manufacturing company in marketing. I’m originally from Germany. I left Germany in my early twenties. I went to Austria and then worked for a politician who was also a real estate tycoon in Vienna. He was in the Viennese Parliament. As a very young man, he asked me to help him with his speeches and with his presentations. It was all intuition. I didn’t have any training of that but I had a knack for it. I helped him become better in the way he showed up in his speeches and his meetings. He gave me a lot of credit for his success. After that, I was hooked on helping people communicate more effectively. That morphed into my passion for coaching. I studied management and technology. At the time, I didn’t have a background in coaching but it was something I was very passionate about. Over the years, you need to study the psychology, aspects of neuroscience that are relevant, theater and then coaching practice to become good at it. The success of the clients then tells you whether what you’re doing makes sense or not.
I want to go back to that time when you’re working with this real estate tycoon and politician in Austria. You’re helping him to show up in a more effective way that got him better results in terms of what he was looking for. You recognized that’s something you should do more of because you enjoyed it and you were good at it. At that time, with your background, you said you studied technology as well. What made you decide that you were going to focus on developing the positioning and focus around this idea of showing up in the most effective way that you now call in your book Executive Presence? Why not go on a different path? Did you start off by going to many different paths and later focus more? Because to me, it seems you’re very focused. I’m wondering how did you get to the place where you are in terms of your service offerings and focus?
I’ve always had a passion for it. I’ve always admired people that could show up well, people that had an impact and that had influence. Even as a child, I would watch how people communicated. How people behave, their non-verbals, what made them effective and what made other people ineffective in terms of getting your point across or the way they establish connections with people. That was a passion I had early on. I was a very keen observer of people. When you see people doing it well, you learn a few things along the way. When you see people doing it well, you want to emulate that because it’s power. It’s almost like a superpower. I thought it is so important for people because there are lots of very smart people that are either stuck in middle management or somehow stuck in their careers. They don’t quite get the exposure they deserve because something is missing.
It’s that ability to project an executive presence to be not an effective leader but a successful leader, somebody who was politically savvy, somebody who has a way of engaging with people that draws them to you. That is something that has appealed to me ever since I can think. When I was sixteen years old, I read a book by Dale Carnegie, How To Win Friends & Influence People. I remember even at the time at sixteen, being super excited about the things that I read and about what is possible if you communicate and engage with people in a certain way. That stuck with me and that was one of the contributing factors to me starting this consulting process.
Let’s dive deeper into that. I’m going to ask you to guide us through some of the key steps in building a personal brand that everyone trusts. I’d love to hear your perspective on why it so important that consultants focus on fostering trust and credibility as part of building their business.
One of the reasons is that there are many choices out there. Whatever profession you choose to engage with whether it’s a dentist, a surgeon or a plumber, nowadays we have the opportunity to look at. First of all, we have many choices and then we can now check people out. We can see how has this person been with other customers and clients? Are they doing good work? Do they have good reviews? Nowadays with Yelp and for movies, Rotten Tomatoes. I drive my wife crazy, we browsed through movies and if it doesn’t have some seriously high rank in the Tomato section, then we’re not watching it. She’s like, “What do you mean? We make up our own mind.” I’m like, “The critics say.”
I do something very similar. I use IMDB and when I’m on Netflix and looking at a movie, but I’ve never heard of it, I will often go to IMDB first. I don’t want to go into a movie only to realize that it’s going to be a waste of time. I will end up spending a bit of time looking at IMDB first.
The trust is so important because you’re investing money, you’re investing time, you’re potentially being very vulnerable, you’re giving up personal information. You are trusting people with your life. That trust is critical and knowing how to establish that trust is the key.Trust is important in consultation because you are investing money, time, and vulnerability. Click To Tweet
Let’s get into that because most people understand the idea of, “Clients need to trust me and I need to have good credibility in their minds,” but not that many consultants pay a lot of attention to accomplishing that beyond doing good work. Most people are focused on marketing and delivery of work, but in your book and the work that you do is focused on helping those executives and companies that you work with to proactively improve in that area. Specifically, how can consultants leave zero doubt about the value that they’re delivering and contributing to clients that they’re going to be working with so that they can build that personal brand that everyone trusts? What are some of the key steps that consultants can take or should be thinking about to achieve that?
First of all, it starts with your presence. By presence, I don’t necessarily mean your executive presence, although you can have that online as well. If I walked into a store and it looks brick and mortar store, it looks shabby, the personnel doesn’t look well put together and things are missing or things are damaged, immediately I’ll leave the store because it’s like, “What’s going on here? There’s no quality.” You can look at all kinds of websites and you see some people are a little bit savvier about how they present themselves. Others may be doing good work but their websites or their digital footprint doesn’t reflect that.
Tell me because I want to get very tangible for the audience, are you referring to the photos of people, their logo, the color or how professional the website looks? Give me some specific examples when you say presence.
Everything you said, there is the structure, the user-friendliness of a website, the way it looks. If it looks cheap or if it’s hard to figure out, if it has outdated images, if things are hard to find, if the message on it is not super clear. If the consultant speaks mostly about him or herself rather than telling me what the value is to me, the messaging, the photos. Take a professional photo. You can even see on LinkedIn. Some people know how to take a photo, other people don’t. They take a snapshot. They were at a party and they thought, “This looks pretty good.” They put it up on LinkedIn. Everything that people can possibly see they will pass judgment on. That will either add to your trustworthiness or it will detract from it.
I get the website part. Are there other examples of that? Beyond the website, what else might presence mean? When do you think about some of your clients that you counsel on this idea of presence, what are some real-world examples of working in that area?
I don’t necessarily work or coach other consultants. As far as that trust and how you present yourself, it’s the message as well. Does it sound like you know what you’re doing? I had a call with a new client. She is a consultant for one of the top consulting firms. She is looking to make it to the director level, highly accomplished, very credential, great education, Master’s and an MBA. She tells me a little bit about the culture of the company and I said, “I have to be honest with you. If you were my friend, I would say run. Do you want to work for this company that seems to go against your moral core, against your core values?” She said, “No, I totally get what you’re saying.” She was chuckling a bit. She said, “I do have my plans down the road but for now I want to get to that director level, but I appreciate you saying that.”
We spoke a little bit further and I talked about what the process might look like if we work together. I said, “Think about it and see if that would work for you.” She said, “I’m big into energy. I believe in energy and I feel like your energy is very straight forward, direct and honest. I want to work with you.” I said, “That sounds good.” We will get into that next phase of drawing on paperwork and all that stuff. Ask people questions. What are you hoping to accomplish? I don’t do sales calls. I tell people, “We may or may not be a fit. Tell me what it is that you’re looking for and I will tell you what I’ve done in the past and let’s see if that works for you.”
That’s what you were referring. That’s all part of presence.
To me, that is the stuff that creates trust when you are speaking honestly and you are not trying to get the next gig and trying to give some sales feel.
What are some other key steps that people should be thinking about in terms of building a personal brand?
You’ve got to showcase your work. A lot of times you would see consultants, they have testimonials on their website, which is good. I want to see testimonials but I don’t necessarily want to see “Walter M. Minnesota” because what does that mean? Who is that? Is that your cousin? If it’s Walter Mitchell and Walter Mitchell is a VP at Deloitte, that has a lot more credibility. What do I need to tell you for you to trust me? Presence is the way I speak and what I say. Do I come across as genuine? Who have I worked with? A lot of consultants put on the logos of their clients. All that is important because that tells a client, “I think it’s safe to at least have a conversation because they’ve worked with all these different people, so let’s see if they’re fit.” Being super clear on the value, not just saying, “Here are all the different things I can do but what can you do specifically for me? What should I be expecting?”
You have to be honest and you have to be prepared that the person might say, “Maybe that’s not for me.” At least you’re not setting yourself and the client up for failure. I’ve seen that a lot. A lot of people that have talked to other consultants tell me that, “They’re trying to sell me something. That sounds very salesy. It doesn’t seem very honest.” People can sense it. They may not be able to pinpoint what it is that you said, but they can sense when you’re trying to sell them. If you’re trying to help them, it’s nice when you’re in a position where you don’t need that particular gig or you need the job because then you can be selective and you can say, “Are you open to this? Are you going to put in the effort? Who was going to support you in this?” You can have honest conversations then. We’re talking about trust. Those are all the things that create trust.By spending more hours with your clients, you are providing more value for them. Click To Tweet
The other thing too is once you get into it, my coaching sessions are 60 minutes long, but they’ve gone into 90 minutes. They’ve gone into an hour and twenty minutes. I never say, “It looks like we’re at the 60th minute, I look forward to speaking to you in a couple of weeks.” One of my clients at one of the big firms that I coach for said, “Harrison, how much time do you spend on each coaching engagement?” I said, “I can’t tell you,” because there are some consultants that don’t think about the client again. From the moment they hang up the phone or get off the video until the next time they see them, I think about my clients constantly. In other words, I come across an article, I have a conversation, I jot something down that would be helpful. I have ideas and so my clients are constantly on my mind. I might spend many more hours than I’m actually engaging with them. I’m thinking about them, then eventually, providing value for them. All that, because I’m showing them I care because I do, builds that trust and builds that bond that keeps clients coming back. Here’s the other thing as a consultant do very often you get up in the morning, you have to hunt for a new client. If you’re going establish a trusting relationship, then firms will come back to you over and over because they know, they trust you now. You become one of a handful of trusted providers and they don’t have to worry about quality because they see the results. They know that you take care of them.
Another thing that’s connected to what we’re exploring is this idea of mastering the art of storytelling, which you talked about in your book. You layout three specific types of stories that you say every leader should master to be able to influence others. Certainly, the influence that we’re discussing here is critical for all consultants. What are the different types of stories that people should know about and how can they use them?
One type of story is certainly the story that you tell people about yourself. You might get the question, “What makes you different? Why should I go with you as opposed to another consultant that’s next on the list?” I tell people, “I don’t know why you should choose me over somebody else.” I can tell you what I’m all about. I can tell you about my values. I can tell you how I work. Based on what you’re telling me, I can tell you whether or not we could do this if you’re up for it, but I can’t tell you how I’m different from someone else unless it’s very obvious from their website or from what I know. They focus on team coaching. I focused on senior management coaching. Other than that, how do you know? It’s the stories that you tell about yourself. If you asked me, “Harrison, tell me your story about yourself.” I’ve lived a nice life so far. I can tell you a million different stories, but I need to choose the right story or components of the story to then make you feel like you can trust me and that you want to go on this journey with me.
The story I tell about myself has to make me credible. It has to make me appear to you that I care and be genuine about it. The story I’m telling you has to show that I know my stuff. Maybe I will give you a couple of case studies or examples of other clients that have maybe a similar issue. The story I tell about myself has to be very well thought out and yet be completely genuine and in a sense, spontaneous. If you’re asking me, I want to be honest and I want to be able to tell you my successes, but how they relate to you, not that they make me look good. I tell people that I don’t tell these things to make myself feel better. I tell them to make you feel better so that you can trust me.
We had a conversation on one of our coaching calls with consultants in our community. One of the consultants shared how they use stories as part of their sales conversations. They prepare for it in advance. They think about the different types of objections or challenges or even common questions that they receive from prospective clients when they’re having meetings, what they do is they start to attach different experiences or stories that they’ve had in working with others. When that question or potential objection appears, they’re able to illustrate or make it more relevant for that client or prospective client based on what they’ve done with others.
I don’t put too many case studies on our website because I don’t think people want to read through that. To me, if you have a bunch of case studies on your website, none of them is going to be exactly your problem or your issue. I’d rather tell people, “Here are some things that I’ve helped people with,” then they go, “That’s great” because that’s the level of the person that I am. Let’s say if it’s a VP of finance, then I talk about how I’ve helped a finance leader with perhaps a similar development opportunity, similar development area. They can relate to that and now they feel like, “That’s exactly the kind of coaching I need or the help or support I need.”
It’s the stories we tell about ourselves to others. It’s the stories we tell ourselves, the second one. What do I tell myself? The stories I tell myself will determine how I act. If I tell myself a story of, “I need to get as many clients as possible. Here’s my strategy and here’s how I’m going to go about it.” It has a different view. The story I tell myself is I want to help people. Whoever calls, whoever is reaching out, I’m going to listen to them and see if I could genuinely help them. If they are in a position to afford the services, whether they’re self-funded or whether they are sponsored by their organization.
I can pretty much tell right away if it’s the HR leader or if it’s the global head of talent management. I know that it’s the organization. If an executive or someone manages or calls me, that’s one of the first questions I ask is, “Are you sponsoring yourself or is it something that’s your company?” Immediately, I cut my fee in half because I want to make our services available. I want to help people. I’ve even gone so far as to leave 5% of our capacity for startup entrepreneurs for small business owners. People that maybe run a coffee shop or they started a little chocolate factory. They’re not the CEO of a Fortune 50 that I may be working with in the morning but I will have coffee with them on a Saturday afternoon. The payment will be a tiny little percentage of what I typically would charge. Why? Because otherwise, they will never be able to get that support. I want to help people get unstuck, develop some new behaviors and develop strategic self-awareness. That’s the story I tell myself. When you tell yourself that story, that comes across in how you sell yourself.
What’s the third story?
The third story is the story that you tell your company, that you tell your team, that you tell your organization. In other words, it’s the values that you want to create in your company. We have a small team, eight coaches and a couple of support people. I tell them exactly that story about how we’re here to help people and we will do whatever it takes to support someone. We don’t just stop on the hour. We check in with people. We offer for people to call us in the middle of the night that they need to, to email us, to text us. We talk about how that’s helped various people achieve a completely different level in their career that they’d never been able to achieve. That story creates values in your organization that people then know what we’re all about and they can act accordingly.
Your client list includes many well-known brands as well as others like Metlife, AT&T, Deutsche Bank and Cisco. What have you found over the years that’s been the most effective from a marketing perspective in landing clients? What’s your go-to approach, strategy or tactic to win you business and to fill a pipeline of leads and opportunities?
I don’t have a super answer for you on that because we don’t do much outreach marketing. A lot of it is people come to us through my books. That’s certainly one way but it’s doing good work, caring about people, being there for them for follow-ups and then people talk about you to others. The other one though that I would say, and that’s one that anyone can do is increase your digital footprint. Write articles or try to get published by ThriveGlobal.com, HR.com, Entrepreneur, Inc. or HBR. Some of these are tougher to get into than others. If people don’t see your name and then some valuable stuff and advice connected to your name, they won’t know you. That’s tough for them to find you. Put yourself out there, post on LinkedIn, comment on other people’s posts, support people. It’s not just about self-promotion, it is also about lifting others up. When people see some of your stuff like that, then you’re going to get some attention.You have to nurture your network little by little by being visible. Click To Tweet
What about in the early days? Before your brand was well-established as it is now, how do you go about getting your first few clients and attracting new business?
Before I had all this firepower behind me, books and big clients to attract other clients then, it was having conversations. There’s no other way. You have to have conversations where people ask, “What do you do?” At the time, I wasn’t even quite sure if I should call myself an executive coach because nobody knew what an executive coach was. What does that mean? I had to very succinctly tell people like, “I help people be more successful with their employees, with their teams, so that their teams are engaged, want to come to work, do great work and are super productive.” If you tell the right person that they’re like, “I know nothing about you but if you can do that, then I’d like to have a conversation.”
How did you create even the opportunity to have those conversations? Once you’re in front of an ideal client, you can tell them what you do. You can have that meaningful conversation but getting to that point, a lot of people struggle with that. What were you doing to find yourself in that place where you could have that conversation? Were you sending letters? Were you making phone calls? Were you attending events? Were you getting referrals? What tickets back to the early days of Harrison? What did that look like?
I would reach out to people and this was before Google even existed. If I met someone or I would attend events, I would strike up a conversation in a coffee shop. If I see somebody reading a newspaper or an article, I’m like, “That’s an interesting article, isn’t it?” I was not shy, even though I’m an introvert. Naturally, I may be less shy and more reserved because I’m originally from Germany and that’s a little bit more our style. I knew that I had to adapt to the situation. If I gave in to my natural tendencies, I’d be locking myself in a room and read a book. I knew I needed to get out there.
You have to have conversations. Find venues and talk to people. You might be speaking to 500 people before somebody says, “That sounds interesting. I think I know someone you should be speaking to.” Nowadays, people have all kinds of venues. Putting yourself out there, write an article, write a post, call somebody, send somebody a copy of an article that you read that you think they might be interested in. You have to build your network. You have to nurture that network little by little and become visible. Let people know you exist and what you do. That I found more often than not leading to success because you’re out there, you’re talking and somebody will say, “Can you help me with this?” It’s like, “Do you help small business owners? What are your fees? Who can afford you? Who do you like to work with? What work do you do?” Specialize a little bit in those areas. Over the years, it happened that I’ve started specializing in the more senior-level management from the director level up to the CEO level and that works for me.
You’ve touched on fees and pricing a couple of times. Tell us more about what are your approach is to that, specifically to your fees and to your pricing? How does it work with your business model? What structure do you typically use when you’re working with clients when it comes to pricing and fees?
Typically, our engagements are six months. This is the standard executive coaching engagement. We also offer shorter engagements of three months. Sometimes they are longer. People will extend to nine or twelve months.
Is it on an hourly basis?
It’s not hourly.
Is it a package for six months or three months or is it done monthly?
There are exceptions where a company says, “We don’t pay by the project or by the engagement. We’d like to pay monthly.” I make those exceptions but for the most part, it is for the entire engagement. 90% of the time, we bill at the end of the engagement. If it’s a big firm, if it’s a Fortune 50, Fortune 500 firm, we bill at the end of the engagement.
You don’t take any payment or deposit upfront and in many instances?The success of the clients tells you whether or not what you're doing makes sense or not. Click To Tweet
When you get payments, let’s say if it’s a six-month engagement, how soon after the six-month engagement finishes do you receive the money in your bank?
It could be anywhere from 45 to 120 days. Often, the bigger the company, the longer it takes but these are companies you can trust. You have to have work in the pipeline so that you can afford to do that. It’s one of the things that we’ve been doing for a long time and it works. Sometimes if it’s an individual, self-funded, then we take half upfront. Let’s say if it’s a six-month engagement, I will take half upfront, then the second half is then being built at the beginning of the second part of the engagement.
You have several other team members, how do you work with them in terms of your pricing? You have your fee for the project. Is it built in what the hourly rate that your team members want to receive and what you’re paying them, and your margin as the owner on top of that? Walk us through, for those consultants who are looking to either build a team or have a small team and they’re wondering about compensation, plans and structure. What have you found works best?
I found what works best for me is to pay the consultants that work for me on an hourly basis and then I build a client, a project. Depending on their backgrounds, if you’re a PhD and have a long background in psychology. We have a couple of neuroscientists that are not on our website. It depends. People come to you with different needs. We try to make people happy. At the same time, you also have to make some money. I had a couple of people a long time ago saying the company’s making a lot more money. I’m like, “It takes a lot more to get the client.” The coaching is the fun part. I wish I could do the fun part and do the coaching but it’s the marketing. It’s getting the client that is hard. There are many conversations sometimes. There are hours and hours of conversations and people work and contracting that takes place before you ever have that very first coaching session. Over the years, I’ve gotten so many applications from people with PhDs or Master’s degrees that are like, “I’m interested in joining your coaching firm as a consultant.” I usually ask back, “What were you envisioning, you join us and then we will give you clients and you can go ahead and do the coaching?” They’re bringing their skill and they’re hoping for a nice little home where they get paid for the thing they love to do. I’m like, “Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.”
How do you decide when to pass the project or a piece of business to one of your coaches and consultants versus you doing the work yourself? When do you decide, “I’m going to work with that client directly?” When do you delegate that project to your team members?
There are typically three ways in which that would be determined. One is if the client asks for a female coach, then that’s an easy one. We have fantastic female coaches. Sometimes people ask for male coaches or female coaches. That can happen. That’s great. Another is the background of the person. For instance, the coach has an emphasis in terms of their background on consumer industries or medical or finance. A coach doesn’t have to be an expert in the client’s industry or client’s business but sometimes it helps with context. That could be one. Maybe personality fit, some coaches are a little bit more entrepreneurial and that can certainly determine it.
Very often, when it’s a big firm, one of the Fortune 50 or Fortune 500, I would typically start out a coaching engagement with the first couple of leaders and then establish that relationship. If the company brings more and says, “This is great, we have some other executives or leaders that we’d like to have coached by your firm,” then we potentially introduce others because I can’t do it all myself. They’re all highly qualified and interpersonal relationship is super important to me. People walk away and they fall in love with the coaches. They’re like, “I love John. I won’t forget him.” Whether they work with me or one of my other coaches, I want them to have these relationships and never forget us. It’s like you never forget an amazing professor or an amazing teacher you’ve had. I remember my first-grade teacher because of the way she was and the way she explained things to me. I don’t know how to draw straight lines I guess.
Harrison, I want to thank you very much for coming on and sharing here with us a bit of your journey and best practices that you’ve gathered along the way. Where’s the best place for people to learn more about your books and your work?
The book is on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO. It’s the second edition. The company is Guru Maker Executive Development. The website is GuruMaker.com. I’m very accessible. If anybody has any questions, if I can give some advice, I’d be very happy to help.
Harrison, thanks again for coming on.
Thank you, Michael. I appreciate it.
- Harrison Monarth
- Executive Presence
- How To Win Friends and Influence People
- Executive Presence: The Art of Commanding Respect Like a CEO