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It’s not just your imagination – selling consulting services is more difficult than selling other products and services.

Here’s why that’s the case – and some suggestions for what you can do about it.

You are selling the invisible.

You aren’t selling a physical product that your clients can touch. They can’t pick it up to feel the weight and see the materials and build quality.

This presents several difficulties. Complex service offerings are hard to understand and require explanation.

This also makes it very difficult for clients to compare and differentiate solutions from different providers. That’s why getting your positioning right is absolutely crucial in this space.

A consulting engagement is a relationship, not a transaction.

This isn’t a quick transaction with no interaction, like buying a soft drink from a vending maching. When they hire you, they will be working side-by-side with you for months or possibly years. That means they need to not just trust that you know what you’re doing and can help them, but most people will also need to like you too. Building that relationship is an important part of your marketing and sales process.

Transformative consulting projects are high risk.

Often involving risk-taking major changes in their organisation, and very large budgets. Their business, career or reputation may be on the line – that requires greater trust in your ability to deliver. Back to the Trust word!

Clients believe their project is different.

Your prospective clients are certain that their specific situation is different from your previous projects – which makes the project feel more risky to them. This again is about trust in your knowledge, expertise, experience, and your ability to adapt.

If you’re the principal or a solo consultant, you are often selling yourself.

It’s far easier to promote someone else –  many of us are uncomfortable with selling themselves, the idea of “blowing your own trumpet”.

Pricing is difficult.

It’s hard to bill on a time and materials basis when it’s possible for an expert consultant to save or generate millions of dollars with just a few days or weeks work.

Consulting projects can start without scope.

Consulting is one of the rare sectors where a project can be agreed and started by the client and supplier without a fixed scope of work being agreed on. This is different to almost every other sales transaction.

Clients want solutions, not advice.

I know “solutions” is a terribly generic term, but you can’t just sell advice or expertise. It must be applied and actually improve the client’s condition. Your marketing and sales process need to demonstrate to the client not just that you are an expert, but that you can actually help them solve the problem.

I’m sure there are more – please let me know what you think.

Alastair McDermott

I help independent consultants & specialized consulting firms to generate more leads consistently by auditing & upgrading their business development strategy so that they can eliminate their dependence on referrals. Join my email list to get my tips on business development.