The first Monday of each month, I dust off a favorite post from the Bennis Inc Blog archives and give you another chance to enjoy the wit and wisdom that’s been shared. Enjoy this month’s treasure – and if it inspires you – be sure to share it with family and friends!
In the line of consulting work, the pitching process is arguably the most important. Love it or hate it, for a business to survive, you must be good at pitching, pricing and packaging your ideas into an attractive bundle. But even after you spend hours crafting a proposal and researching the most innovative ideas to prove your value to potential clients – this is only half the battle. They could absolutely love you and your ideas, but what prevents them from simply taking your proposal and implementing it themselves? It’s an unfortunate scenario that happens time and time again in the consulting world. Some consultants have accepted this as a risk of this line of business. Others feel as though the clients who don’t do this outweigh and offset the ones who do. While I find both of these to be true, I do believe there are tactics consultants can incorporate to protect their pitch.
Don’t charge for a proposal. This may sound counter-intuitive when trying to protect your pitch, but I don’t believe in charging a potential client a fee just for you to create a proposal. If they choose not to work with you, this results in no tangible benefit for which they paid. Moreover, I think it immediately sets the tone that you’re likely to charge them for every itemized task and are stringent with your fees. Sure, there is always the risk that the time you put in to creating a proposal may never be recouped, but (good) business is about risk taking after all. It is foremost important to position yourself as a valuable asset they want as part of the team rather than an insecure and rigid score keeper. I truly believe that a pleasant and professional pitching process goes a long way in ultimately sealing a client. If they feel you’re taking advantage of them by imposing a fee for a proposal, they’re more likely to take advantage of you by incorporating your ideas themselves. Furthermore, they may feel that by paying for these ideas, they’ve gained ownership over them. EXTRA TIP: Place a larger emphasis on pre-qualifying your clients before you reach the step of creating a proposal.Try an initial meet and greet to get to know them and their business before assuming a proposal is something either of you are interested in. This step alone will save you hours of pitching to clients who don’t align with what you offer.
Make your expertise part of the package. When crafting a quality proposal, don’t undersell the value of your expertise as part of the packaged deal. Goals – and the tactics to reach these goals should comprise a large portion of the proposal, but don’t forget that your expertise in performing these tasks is ultimately what you’re being paid for. If you have a personal contact or connection that can make your strategy more effective, which is common in Public Relations, include this in the proposal. All of this helps to protect your pitch in that it sells you as part of the package. As much as tactics can be taken and implemented by someone else, your expertise cannot.
Focus on “Value Added.” Along with your expertise as a unique selling point to your pitch, your proposal should also communicate the important concept of “value added” to your potential client. The value of you implementing the proposed tactics is that it allows your client and his or her employees to continue focusing their time on doing what they do best. If their expertise is not in communications or business consulting, and it likely is not, their time is not best spent completing these tasks. There is a level of efficiency and quality that goes along with someone doing something they’re trained to do. If you can communicate this concept clearly with your client, you will show them that personally taking on the additional workload outlined in the proposal is not in their or their business’s best interest.
Provide goals and tactics, not a blueprint. You provide a proposal to give a client an outline of the work you can complete for them – not to provide them with a how-to guide to implement themselves. In your pitch you should list your work in such a way that they clearly understand the expected benefits of a given task, but not enough to cut you out of the process. Think of a list of ingredients on any food label. You know everything that went in to making the product good, but you don’t know in what amount or order each ingredient was used to achieve the desired results. This is not with the intention to be sneaky or unfair. Truly most clients would appreciate not having to read a 20+ page proposal with a painstaking step-by-step strategy. They want the big picture, the tangible benefits and to know you’re capable of getting this done. Sticking to this format will also shave hours off of your pitch writing time.
If you take nothing else from this advice, remember this key thought – Pitching to a potential client is your opportunity to prove that the value of your expertise in implementing your ideas is what they’re really paying for.
Know someone who is a consultant? I highly encourage you share this with them. Given my own failures and triumphs with the pitch writing process, I would have been ever grateful to have learned these tips in some way other than through trial and error. Cheers!