Working as an independent IT consultant requires wearing multiple hats – technologist, marketing, legal, accounting, and sales just to name a few. Obviously, most of these roles can be outsourced, however there are certain responsibilities that should not be outsourced – sales is one of them. Here are my top 5 lessons learned about selling my consulting services.
#1. Stop talking and start listening
Sales, whether selling technical services or products requires a deep understanding of the customers pain-points and clearly separating their needs from wants. What’s worked for me throughout the years is being attentive when customers talk during meetings because they often use this time to vent their frustrations and layout exactly what they need done. This strategy has allowed me to really understand the challenges of my potential customers and also craft effective solutions/follow-ups to aimed at their specific issues. Speaking less and listening more is a great start to identifying what the customer needs.
#2. Ensure shared values
Another big “oops!” I made early in my dba consulting career (as it relates to being able to secure more work) was assuming that all customers valued their database. As consultants we make this mistake too often and from a bias perspective we pursue leads simply because an company uses a particular technology or product. I’ve wasted a lot of time chasing these “ghost leads”. The approach that’s worked for me has been ensuring the customer shares the same values as me, which means they prioritize their data + database. This makes it easy for us to have conversations and projects towards gaining maximum benefit from their db investments.
#3. Read the audience
As a technologist, I genuinely enjoy talking about technology. This can be a problem in certain situations, especially when talking to non-technical business minds. What sounds cool to me may just sound like gibberish to them. When selling your consulting services to customers, it’s important to tailor your content based on your audience. I talk more technical when I’m in a room of technical folks, whereas I’ll speak more on the business impact (cost, risk, etc) when in a room full of business folks. Being able to read the room and speak to the audience is a better use of time, creates a higher chance of continuing the conversation, and establishing shared value(s) to work towards.
#4. Sell without selling
Nobody likes being sold to. Often times people doing the “selling” aren’t invested in the people doing the “buying” – and this is where the mistrust begins. Customer are apprehensive, skeptical, and they have alot of options. However, customers are more likely to move forward with a purchase if they see value in a service. The question then becomes how to provide value if you haven’t secured the project (yet). A strategy that’s been working for me is to put relevant content out there – I share lessons learned on LinkedIn + my blog, I highlight my customer success stories. This allows customers to see my capabilities (what I’ve done), my exposure (who I’ve done it for), and also test my solutions (develop trust).
#5. Learn to manage rejection
Rejection is a natural part of life and you’d better be comfortable with it if you want to be an independent IT consultant. Honestly this was a huge motivation killer during the early days of my consulting career. Not only did I have to become comfortable with rejection from customers, but I also made it a point to learn from each rejection. There is a reason why a customer decided not to go with my services – maybe I was too expensive, maybe they didn’t see value in what I was offering, maybe they aren’t ready to undertake the project, etc. The list of speculation can go on and on, so it’s better to ask the customer for honest and direct feedback as to why they decided not to move forward with you. There’s alot to be learned from such encounters, especially if you start seeing a pattern of customers giving you the same reason. Get comfortable with hearing “No”, then get comfortable with asking “Why”. Don’t let rejection kill your motivation – transform it into a learning experience.