Prospecting, especially when you are still starting your consulting business, can be a nightmare. In this episode, Mark Hunter, the man behind The Sales Hunter, shares how he created his consulting business, how he got his notable clients, and how to do profitable prospecting for consultants. Just like any business, climbing to the top of this niche presents numerous difficulties, which is why Mark gladly outline the most common problems, including his own, that people make when prospecting for clients and gives the best practices for consultants who want to build a more thriving pipeline. Make your consulting business more promising and move towards influencing and impacting people with great insights from this episode.
I’m very excited to have Mark Hunter joining us. Mark, welcome.
Thank you so much. Thanks for allowing me to be on the show.
You’re recognized as one of the top sales minds in the world. You’ve consulted and trained companies like Sony, Heineken, Novartis, Mattel, BP, Coca-Cola and many others. You started your career at Pillsbury as a sales rep back in 1979 before going on to spend twelve years at Kraft and then about half of that at Conagra. Is that correct?
I spent twelve years at Kraft and then six years with Conagra. Then I finally got smart and said, “I’m going to do this on my own.”
Tell me more about that. Why did you decide to venture out on your own and not stay within the confines of the corporate world?
The corporate world was giving me a great ride. It was a wonderful ride but I was afraid of growing old and stagnant. I’d seen too many people get past a certain point in their career and they waste away. I did not want to do that. I wanted to be continuously learning and continuously growing. I walked out on my job and said, “I’m going to do this.” That was many years ago.
You walked out and you ventured into the zone of the unknown. How did you go about getting your first client?Never over-complicate things when you are consulting. Make your conversations simple. Click To Tweet
How I went was I worked on the Rolodex. It’s picking up the phone and calling people. It was ugly at first because it took me three to four months to begin to get traction. I finally got one client and then I was doing exclusively consulting initially. It was one consulting project after another. I became a body for hire, which is fine. Early on I’m taking anything and everything to put food on the table. You slowly create your expertise and your niche to be able to scale.
Talk to us a little bit more about that. I want to make it very detailed and tangible for everyone. I have this image of you picking up the phone. It’s a heavy old school phone, not the little small one we have these days. What are you saying to people? You’re calling from what it sounds you don’t have any relationship with or maybe you had a strategy. Take us through what those phone calls looked like. What were you saying?
The initial calls were to people who I knew. These were people who I used to work with in various corporate roles and so forth and letting them know. I didn’t know what I was pitching. It was picking up the phone and calling and having a conversation and trying to let them share with me some need. That was something I found out very early on. Never try to go in and sell a solution until you understand what the need is. Initially, I sat there and listened. I remember I had one person who I called. She didn’t have anything for me but she referred me to somebody else who I knew. I got on the phone with him and he had a tremendous need in this company. I was able to come in and fill that need. That’s how I initially created my consulting business. The downside on that is you wind up taking any need out there. It took me a few years to hone in, get very tight on sales and very specifically B2B and then very specifically from that prospecting, you begin to tighten your niche. That’s one of the key lessons I took too long to learn. I was doing too many different things to too many different people.
What do you say to people who look at that and they might not be in the sales world themselves? If we use the analogy or the idea of sales, they say, “You’re now the guy that’s known for prospecting.” What about all that potential business that you could be landing if you were a bit broader and you were taking other types of sales-related engagement or some projects?
I could but here’s the deal. My objective is not to have 100% full calendar. One of the problems a lot of consultants and small business people make is they try to overfill their calendar. When you overfill the calendar, all you do is you have a job. You’re working for not the man, you’re working for many men. You’re working for many women. You’re out there working with a lot of people. As a result, you never have time to work on your business because all you’re doing is working in your business. By scaling, in other words by getting very tight and specific, I’m able to increase my fees. I’m able to charge significantly more. People began seeking me out. Most of my business comes in by way of people seeking me out. I’m still out there prospecting. Full disclosure, it’s not through cold-call prospecting, but it’s connecting with somebody, “I heard something, let’s talk. Let’s have a conversation.”
I’m guessing there are a lot of follow-ups as part of those prospecting.
It’s tremendous. This is one of the problems that people make. I was on the phone with a gentleman on the East Coast. He was sharing with me what his goals were and how he was doing. I said, “How are you doing on the follow-up?” He said, “That’s probably the piece I’m trying.” What happens is too many people try to have this initial conversation. You’ve got to keep coming and coming. You have to be bringing new value with each communication. I have got some significant six-figure clients that I probably reached out 20 to 30 times. We dialogued 20 to 30 times before ultimately engaging.
That’s after they said yes to you right away on the first outreach.
They would say, “Yes, let’s have a conversation,” but it doesn’t go anywhere.
What if they said no? What if you reach out to someone, you believe they’re ideal clients and they’re like, “No, we’re okay right now.” What do you do in that situation?
That’s fine with me. I’ve got no problem with that. I’ve got several clients who I know I could do very significant consulting work with and I will, but due to issues going on in the economy in their particular industries, they can’t bring me in. They said, “No,” but it’s okay. I’m going to keep dancing with them. Keep dancing with people. I’m going to give your audience three quick tips that you can do to keep people engaged. First of all, you have to remember that consulting has a very high margin, cost of goods sold and nill. I routinely will send not books I write but other books, to potential clients, “I read this great book on leadership, a great book on business process, great book here,” and I will send it to them. Think about this, if you want to do consulting, you’re known as a thought leader. If you have a small business, you want to be known as an expert sharing your expertise. That’s one technique.
Another technique that I love to do is I will see an article. There was an article I saw and I forwarded it to a couple of different close in prospects, “I saw this. I thought it would be of interest to you.” That’s technique number two. The third technique and I love doing this, is I might have one conversation. Let’s say you and I talk and you share with me one piece of information. I will call you back up and you don’t answer the phone, I get your voicemail, “Michael, you shared with me this. I’d like to get some more input on that. I’d like to understand that better.” If you hear somebody repeat back to you exactly what you shared with them, you’re going to pick up the phone and call them. Maybe you won’t pick up the phone and call them but you’re going to be pretty impressed.
How soon do you do that after you’ve had this? Let’s say you’ve had that initial conversation. They shared some things that are going on but ultimately decided not to move forward. Specifically with that third idea of calling them back and leaving a voicemail. When do you do that? Is it a week later, a month later or a year later?Your reputation arrives before you do, before anybody engages with you. Click To Tweet
I might do that a couple of days later. Speed sells, you want to move quickly. If somebody has an itch, it needs to be scratched now. Don’t wait for a few months to scratch their back because they’re going to say, “You’re stalking me.” I cringe at the number of deals that I lost early on because I don’t want to interrupt them. If you truly believe that you can help somebody, you owe it to them. It’s your responsibility to have that conversation with them. They may not know it. They may not be expecting it but you know you can help them. The analogy I like to use is if you are sitting at home and you looked out your window. Some neighbors moved in across the street and you don’t know them. You looked across the street and you saw their house was on fire, “I don’t know them very well. Maybe I should get to know them on Facebook or LinkedIn. Maybe I should talk to some other people or we will arrange to have coffee.” You would get over there and help make sure they’re out of the house.
One of your books, High-Profit Prospecting, it’s all about prospecting. What you’re sharing are these three important ideas but consultants do struggle with this. If you could share two to three other pieces of tangible advice that you believe are best practices for consultants who want to build a more thriving pipeline.
First of all, make it simple. One of the things that we tend to do, and I’m speaking we in terms of the consulting, we overcomplicate things. We can screw up a two-car funeral better than anybody. What I want to do is I want to make it simple for you to do business with me. The proposals I sent are very simple. They’re not more than a couple of pages. That’s it. My whole objective is I want to engage with you. Once I begin engaging with you, I will be able to scale from there. This means that you have to keep parameters as to what you say you’re going to do. It’s amazing how you can scale. You always have to view the prospects as, “Why am I engaging with this prospect? What’s the outcome I can help them with? What’s that piece of proprietary information?”
I have the CEO of a company who I’ve only done a little bit of business with. He routinely will call me and ask for my opinion on proprietary information to the company. Why is he doing that? Because he trusts me. We haven’t figured out the right mix for me to come in yet and I’m okay with that. I’ve thrown out a couple of ideas. He has thrown out a couple of ideas. We’ve done a little bit of work but I’m playing the long game. Here’s one of the challenges that people have. We get desperate because it’s the only option I’ve got.
It’s way too late to work on a project, deliver it, then all of a sudden finish that up and go, “Where’s my next piece?” and have to start it from scratch.
This is the problem we’re taking on major projects. This was a lesson that I learned the hard way. Early on in my consulting days, I became nothing more than the CEO or VP of Sales for hire. One client was 80% to 90% of my business and I did this three different times. I never had the ability to scale my business.
What should people do if they want to grow that thriving pipeline? They want to have more opportunities. They don’t want to have to rely on one or two clients and have all of their eggs in one basket. Give us two or three specific tangible best practices when it comes to prospecting.
Take and identify ten prospects that you want to go after. Don’t try to spray the world with everything.
You have ten in mind. What do they do after that?
You’re going to set yourself up and you’re going to be reaching out to them on every other week basis. This is probably a mid-size company. Maybe it’s a smaller company, but you’re reaching the owner. You’re reaching the senior person. Here’s a technique that I love doing. I love emailing those people on Saturday mornings at 6:15 in the morning. Here’s why. I have only one person I would push back. I’m not pitching them at 6:15 selling them. What I’m saying is, “I saw this. Here are some interesting thoughts. Here are some interesting ideas.” It’s amazing, the owner of a small business, a medium-sized business, they don’t stop working on the weekends. The weekends are when they’re working on the business, not in the business. As a result, I can send it to them. Now they’re suddenly viewing me as a peer and I get a high response rate back. They will pop me back and know that at 8:30 or 9:00, “Thanks so much for this. It’s great. I very much appreciate it.” I will make sure to respond to them within an hour or so later. I don’t wait until Monday because if I wait until Monday, then you’re just a slimy consultant or vendor or something like that because I’m letting them know that I’m working too. That is technique number one.
Is that every second week or every other week?
There’s no rhyme or reason to it. You can always find things, whether it be from WSJ.com, BusinessInsider.com, Bloomberg.com, whatever your industry website is. There’s always something that you can go, “I saw this and it’s very interesting.” That is one technique. Another technique is I love doing Friday afternoon phone calls. Many times, they will have an assistant or something like that who may answer the phone. They’re blown away that you’re not out golfing, you’re not mowing the lawn, you’re working. You’re thinking of them. I love those Friday afternoons.You have to absolutely believe in yourself and believe in the outcome you can create. Click To Tweet
The other thing I love to do is to play matchmaker. This is key. I did this one time. There was an individual who I’m hoping to do some business with. He’s a sharp individual. I sent him an email because I reached out to another person and I said, “I got somebody I want you to meet.” I introduced the two of them. It’s amazing the respect I get from people for doing that. They’re like, “Thank you.” I got a note from a small business owner in Texas who I had connected up with another person. They met and she sent me back a note and said, “I’m going to reach back. We had a great conversation a few weeks ago and we’re reaching back out and talking in the latter part of this week.” I love it. That’s great. I’m coming across as somebody who is speaking their language, operating at their level and thinking their thought.
How do you scale that beyond ten? Ten sounds like a good starting point but I would imagine that if you only focused on ten, it might be quite some time before you start generating the level of business that you want. How important is CRM? How important is not going with only phone or email, but mixing many different channels to make sure that you’re being seen, visible and being heard?
You bring up a good point. Your reputation arrives before you do, before anybody engages with you, just like you. You went out and looked at my social media. You were out on LinkedIn looking at my profile. It is amazing. Your reputation arrives before you do. I will routinely post on LinkedIn. It’s interesting, there’s an article I forwarded to two different individuals. Many times when you see an article, you can forward it to multiple people. I also pushed out to LinkedIn. It was an article on how Richard Branson thinks big. When he comes up with a goal, he has no idea how he’s going to achieve it but he has a goal. It’s maybe a couple of times a week and it takes only two minutes. It’s something I’ve forwarded to somebody that I pushed out to LinkedIn and Twitter. It allows people to begin seeing who this person is. Here’s the downfall. Sound the alarm on social media. You can’t take clicks and likes to the bank. I don’t know where you bank but my bank only takes money.
How do you manage then scaling up beyond those ten people? What’s your CRM? Do you add more people in?
I’m always adding people in but I’m keeping them categorized by industry, geography, etc. I happen to be going to Toronto. I have one appointment scheduled. That’s the reason I’m going to Toronto. I immediately went to my database to find out who else was in Toronto, who else I can meet with. This is a very easy thing. Articles, by focusing on the industry because I may focus on this industry for this next few weeks. This is especially keen as you hit into an industry conference. I won’t hesitate and don’t think for a moment that you need to attend every industry conference. I know a number of people who attend industry conferences virtually by following the hashtag stream on social media. Bucketize is a real consulting term. I’ve got five or six different people in each industry that I want to focus in on.
I’ve got a few other questions I want to dive into and I want to make sure we get them in. What you’re doing works. Your client lists look like a clone of the Fortune 500 list. I’m wondering when you look back over your years in this business, what do you feel has made the biggest impact in helping you to land those billion-dollar global clients?
Be confident in yourself. I pushed out to YouTube a video, The Biggest Sale You Will Ever Make, is the one you make to yourself.
Tell me more about that. What do you mean?
You have to believe in yourself and believe in the outcome you can create. If you don’t believe in yourself, it is amazing. Too many companies are afraid to hire solo practitioners because they feel they’re just a consultant waiting to get hired between jobs. You have to be able to demonstrate competence and confidence. That is without a doubt one of the biggest single things. What this allows you to do is it allows you to have frank conversations. It allows for people to be able to share with you insights. I don’t take proprietary information and share it with other people but it sure helps educate me about an industry.
Your brand is The Sales Hunter and below that, you have your name. Mark Hunter appears all through your communications but The Sales Hunter is your brand. Why did you choose to focus the brand on you versus building a company that has many other consultants or employees and team members? Tell us a little bit more around your decision to do that.
I try to have other people and I used them. Clients kept coming back and say, “We want you,” and they would be willing to pay me a whole lot more. It became too hard to police, monitor and control. I do it pretty much myself. I have a staff that backs me up who does research, helps me and supports me but I’m the face and people are willing to pay far more for them.
Was that also a lifestyle decision for you in any way?If you truly believe that you can help somebody, you owe it to them to have that conversation. Click To Tweet
A little bit. It allows me to control my time. I admit I’m on the roadway too much. If that’s the biggest problem I have in my life, it’s okay. I like having control. I was with a client. We put together a one-page document. It was a great document. I came back and I gave it to one of my staff. She’s now outsourcing it and we’re going to put it into a bunch of infographics. It’s amazing. One of the things you have to do is you have to scale your intellectual property. Take all your intellectual property. We all have far too much intellectual property. Replicate it and use it in different formats. It is amazing how we recreate the wheel too often.
It’s coming together in a meaningful way. You’re working with great clients. You’re receiving high fees, but you’re also in a market that some people would look and say it’s a very crowded marketplace. You’re playing in a sales space. Even for others who aren’t in the sales space, they might feel we had as many other management consultants, many other consultants in the pharmaceutical industry. What have you found has been the most important for you to ensure that you’ve carved out your niche, that your positioning and your messaging helps differentiate you so that you are one of the top people that your ideal clients are searching for?
The word that comes to the top of the list is integrity. It’s funny some companies will ask me, “Can you give me some referrals?” They always come back to me and said, “Mark, we called various references and they all said you have incredible integrity.” That’s what it’s all about because at the end of the day, your name is worth everything. Secondly, it’s the ability to have the frank candid conversation. It’s being willing to call the baby ugly. Third, it’s the ability to put together insights in a way that becomes memorable. This sounds a little bit tacky but we all hear so much information. If we don’t hear it in a way that people remember it, it’s amazing how it gets lost. The whole piece that I zero in on is that it’s centered all around my personality. This is why people have said, “We want you, Mark, because your personality is engaging and contagious.” I don’t call it contagious. I firmly believe that my objective is to influence and impact people. What I do happens to be the medium that I get to use to influence and impact people.
When you talk about integrity, which is a very core idea and something that we certainly try and live by every day, can you offer me an example of how you’ve been able to demonstrate that integrity with clients? What is a specific situation that made someone say, “Mark has integrity?” What does that look like?
I’m not going to reveal anything. There have been two different situations where I’ve walked away from clients. We got into a situation and I said, “This is not right,” and I walked away. There was another time where I was being compromised. They wanted to compromise me to get industry secrets from another company. I would not. They went to every possible extent of putting money on the table to try to get me to do it. I would not do it. At the end of the day, integrity is not something you talk about. Integrity is something you live.
On this topic and connected to it, you share the stage, you cross-promote and talk kindly of your friends, Jeb Blount and Anthony Iannarino, who have also been on this podcast, great guys and very smart. Share your mindset on working with and supporting other experts and consultants who have very similar focuses to yours. For many consultants, they would view people like that in their own industries as a bit of competition and more as enemies than friends. You view it as friends, not enemies. What’s your mindset and belief on that?
My mindset is because I see everything as a land of opportunities. It is total abundance, not scarcity. Anthony, Jeb, Mike Weinberg and myself, we share ideas and we share clients. If one of them lands a big deal, we root for them. We’ve all had situations where one of us has beat the other person out, but then sure enough something comes around and somebody else beats somebody else out. It’s a long game and at the end of the day, people get scared, “They’re going to steal my content.” Be thankful your content is good enough that people want to steal. Think about that. If your content is not being stolen, then you’ve got pretty lousy content. I don’t want people to steal my content and I see people doing it occasionally and I call them up. I’m not going to throw anybody under the bus because it’s amazing how you treat one person winds up getting reflected somewhere else. If you’re a jerk to somebody over here in the corner and you think you’re a jerk to that person, somehow somewhere you’re going to wind up being a jerk to somebody else. I don’t have time for that.
In your business, you’ve mentioned how you’ve been able to grow. You’ve mentioned the word scale and higher fees. When you look at everything that you’ve learned, accumulated and gathered to this point, what do you find that you now focus on the most that within your business has allowed you to create the greatest impact, scale and growth? What’s that one lever that when you pull it, you know that good things happen and you focus on optimizing and continuing to do it consistently?
It’s my books. I’ve got a book that is coming out. I’m honored to have Harper Collins as my publisher. It is zero-in and focusing. I had a couple of conversations with my publisher. The ability to have a book published by a major publishing house is worth everything. Anybody can self-publish. There are more self-published books out there that we can shake a stick at. It’s being able to have a book published by a major house. That is what allows me to be separate and apart from most other people out there.
Why is that? Essentially, they’re putting their logo on it. Many people say that traditional trade publishers don’t do much promotion. They do distribution and they’re good at helping you editing the book and the content. For you, what’s the real value of having that trade logo on your book?
The value is two-fold. They’re the ones who edit the book and the editor doesn’t work for me. The editor works for them so they ripped me apart. When you self-publish, the editor, whoever you hire, works for you. They’re going to take it with kid gloves. My whole business model is not to make money from the book. My business model is to make money because of the book. I don’t care how many thousands of books I might be able to sell and make $5 to $10 apiece. I could care less. When I can sign six-figure deals off my book, you’ve got to sell an awful lot of books to get that. That’s the piece. Having them with me, I get foreign rights. It moves you to a different level.
Mark, thanks so much for coming on. I want to make sure that people can also learn more about your books and everything that you put out in terms of content and best practices. Where’s the best place for them to go?
The best place is TheSalesHunter.com. That’s the website.
Mark, thank you again.
Thank you, great selling.
- Mark Hunter
- High-Profit Prospecting
- The Biggest Sale You Will Ever Make – YouTube video
- Jeb Blount – previous episode
- Anthony Iannarino – previous episode