How to sell consulting services: 12 methods you can start using today
When you first started selling consulting services, you probably had high expectations. After all, you already had industry knowledge, professional skills, and valuable contacts.
And, since the consulting market amounted to almost $70 billion in the US in 2019, getting a little slice of that lucrative pie should be easy, right?
But there was one variable you didn’t count on: Actually selling yourself as a consultant.
Sales doesn’t come naturally to most people, and it being a ‘salesperson’ for your consulting business may have been an unexpected addition to your job description.
Plus, as the consulting industry continues to grow, the competition is getting fierce: In one survey by Deltek, 55% of consulting firms listed ‘addressing the increasing competition’ as a major business priority.
You might be wondering: How can I sell myself as a consultant? How can I stand out when there is so much competition?
Thankfully, many pro sales methods play into the skills you’ve already developed as a consultant. On top of that, new methods for the digital age can take you one step ahead of your competitors.
Let’s dive into 12 expert methods you can start using today to boost your consulting sales:
1. Use the skills you already have to sell consulting services
With your experience as a consultant, you already have valuable skills that can be applied to selling.
For example, you’ve learned how to ask the right questions to reveal their business needs.
Asking questions is a valuable skill that will help you sell professional services. Selling any kind of service is based on having a clear understanding of what your prospects need, and you can use questions to accomplish that.
In fact, a study by Gong found that salespeople who ask between 11 and 14 questions during a call with prospects have an average 74% success rate.
The same study found that the type of questions is also important: Top sellers focus on questions related to the prospect’s business issues, goals, challenges, and concerns.
Here are some examples of questions you could ask when selling consulting services:
- What are the top challenges your company is currently facing?
- What problems would you like to solve, and what do you think caused these problems?
- What results are you looking to achieve, and why?
- When do you want to achieve those results?
- What motivated you to look for a solution now?
- What will happen if you don’t address these problems now?
- Who else is involved in the decision-making process?
Also, use open-ended questions to get your prospects to explain their current situation better. For example, start your questions with phrases like:
- Can you help me understand…
- Can you walk me through…
- Talk to me about…
Questions like these encourage your prospect to respond thoroughly, giving you a better idea of what’s really going on.
Another skill you’ve learned as a consultant is to keep the client’s best interests in mind. By focusing on helping, not selling, you’ll naturally avoid sleazy or pushy sales tactics while selling your consulting services.
This helps build a better reputation for your consulting business and builds trust in your clients.
2. Set up a clear sales process
Whether you’re a solo business consultant or part of a consulting firm, you need to have a clearly defined sales process.
This is the process you use to sell your consulting services and should lead you step-by-step from the moment you discover new prospects to the moment you get paid and deliver your services.
It’s easy to get caught up in carrying out the services you’ve been hired to do, but having a clear sales process in place will remind you to keep selling.
To succeed as a consultant, as much time must be devoted to acquiring new business as performing assigned tasks. I've found that the average time from initial contact to engagement can sit between six to 36 weeks, and close rates hover between 10 percent and 20 percent. Any downtime should be reinvested into business development.
So, how can you set up a sales process for your consulting business?
First, start by writing down everything you do to get a sale. For example, where do you find new prospects? How do people become aware of your consulting business? What steps do you take from the first touch to getting a sale? How many meetings or calls does it take to close a deal on average?
Once you understand your current process, look for places to improve your sales metrics. Can you cut down the number of meetings it takes to close the deal? Can you overcome common objections earlier in the process? Can you simplify the negotiation stage?
Finally, optimize your sales process by defining your targets and goals. Start with your revenue goal per month, and work backward: How many sales do you need to meet that goal? How many prospects do you need to make that many sales?
By organizing the numbers ahead of time, you’ll be able to set specific goals for your sales tasks per week or month. By prioritizing those tasks, you’ll work smarter to reach your revenue goals.
3. Prioritize leads that fit the right profile
An essential part of any sales process is knowing who you’re selling to.
So, who are you trying to sell your consulting services to?
To define your ideal customer profile, start by looking at your most successful customers. Take the top 10 clients you’ve worked with successfully, and try to understand what they all have in common.
Ask questions like:
- Are they all in a specific industry?
- Did you solve one common problem for all of them?
- Are they all similarly-sized businesses?
- What convinced them to work with you?
- Do they share a common goal?
- Did they all go through similar events or changes to their businesses, such as restructuring, taking on new hires, or acquiring another business?
Your ideal customer profile will also depend on the type of consulting services you offer. For example, if you specialize in leadership coaching for newly appointed directors, your ideal customer may be a young company with leaders who lack experience and need training to succeed.
Once you have a clear view of who your ideal clients are, you can set up lead scoring. This assigns a specific value to each new lead based on how well they fit the profile you’ve created. Lead scoring helps you prioritize your efforts by focusing on the leads that best fit your consultancy.
4. Be prepared to turn down work that doesn’t fit
It’s exciting when people come to you looking for help. But sometimes, while you’re talking to a prospect, you realize that they’re not a good fit for your business. Maybe they’re not your ideal customer, maybe they’re showing signs of being a bad client, or maybe they’re just not ready to buy right now.
Don’t waste your valuable time trying to sell to a prospect that won’t buy or doesn’t fit what you offer.
For instance, I do sales training and coaching for consultants and one of the problems people come to me with that I could solve but it’s not core to my business is lead generation and marketing. For those cases, I have people I can refer my clients to. The same goes for other areas because there are many other people who could work with my clients that solve problems that I don’t solve and those are the type of referral partners that I want. If they have a problem that you don’t solve, just refer them to someone else.
By having a few referral partners established, you can refer these leads to the people that can actually solve their problems. This is another way to focus on helping your clients: Even though it won’t get you any revenue right now, your helpful attitude could win a sale down the road.
In fact, at Close, when we talk with a prospect and discover that our CRM is not the right solution for their needs, we recommend them alternative solutions—we're basically sending business to our competitors. This might seem foolish, but in the long run it's the right thing to do. We aim to help everyone who we engage with, even if they're not a good fit right now. Many times, this leaves such an impression on people that they later refer others to us who are a good fit, or they might become a good fit a few years later and then become a happy, successful customer of Close.
5. Learn how to find the decision-maker
When you find a lead that’s a perfect fit for your business, it’s not enough to contact ‘someone’ at the company: You need to know how to find the person who makes the decisions.
Start by looking at the buying process of your current clients. Who was the person who championed your services within the company? Who else had to sign off on the purchase? Who benefited most from your services?
By looking historically at the decision-makers you’ve dealt with previously, you’ll have a better view of who the decision-maker is at your new lead’s company.
For example, does the decision-maker commonly hold a specific role in the company? Are they the director of a certain team?
When you know who you’re looking for, you can do more effective prospecting. For example, you can use LinkedIn in your sales process to search for people with a specific job title in a particular industry, and add those people to your lead list.
6. Add a digital touch to your sales path
Even if you sell your consulting services locally, adding a digital touch can boost your sales process and make it even easier for clients to contact or purchase your consulting services.
Just as someone selling a product over the web needs to make a seamless transition between their sales copy and their order form, you need to make a seamless transition between your sales copy and the point of contact.
For example, you can use a tool like Calendly to make it easier for people to set up a meeting with you. Add your Calendly link to your website, or even include it in your cold emails to prospects:
Then, instead of back-and-forth emails to schedule an appointment, your new leads can simply select the time in your schedule that works best for them.
You can even integrate Calendly with your CRM so new leads can be added to your CRM when someone schedules a meeting.
Another way to add a digital touch to your sales path is by using video sales calls. This can open you up to new opportunities during this time of crisis but also broadens your horizons beyond the clients near your physical location.
Why limit yourself to your immediate area? With the right solution, you can hold online conferences and pitches to broaden your consumer base across the country. Video tools enable face-to-face and personal touch without the expense of driving out to see prospects and customers. You can even let your customers and prospects know, this is a way to reduce the cost of services.
Want to master video sales calls? Download our free resource and get our best tips for selling via video.
7. Base your pricing on the value they’ll receive
Your consulting services will cost your clients some serious cash. If they’re not convinced of the value of your consulting services before you talk price, you’ll be at a serious disadvantage when it comes to closing the deal.
So, as you discuss the problems they’re having and the challenges they want to solve, help them see the value of working with you. For example, ask questions like:
- What would be the consequences of not dealing with these issues?
- How much would it cost you NOT to fix these problems?
When you understand the project at hand, what kind of consulting services you’ll be providing, and how much real ROI your prospects will get from working with you, you can then base your price on value rather than pricing by the hour.
Price by the hour and you'll be viewed as a commodity. Instead, keep clients laser-focused on the lasting value you create, and bill based on the scope of work and end results. Never discuss whether your firm will be used, but rather how, and provide a range of possible cost scenarios and value-adds, starting with your baseline requirements.
If you’re not billing by the hour, consider value-based pricing—where you’re deciding your overall rate including what you think your services are worth and how it competes with others. Many consultants provide three ranges of prices to enable more client control over what works for them. Also, it’s good marketing—a low, medium, and higher-priced option enables choice.
8. Use cold email templates to maximize the time you spend selling consulting services
If you’re reaching out to new leads with cold emails, it can take a lot of time and energy to write out each individual email.
If you want to boost productivity, try using cold email templates that you can personalize and send to each lead you find.
In Close, it’s easy to set up new templates and add personalization features that automatically introduce details such as the lead’s name, company, industry, and more.
As you use your cold email templates, make sure to run through each one and add some details that show you’ve done your homework. Explain why you think they’d be a good fit for your consulting services and briefly describe how you could benefit them.
Want even more tips on effective cold emails? Download our free resource, Cold Email Hacks 2.0.
9. Boost your consulting sales with social proof
Selling consulting services is based on trust. There’s nothing tangible to show your prospects, so how can they trust that you’ll deliver on what you promise?
Two words: Social proof.
When prospects can hear from or read about other companies who have seen success with your consulting services, they’ll be more willing to trust you.
How can you get this social proof for your consulting business?
For example, if you’re a solo consultant, you can ask happy customers to add a recommendation to your LinkedIn profile. These recommendations add weight to your claims and boost your professional profile.
For both solo consultants and consulting agencies, case studies are a great way to add social proof to your website. This brings the power of storytelling to your sales process and lets you dig deeper into the results your clients have seen.
Reviews and testimonials are another powerful tool for your consultancy. For example, why not ask happy customers to add a review to your Google My Business profile? Or, ask for a quick testimonial from your happy customers and add these to your website, include them in cold emails, and mention them in your sales conversations.
Since we don’t sell actual products, we have to work hard to put our customers at ease. On our website, we have testimonials from previous customers who have used our services. This shows our prospects that we can deliver on our promises.
10. Have a great sales script
If you have a powerful sales script that sparks interest in your prospects, you can hit the phones and start closing deals right away.
I know this works because I've done it before.
Before launching Close, we started ElasticSales, an on-demand sales company. We hit the phones before we even had a brand or a reputation and started cold-calling startups in the area.
With an effective cold call script, we landed 7 paying customers in just 14 days.
How can you implement this for your consultancy?
Include these essential elements of a sales call script:
- Raise curiosity: Tell them who you are, who you help, and give them a reason to care with your opening lines.
- Give context: Add a one-sentence elevator pitch that is clear and brief.
- Ask for permission to continue: Giving your prospect the ability to say no can actually help keep them engaged and open the way to continue the conversation.
- Qualify: Ask questions to learn about their needs and define if they’re a fit for your consultancy.
- Test close: Discover their decision timeline, general purchase process, and any price sensitivity.
- Schedule next steps: Know beforehand how you’ll continue the process, and set a specific time to follow up before you end the call.
Also, make sure your sales script includes ways to handle common objections on your sales calls.
With a powerful script, you'll be able to cold-call potential clients with confidence and close more deals.
Want to get a head start on creating your own script? Download your free sales script template.
11. Build relationships now to sell consulting services later
While it’s important to prioritize sales tasks that will get you new consulting clients now, don’t forget to build the foundation for future sales.
Since consulting is such a trust-based business, the relationships you develop now will be essential to your success in the future. Especially for a new consulting business, it’s important to network with businesses that could become clients in the future, even if they’re not ready to purchase right now.
For example, you can keep your consultancy top of mind by attending meetups and networking events (whether in-person or virtually), and sharing your expertise with the people you meet.
By purposely not selling, you’ll be building a more stable network of potential clients who will no longer be cold leads when you reach out to them in the future.
If you intend to be a consultant forever, the only implication that makes sense is to play a long-term game knowing that even if someone doesn’t buy from you now, they might do it in the future.
12. Always, always ask for referrals
Leads that come to you on the recommendation of a trusted friend will be much more valuable to you than cold leads you’ve found yourself.
For two reasons:
- Referrals already start off with a higher level of trust in you, since someone they trust recommended you
- Referrals will be more likely to fit your ideal customer profile, since the person who recommended them knows both their situation and what you offer
But to get referral sales, you first need to be ready to ask for referrals.
After all, your happy customers are probably willing to refer new customers to you, but they’re unlikely to do so unless you ask them.
So, whenever you close a deal, make sure to ask for a referral.
Here’s how to ask:
“I’m so happy that we’ve been able to accomplish XYZ together. Can you think of anyone else you know that’s facing [problem] and could benefit from working with our consultancy?”
Try to push for at least one name from every client, and you’ll see a significant boost to your consulting sales.
Keep selling consulting services using these proven methods
While it may be a bit harder to get a slice of the pie than you originally thought, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
In the end, to keep selling your consulting services successfully, you’ll need to put sales tasks in their proper place.
The methods we’ve discussed above have been proven to work for consultants just like you. More than that, sharpening your sales skills can help set you apart from the growing competition.
So, keep selling. Build a process that works, and continue to fine-tune it until your consultancy is a selling machine.
Got a tip or question about selling consulting services? Let me know on LinkedIn, I'd love to hear from you!
Need help keeping your sales efforts organized? Want to get one step ahead of the competition? Start your free 14-day trial of Close today and see how a CRM can simplify your process, save you time, and maximize your consulting sales.
Changing our CRM to Close is one of the best decisions we made. The platform receives new updates all the time and really shines compared to every other CRM.