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Episode #194
Rob Malec

The Roadmap to Mastery in Consulting

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The consulting business is all about helping and empowering people. That’s why consulting mastery lies in one important thing: the desire to serve instead to sell. Michael Zipursky sits down with Rob Malec, President of Businessworks Consulting, Inc., to discuss the roadmap he crafted and followed towards success. He talks about his journey from being a delivery man, to working for another company, to launching his very own business. Rob explains his concept of selling less and focusing on value that yielded him tangible, positive results. He also delves into his mixed marketing strategies, going back to student mode for constant growth, and the right way to set personal boundaries.

I’m with Rob Malec. Rob, welcome.

Michael, thank you very much for having me. It’s so great to be here.

I am excited about this. Rob, we have known each other for many years now or at least several years. I don’t know how long it has been but it has been a while. I want to give a quick little intro to you here so people know who you are and what you have been up to and then we are going to dive more into your story because there are a lot to cover. You are an author, a speaker, a revenue generation consultant. Your company is called Business Works Consulting. You have helped over 100 clients in 22 different industries to improve their revenue by 30%, in some cases significantly more. You are also the author of Sell More by Selling Less, a book that talks about selling using the conversational sales method, which we will get into because that is essential for anyone in consulting or that’s providing advisory services to understand how to approach sales. Let’s get started, Rob, by going back in time a little bit. You are working with many companies, helping them in their sales teams to grow revenue. How did you get into that? Take us back to your first role in sales or even before that. What were you doing before you entered that world of sales and consulting?

My first real job out of university, I drove a truck to pay the bills and pay back my school debts was with Wrigley’s chewing gum, humble start. They have their ducks in a row in sales process and methods. I moved on to Purolator Courier. I spent nine years up here later, sales rep, national accounts, Regional Sales Manager here in British Columbia. I moved to the United States and I help them build their business from scratch so I, another guy, a small office, two phone books and no customers. That’s how we started. We had some good lock-ins and success. We’ve got about $18 million in annual revenue. When I was there, they are still around. They are about $100 million now. I have some ideas about sales and selling. I liked leadership. Being a leader in my last job before going independent, I had a team of 45 people reporting to me and ultimately was ready and I hung my shingle and started doing this.

You covered a lot of ground. I want to back up and then dissect in and dig into a little bit more. At what point did you realize that you were interested in sales? You went to university. You said that you were driving a truck. What kind of truck were you driving? Was it like a big rig or something?

It was a 5-ton truck delivering milk to stores in Ontario. I graduated. I had student debt and there I am with my diploma in one hand and the keys to this big, huge truck in the other. That kind of work had run its course. In my first job, I thought, “I will try sales and see if I happen to like it.” I did that. There are two things. One thing is super rewarding to sell something, and then that supports the entire company because the promise you have made to a customer is fulfilled by all these other people. With Purolator Courier, for instance, at 10,000 employees, when I sell on an account, I know that all those drivers know those trucks. I’m contributing in a very small way but to help those people as far as jobs and stuff like that, the other piece inherently inside myself, I like to help people.

Taking out the word 'sell' in business and replacing it with 'help' changes the dynamic to an entirely different level. Click To Tweet

Sales is a great way to help people because if you have a solution to their problems, you can make their life easier, save them some time and save some money, that kind of stuff. The other side of it I enjoy is collaborative. I have a lot of teams, sports and athletics in my background. It felt natural to be part of the team because sales are very much a team sport. You need to have people helping you behind the scenes. Other people are with you as you are doing that job. Post-sale, all those folks support you. It’s natural for me.

From delivering milk to selling more chewing gum, what was going on in your mind? Was it the chewing gum job, and then into working for Purolator, was that progression of going from delivering milk and then selling chewing gum into then working at Purolator for deliveries and all that kind of stuff? Was it those positions that were offering better compensation and better benefits? Was that the puller? Was your mind already thinking, “I don’t want to keep doing this driving of trucks type of job? I want to start selling.” What was going on in your mind taking you from delivering milk to getting into sales?

It was that I had enough of the driving and delivery things. Wrigley’s is frankly the first company that would give me a job straight out of university with zero experience. I realized, “I like the sales thing.” I want to go up to the next level. I want to be in the boardroom, helping companies in a bigger picture way. That was as much as I needed to say, “Start hunting around.” Purolator happened to be hiring at the time. That’s how I ended up there. I thought I could help on a bigger scale with what I was doing.

Did you ever feel uncomfortable with sales? A lot of people hesitate around it. They feel like it’s a negative thing or a bad thing and they are not comfortable engaging in sales conversations or trying to “sell someone.” Did you ever feel that way? If you did, how did you deal with it?

I never felt that way because I sincerely felt I was helping people. For instance, if you walk into a warehouse and you see mountains of boxes that need to be shipped and you realize you can help that business to get products to the right consumers faster. Allow people to track it in a way they couldn’t. Bear in mind, this is many years ago. For me on the sales side, I wasn’t convincing anyone of anything. I was there to help. I think of salespeople or people in a sales role in the consulting world, we have to sell work and do work.

There are two parts to our job. It’s incumbent upon us to become comfortable and good. That’s the second part. If you take out the word selling and put it in helping, it changes the dynamic. This is not a matter of semantics. You are truly helping people. You have something people need. At the time, it was transportation services. Now, it’s expertise in a certain realm. That’s the path to diffusing any discomfort with sales. You are not selling, convincing, controlling and persuading, nothing. You are just helping.

You went up the ranks. In Purolator, you went to the US, opened or worked in one of the first offices for them down there. You grew the revenue by $18 million. You grew the team. Now, it’s $100 million-plus business down that one area. What happened inside? What was going on for you that made you decide to venture out and start your own consulting business?

Control over my destiny. In between Purolator when I came back from the States and was in Canada, I worked for a small startup company. I was 1 of 2 people in the Vancouver office and you are working away. The company ultimately ran out of money because of 9/11 and life. Prior to that, they were trimming staff and I reach a certain age. You thought when you are younger and you look up the pyramid of the org chart, when you get up higher, it’s more stable. It’s not. It’s the opposite. I didn’t like not having control over my destiny. That was the biggest thing. I also didn’t like that in corporate life there are decisions that are made with some greater good in mind.

It’s not always good in my estimation but you are forced to support those. You accept that as part of your job. I realized I didn’t like to do that. I had a situation that had to do with compensation for another salesperson, wherein my mind, I don’t think the company acted fairly to this person but I had to support it because I was part of my role. That was probably the moment where I said, “I need to be on my own.” It’s a mix of control over my destiny and supporting a message that I believe in and helping people in a way that I think is a great way to do it and all those things.

You made a decision. How long were you thinking about it before you made the leap, went out there, left the job and went full into building your consulting business?CSP 194 | Consulting Mastery


That was three years of thinking about it. “What could I do? What should I do? What will I do?” You stand at the edge of the pool with your floaties on, looking at the water. It took about that long to jump. As it happened, I mentioned 9/11, the company ran out of money. At that point, I was faced with go out and get a job or jump in. I jumped in.

When you look back at the early stages of your business, do you remember the first time where you felt like, “I have made it. Something is working now. I don’t need to go back and get a full-time job?” You had more confidence and comfort that the business would thrive long-term. Was there a specific point in time or when you landed a client or revenue reached a certain level, anything that takes you back to that?

There were 2 or 3 phases of my consulting career. I came out and realized I want to help companies to improve sales. I didn’t have any intellectual property at that point. I only had my track record and experience. When you have that, I will speak for myself, I could give tips, tactics and advice but I couldn’t give the recipe to anyone. I landed 2 or 3 different projects about a year-long with some Big Box Training companies, flying around North America and teaching on their behalf. That’s when I did my first one. I went down to Sterling, West Virginia.

I’m there all by myself. It’s the first time I’m never getting a paycheck that wasn’t from a big company and that was the big a-ha moment, “I can do this.” In working and training with those companies, I trained for big companies, Boeing and those kinds of things, I learned a lot about training development and design, which informed me how I can take my experience and package it up, position it, make it into a system. The first big a-ha moment for me is, “I can do this,” at that point, that was about six months in when I started that.

It was about developing your own intellectual property, getting validation that you are receiving payments that weren’t tied to a full-time job. It was other clients. Rob, because I know a lot of consultants will get into a structure where they either work through other companies as you did early on, you work for another training company and delivering their training to their clients or someone will take a contract from one main “client.” It’s almost more like a job, like a contract or not necessarily a consultant. When you look back at that experience, is there any advice that you would have for somebody who might be working in that structure where they are not working with their own clients, they are working through another company to service those clients? Any thoughts on that experience and what you might suggest to others who are in that phase?

It takes some thinking to understand what is my offering and to whom I would offer it. Speaking from my own experience, working through other parties like the Big Box Training companies, when I distill it all down, they own the client relationship. I was still working for someone else. As far as building my business, I started from my network and people who I knew, I consulted back to Purolator and did some work for them. Once I started owning that client relationship and the responsibility for developing a program, methodology or a system was all on me, that was my next turning point, “I’m a consultant now.” I was a trainer before that I was an employee but when I had my first client and I would totally own the relationship, “Now, I’m a consultant.” When I carried 3 and 4 different clients without a middle person, that’s when I said, “I have a practice now.”

When you look at the journey or the lifespan of your business to this point, you mentioned stage one you are delivering for these Big Box Training companies. What would you say the other timelines or milestones were in your business again to this point? What other big shifts or big changes did you make? If you could walk us through what that looked like. For example, did you start offering different services? Did you approach pricing differently? Did you narrow in on a specific type of ideal client? Give us the chapters of your business as we go through them. What would those chapters be after you started delivering on the Big Box Training companies?

The first chapter was my book. I’m writing my book was the turning point in my consulting practice.

Why would you say it’s the turning point for you?

It separated me from 99.9% of the competition out there. You have the Big Box Training companies who would deliver large-scale training, and then I identify my ideal client as someone who’s not multinational or a $500 million company. I was helping small to medium enterprises. When they would say, prior to writing my book, “Rob, what’s your approach? Tell us about it,” I could tell them verbally and I can show them some PowerPoints and the likes. That was one thing. After I wrote my book and they said, “Rob, what’s your methodology? How do you do it?” I pull up my book. It’s this 2.5-pound business card I slide across the table. They looked at the book and me. Honestly, half the time they go, “We’ve got it. You have checked that box.”

Not many consultants say, “I’ve got a book in me.” Not many right ones because it’s not difficult but it’s not simple and easy. It takes time but that’s why it separates the author from the non-author. That was a big turning point. The second big turning point was around our value-based fees and breaking the time for money connection. That was a big one because your income is significantly limited but more to the point. I had a client that invested very small four-figures with me and they made it pretty large five-figure profits, straight profit, based solely on my work. The reason I can say that is I know what the results were for the twelve months prior to working with me when we saw the results at the end.

Saying no at the right time allows you to focus on more optimal things and deliver the right amount of value to others. Click To Tweet

The person who brought me on said, “This is a result of your work.” I looked that up. It doesn’t seem right I’m not participating. I thought it was good value and it turned out to be a good value but I was a non-participant in the enjoyment of that value. It didn’t seem fair to me and once I understood how to create and support a value-based fee. All of a sudden, that made a big difference in my income, which makes a big difference in your workload because if you can carry fewer clients and make more money as a consultant, your work-life balance is positively impacted.

One thing to me that is very clear about you is you are constantly soaking up new information. You are a student of life and business. You are reading new books. You always have perspectives on different approaches, whether it’s learning, development and trainings, courses, or many different areas. You are very well-read and you apply a lot of this into your business, which is one of the reasons that you can create the results you do for your clients. You and I first met when you reached out to us, the Consulting Success, to get some support around growing your consulting business. Here you are, you know a lot, you are inputting a lot already into your mind and business, at that time, what was the main area that you were looking to improve upon in your business?

It was lead flow, 100% and the other was despite having value-based fees and been using it for many years, I would hit a ceiling on the revenue I can generate. As an independent consultant, when you are in your basement office slugging it out all by yourself, lots of times you are unsure of yourself. You come up with an idea where you go, “That sounds okay but would this even fly in the real world?” After sixteen years of doing it all myself, I said, “I should get some help,” which is ironic because as a consultant, I provide help to people. That’s why I reached out to Consulting Success. It helped me to break through the glass ceilings in all respects. I only have one regret.

I didn’t seek that advice sooner. I wish I had. If I was to do my consulting business all over again, that would probably be the only thing I would change. I would get advice and invest in myself sooner because the ROI on the investment I have made in time, energy, whatever to be involved with Consulting Success has multiplied so far beyond what I expected. I stopped counting it and it’s profoundly affected me in terms of how I approach being a student. Several years ago, I’m doing a lot of reading around Buddhism of all things. The notion of being a student and being a better teacher if you are a student that helps you to understand the learner’s perspective and you get better at teaching.

CSP 194 | Consulting Mastery


That’s informed a lot of what I do. If I learn how to play guitar course, learn how to drive, anything I’m doing, even something I’m experienced in, skiing I take some lessons in that, it returns me to that student role. It informs when I’m sitting across from a client I will look up and say, “Yes.” I’m in a sidebar. I’m taking a guitar course, they have taken all the theory out, teach you what you need to know to play. Now when I teach people, I feel I’m simpler to understand now all because of being a student on purpose.

One of the areas that, correct me if I’m wrong here, had a very positive impact on your business is an adjustment that you made to your fees. You went from the standard hourly project rate into more value-based fees but you have also started to look at ways where you can be more involved in the upside performance of the work that you are doing. Meaning that if you can help clients to achieve greater levels of revenue then you have a percentage or you have more participation in that. Can you talk a little bit about how you start to bring that into your business and the impact that it’s had? It’s an area that a lot of people are interested in doing but don’t necessarily know how to approach it or so. I would love it if you could share your experience of shifting to that kind of a model.

The model is called pay-for-performance and embraces the way it’s structured. Consultants will often have a flat monthly fee that they charge for their services. That fee can be based on the value that is realized by the client. I happened to be in the sales realm in a position where everything is measured so when revenue goes up or down, gross margin goes up and down. What I said to my clients towards the notion of win-win or a shared risk scenario is, “The investment for you upfront is 2, maybe 3 months of a flat fee. That’s your investment in building your infrastructure. That infrastructure will bear fruit many years after I’m gone.”

What we will do is in month three, the flat fee will drop significantly, typically by about 1/3, at least. On top of that, a lot will pay-for-performance fees. In sales easily it’s called a commission. I work with the client to come up with what the commission number is a percentage and as well on what it’s applying to, gross revenue, gross margin, a combination thereof. We set an annual target income for me so it’s all on the up and up and the client goes, “Rob, we are targeting income X.” Half of that is a flat fee and the other half is pay-for-performance.” The shared risk is this. My risk is to charge a lower fee. Their risk is to pay that fee but the shared reward is when sales go up, they win and I win as well.

In the sales world or the vice-president sales, that’s pretty normal so conceptually, people get it. The impact on my business, Michael, for those clients, not every client it applies or it takes a few months. Fees would be up by a full 1/3, sometimes double. I have a client where sales results are awesome. We are over three years in so it’s taken us a while to get there. It worked out in everyone’s favor. The company and I are super happy. It has been great.

It’s a powerful concept and it goes back to a lot of what you believe in life. It’s one of your principles, even based on your book of less is more, how to sell more by selling less. Here you are with the idea and structure, fewer clients but more value created with each client. This compensation model does speak to that. I want you to take us to your marketing. When you were at Purolator, you went into the US, it was you and one other person. You essentially had a couple of books to call up on people. It sounds like a hardcore cold calling, which freaks most people out but that’s what you were doing.

You built up a very solid, $18 million a year or so type of business. Walk us through what you are doing or what you have seen in terms of the evolution of your marketing and what you have been finding most helpful to bring people into your world. You have talked about the book. You have done some things with accessing different people who also have access to your ideal clients and in this case CFOs but walk us through. What would you describe in terms of your most effective marketing approach? What’s working best over the last few years for you there that would be helpful? Take us through that.

One of the first things from Consulting Success was the notion of the marketing mix. It is a mix, it isn’t just one big thing. I know consultants will go on the internet and start reading about the marketing that you should be doing and all of a sudden if you are bad you have all of these fifteen things that you should be doing. The things that I focus on, in specifics, the first one is leveraging my network. If my business was an upside-down pyramid, my first client is a friend of mine, Gord. He said many years ago, “Rob, would you be my sales coach?” Working with him led to working with the company he worked for, which led to someone else in the industry and more connections. I make a very proactive effort to reach out to everyone I know in my network, literally on a timed basis.

In my CRM, Michael Zipursky’s name is in there and every X number of months, it will pop up and say, “Time to contact Michael.” All the people in my contact base that I know on a first-name basis are in there. That’s one thing that I do. The other, if that’s one-to-one marketing, my one-to-many marketing is to find centers of influence. For instance, the technology association here in Vancouver, I can go in to speak with the people who are running that association because they want to bring value to their constituents and their members. I did free talks and the likes, which turned into paid work, more connections, future projects. I did that with a couple of different associations. That’s a big part of what I do. I have my book.

If you don’t specialize, it will be hard to attract the ideal customer because your messaging is as diffused as your offer. Click To Tweet

For those CEOs, I want to meet with personally, I know they get bombarded with things, emails and the likes. I sent them a physical copy of my book and signs to their name on the cover. That’s generated lots of conversations. I also do reach out on LinkedIn regularly, asking for connections of people where it’s relevant and logical, people active in the tech space. I think to myself, “I can bring value to this person.” I have a set nurture campaign, full disclosure. My virtual assistant helps me to run this. That’s how I’m able to manage my time and be productive. We have a cadence tempo, a sequence of messages. I have content they will find a value, things either I have written or curated, and then a call to action of, “Would you like to speak.” That’s generating conversations.

I’m finding now that people are comfortable in the Zoom culture, more people are saying yes to those meetings. That’s the mix of what I do. The key to it is consistency. I did it myself for about a year before I’ve got my virtual assistant and probably that’s the other change I made because I’ve got an assistant. She is awesome. She saved me 4 to 6 hours a week but that’s pure, productive and focused hours. We may as well double that, the impact on my business.

When you look back the before and after, clearly the value of having a virtual assistant is huge for you, you hit on that, a lot of people wait longer than they should have or they hesitate. They think, “I need to get my revenue up to that next level. When I land that next project, it’s faster for me to do it myself.” Did you have any of that in terms of waiting or not getting an assistant earlier like you think you should have now when you have the benefit of hindsight or did it come at the right time for you?

CSP 194 | Consulting Mastery


One hundred percent hesitance. I was in the trap of, “Only I can do this. I’m the best one to do it.” Both of which were false. On the money side, I don’t know what I thought it was going to cost but it certainly doesn’t cost a whole ton of money. If you were an independent consultant, you said, “I’m going to put $200 a month to getting a virtual assistant.” What’s happened to me is that $200 investment turns into a new client, which allows me to spend double that now on my assistant.

I was afflicted. I have the curse of I’m the only one. The third thing was it takes longer to tell someone else to do it and that’s true for the first time you do it but next time they do it for you, your involvement significantly decreased. I use screen capture videos to explain things or nuance things, which very time efficient. My assistant can watch the video ten times if she wasn’t clear on what I was saying and she’s instantly more productive. Here’s the thing, she feels awesome too. I tell her all the time how great she is. She’s so awesome because she would be able to do more for me. It has been good, both ways.

I think about you, Rob, and everything that you have done because I have known you for several years is that you have a very clear set of priorities around not only how you engage with clients and business but also how you engage in life. You spend a lot of time skiing in the winter. You spend a lot of time up in the mountains, even when it’s not wintertime. You have a good balance between how you approach spending time in your business and how you spend time outside of your business and also when those two things collide or not collide but how they interact and play together. How do you think about that? A lot of people, their minds are fully consumed with the business and they put off the idea of taking care of themselves or putting themselves in an environment that might be more conducive to creativity.

They don’t have their priorities straight. To me, correct me if I’m wrong, it feels like you do have a lot of clarity on your priorities. For you, being up in the mountains, being in nature and skiing is certainly a top priority. Walk us through that. How did that develop? Your kids are older now so things have shifted but for people who maybe don’t have the structure they would like in their lives, the balance between work but also being able to do the things they want, having more hobbies or creating that environment that supports their lifestyle. Is there anything that you have realized over the years in terms of how you think about business, your lifestyle and how the two work together?

Michael, full disclosure, early in my career, I’m a type-A person and I was the twelve hours a day guy, take Saturday off and then back at it for six hours on a Sunday. Achieving the balance, some realizations came to me. The first thing, both my parents passed away at a very young age and when I was quite young. My father died when I was eighteen, of heart issues. I had that in my background where I go, “When you are young, you are going to live forever and you are invincible.” You don’t think about that then later on you start going, “That’s in my family.” That was one thing that was like an awakening or a realization.

The other is, my wife is a physician and regularly comes home with all the stories that no one wants to hear about, the 45-year-old dad who drops dead or has some accident into the life and you realize, “There’s more to life than work.” Even still, when you are type-A, you will go. Interestingly, you brought this up. The big turning point for me is I used to measure my annual income. It was a goal for me and the year that I stopped measuring my annual income was the time when I took my foot off the gas pedal of work and realize that I need to add some life in there. Goal-setting is great.

I read about goal-setting and I was doing all the goal-setting things and writing them all down and all that stuff. I realized that one particular goal was unhealthy for me. It didn’t happen in year one of my consulting practices, probably twelve years in. It’s the notion of this that the things that we hang on to and we aren’t willing to let go can become a boat anchor or it can become a negative. That was hanging on because of my type-A personality, this notion of I had to achieve this certain thing. Ironically, when I let go of the need to achieve that my life balance and work became better. I overachieved it regularly. It was that mindset. Once I realized, “I want to do this thing,” then you go, “How am I going to do it?” I realized there are certain passions I had. You are right about the outdoors and music, my family, my kids. They are older now, they are at a university. I look back and I feel good that I didn’t miss anything. I was present. I built my consulting business to work so that I didn’t have to travel out of Vancouver despite having clients literally around the world. That choice in and of itself kept me present physically off of an airplane and able to be more productive.

Never trade time for money. Click To Tweet

It’s this mix of things but the first was the realization that I was a type-A guy, probably despite denying it. The next thing of, “Let go of that thing that I think is supposed to help me. It was hurting me.” The last part was, “Now, how am I going to make it happen?” Michael, it doesn’t just happen. I need to say, “No.” If I have a time booked for a family thing or the like and a client says, “Rob, let’s do this thing at that time spot.” I say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do it. I have another commitment.” I have another commitment to me, my family and my life. It usually works out.

That’s a powerful concept or story for people to hear because very often it’s easy to take a sign that it’s a priority that you have maybe decided to set out as a priority. At the moment that business or a client asks you to change it, essentially, they don’t know that you have to sign them but they are trying to fill your calendar with something that they need help with. A lot of people will shift the priority that they had. They will sacrifice it for the business because the belief is the businesses is on top but what you have done is you have put your lifestyle on top where it created the priorities around it and the structure, and then made sure that your business supports your lifestyle and not the other way around. You have been in business for many years, this happened maybe around year twelve, it’s not like you realize this on day one. Looking back now knowing what you know, is there something that you wish you would have done differently or something that you learned from that you think other people might also benefit from in terms of how you think about things or decisions that you made or didn’t make?

I’ve got a ton of things flying around in my head. The first thing is the power of no as a consultant. I’m in the business of helping people. The joy for me in consulting is to help people. In the past, I was guilty of saying yes to every request. It would end up manifesting itself. Family events are put off to the side. It has been sometimes where I said no to more opportunities than I said yes to. I read a book a long time ago. They talk about a velvet rope than allowing clients in. At the time when I started, I had no clients. I was desperate, “Come on in.”

What I found is I said yes to opportunities that in hindsight, maybe didn’t go perfectly for reasons I saw upfront but I decided to bring them in any way candidly because I wanted to earn the money because I had this income goal in mind. What I have learned is that when I say no to an opportunity that doesn’t look optimal, it opens up time to find either another opportunity that will fill that space that is optimal or I can focus more on my current clients and deliver more value to them. If I do that, that’s enriching in and of itself. Sometimes it turns into more project work with an existing client. The power of saying no I would have exercised that a lot sooner. The other decision of waiting to get help, wait until you are sixteen, I wish I had done it in year one and six months.

The other is building a sense of community. With consulting success, honestly, it was something I didn’t realize that I was thirsty for. Your spouse is very interested in your business but having like-minded colleagues who face what you face and the like is supportive. I can remember many times the once they call the Consulting Success, hopping out of my office, driving in my car and going somewhere so I could get out of the space and listen to it. Contributing some answers in that as well as fulfilling. That sense of community because we as independent consultants can end up in our office all by ourselves for way longer than we probably enjoy.

Rob, before we wrap up, you are a sales expert. This is where you spend your time in sales and revenue generation. I want to direct people to learn more about you, your work, and your book but before we do that, I want you to think about common mistakes or big areas of opportunity that you think consultants and those in professional services have when it comes to sales. What are two areas where you feel often making mistakes and maybe you made them at some point in your journey and what’s the best practice? What should people do to overcome those mistakes and see greater success?

The first is to specialize. Someone used this analogy because we are talking about specialization in business. This person said, “I get nervous when I go to a restaurant and they serve pizza, wantons, goulash and sushi. How can you be good at all those things?” I laugh because it’s true. As a consultant, if you don’t specialize, then it’s hard to get great at one thing. It’s hard to attract your ideal customer because your message is as diffused as your offer. What I find is the path for new consultants, distill down then when you think you are done, distill down further and get down to your core offering. The second is to embrace the money conversation with buyers.

Many consultants are either uncomfortable doing it or are trapped in the time for money connection. That’s a mistake. It’s not a win-win scenario. The consultant does not get to share in the success to the degree that they should because they are helping to bring that success. It’s less enriching. For your business, it’s less healthy because you are in business to generate revenue to fund your lifestyle or whatever it is you would like to fund so it helps your business house as well. All around holistically, it’s a great thing.

When you say embrace the money conversation, are you getting the importance of understanding the value that you bring as a consultant and not just charging on an hourly basis? Even if you are not involved in sales or revenue generation directly, looking at what is the impact and the outcome that you are going to help to create in that organization or with that person, and then making sure that your fees and the way that you are capturing compensation reflect or is connected to that outcome and to the value not just, “It’s $100 an hour,” or whatever it might be. Is that what you mean by an embrace or is there something else within that that you think is important that people consider?

There are two parts. Embracing it means to lean into it. What I find is a large cross-section of people when it comes down to, “Here’s what I would like to charge for my services,” have a very close discomfort with our conversation. It’s a mindset that you have, which is not to say, “Feel more confident and not confident.” Therefore, you will be confident rather than the second part of that embrace the money conversation. One, don’t trade time for money but the other is throughout your conversations with the buyer, uncover this specific nature of the value you bring and quantify it wherever possible, either in hours and minutes, dollars and cents or if it’s not like that, it’s improved morale.

There are stats around everything now, employee engagement and the likes. Maybe it’s improving whatever that indicator is on a scale. It’s operating at two and you are trying to get it to 6 or 7. Without the quantification, it’s hard to set value-based fees and you can’t go in with confidence to support the fee you are asking for because it’s sounded an opinion. When it’s quantified, we increase retention by X. We decrease cost on this area by Y, whatever the case may be, then you can say, “That’s the net value over 1 or 2 years. Here’s my fee.” Relative to the value that’s going to be derived, the fee is very reasonable.

You all talked about the first point there was specialization and how important that is. Is there any line that you can draw in your own experience or a connection between the amount of specialization that somebody has and how that impacts the sales process or the sales conversation? Is there a connection in any way between those two things or you are just feeling that specialization is important by itself in terms of generating leads and interest? Have you seen that if somebody has a greater specialization when you enter the sales conversation where you were talking to a buyer or decision-maker that add specialization has an impact on the result of that conversation or how well things can go?

If you are more specialized, the fundamental impact it has on that conversation is all the people related to your buyer are very clear on what you are doing and what you are not doing. I find people do well with black or white but not with gray. When you are in that gray category, your buyers go, “What are you doing? What’s your expertise? What’s the value you are going to bring?” When that becomes gray, your fees become gray and you can’t support them. “I’m here to do X by the way, I’m not doing Y and Z. I’m not doing those other things. I’m doing this one thing.” It also helps in scope creep later on. “Michael, you are good at this but you’ve also got to do this other stuff too. Can we throw that in?” “Hold on. That’s not within the scope.” Specialization helps for the project. Back to the power of saying no, if people ask you to do something, you can consider it and say either strategically, “I should do this. It will help the project. I presented as such that I’m letting this one in,” or you can say, “That’s out of scope,” but because you were clear, specialized and defined with your scope, you have some agreed to guardrails around your engagement.

CSP 194 | Consulting Mastery


Let’s end off here by making sure that people can learn more about you, your work and your book. What’s the best place, the one web page URL? Where should you guide people? Where should people go to learn more?

It is my name, Everything you need is right there.

There we go. Rob, thank you so much for coming on.

It’s a pleasure, Michael.

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