Business development in consulting (also for systems integration) is a fairly straightforward process at its core .
1. You identify and solve problems for a client . These include problems whose impact that the client is fully not aware of yet !
2. The solution comes with value that the client can demonstrably see as greater than what it costs .
3. The specific problem you are solving is more valuable than solving other comparable problems the client could tackle right now
4. You have something special to offer – past experience, special skills and Knowledge , a unique point of view – which makes it less risky to hire you as opposed to someone else
5. You get paid fairly for the value you provided and you build enough trust based on that delivered value and earn future business
That’s all there is to it at a basic level . When we stick to this level of simplicity and clarity, it helps both consultants and the clients . The consultant can use this to qualify whether a particular opportunity is worth chasing at each step , and the client can make an informed decision based on facts and logic .
All this said – why do consultants and clients both struggle with this process ?
The answer is in step 1 above . This only works if the consultant knows the problems the client has . When I was a young consultant – it was quite common to just ask a client “tell me your problems and I will solve it for you”. It was a natural exercise back then – but it is not as effective today . Business is a more complex endeavour now than in the 90s, and people are way too short on time to have these open ended conversations with “strangers” .
It’s still common for clients to call consultants they have known for a long time (and have great trust ) to say “I have a problem” . But it’s not common enough in the industry anymore for a consultant to just depend largely on inbound demand to sustain their business .
A much better approach for consultants now is to approach clients with a unique point of view . This might not help win business right away – but it helps establish yourself as a value adding partner to the client and serve as a first step towards building a long term relationship .
I have been in both software and consulting industries across multiple employers in my own career. Consulting is more relationship driven and software is more transaction oriented . The best software business development leaders are also great at relationships – and the least effective consulting business development people are transactional sellers !
The world is not perfect – and even if a client is convinced about value , they are often tied down by a budget that was created based on some other definition of value that they had no control over . In those cases , you have to find a solution that fits in the envelope they have . What I have realised over time though is – even if you start that way , it’s often the case that over time you can help your clients make the case to their bosses on investment decisions and end up in win-win situations
When I was a young Associate Partner, I had a chance to present a finance transformation study to the CFO of a client . At the end of my presentation, he asked me “The value is clear – I am not sure why you are proposing a solution to only a third of the problem”. I responded that the controller who works for him only had so much budget available and hence I carved out a solution that fits that envelope . He smiled and asked me “Do you really think as CFO of a multi billion dollar company , I would hesitate to invest in solving a problem that has the kind of ROI you just convinced me of because someone in my team only had a tiny budget?” . It was a life and career changing moment for me !
Let me close out this post with what I think are the success factors for people who are good at this . There are three consistent differentiating factors for consultants who are good problem solvers for their clients .
1. They listen to understand the problem and they speak more to clarify the problem than offering spot solutions
2. Once they have a solution, they have the right balance of conviction on it being right and humility to accept an alternate point of view that they haven’t considered so far
3. They present the solution with clarity and they are not afraid to push back at clients professionally with facts and logic .
Happy Diwali everyone !