Selling your own consulting services stinks. It is a very different process than marketing a widget or any other product and should be treated with more respect than it is given. It is a more nuanced and delicate process and shouldn’t be rushed or artificially pushed. It is also scarier and can leave you feeling very vulnerable and exposed. After all, you are essentially selling yourself: your knowledge, your education and your personality.
I recently sat across the table from a client who I will call Mark, who was sighing heavily during a happy hour meeting. We were there to discuss his personal business development strategy, but he was very frustrated with the whole program. His opening statement was a revelation about how he felt. “I didn’t go to graduate school to become a salesperson”. This is a confession that most of us make on a regular basis, usually quietly to ourselves, but it rings true. As any consultant can tell you, it is what we have to do on a regular basis and it is uncomfortable. Even marketing consultants feel vulnerable when we are selling our own consulting services. Selling your expertise is a very awkward proposition at first but with time and experience and a different mindset, it becomes easier (but never easy).
Let us stop calling it selling as that is a very emotionally loaded word and can make it feel unnatural and forced. Stop looking at your prospects and your clients as someone who should be just writing checks to you on a regular basis and look at them as colleagues and sometimes friends in your marketplace. Let’s call this process “building and reinforcing relationships”, which takes words sales out of it and puts in what is really taking place. Building a relationship is an opportunity to connect to someone on a human level.
I model my own relationship building on the behaviors of some of my favorite and effective sales people that I met as a meeting planner. In that role, I had significant buying power in the hotel market, but very few hotel salespeople were overt in their sales. It was a very subtle and warm experience. The salesperson got to know me, we talked about my needs in the hotel business and we connected as two human beings. Sometimes I had meetings at their hotels, but more importantly, I recommended their hotels to other meeting planners because I felt I was important to them as a person. More importantly, I became an extension of their sales force. I was their biggest advocate at trade meetings and I sold their properties for them because I was their fan and their friend.
Stop looking at your clients as clients and look at them as potential friends. Connect with them on a human level and set your expectations aside. You will find that you have built a circle of friends that you do business with and that is a far more comfortable place to be your authentic self.