The other day, I was talking with a prospect who was lamenting not getting in front of decision makers in organizations to pitch her coaching and training services. She was extremely frustrated because her well-oiled network wasn’t coming through for her.
The reality is that decision makers are busy people. If they don’t currently have a need, they don’t want to spend an hour with someone pitching unnecessary services. If you are lucky enough to get time with them, often the response is, “I will keep you in mind if a need comes up.” (Similarly, if you work with individuals, you will rarely have success pitching coaching to a person who doesn’t have a burning need. After all, it is rare for people to make an investment in something that feels like a “nice to have” versus an “essential.”)
Although pitching services can work, it is not an approach I recommend, even when there is a need. It’s presumptive, for one, to assume your services fit someone’s needs. Secondly, it creates a dynamic of them deciding whether to hire you versus mutually deciding if working together is a good fit. After all, we only want to work with people/organizations with whom we can make a significant difference, right? We also want to pull people in, not push our services on them.
So how do we get create new business without pitching our services?
If someone has a need, I’d suggest a discovery meeting during which you ask them questions and deeply listen:
- Background Questions — What do you need to know to understand the lay of the land?
- Challenge/Issue/Desire Questions — Understanding challenges they are facing and obstacles getting in their way and identifying the gap between where they are and where they want to be. Exploring that gap.
- Implication Questions — The impacts that these challenges/issues are having on them, their people, their results, or their organization’s success. How resolving challenges/issues will impact them, their people, their results, and their organization’s success.
- Commitment Questions — How committed are they and/or their organization to bridging these gaps? (Note that this is KEY because even if they are willing to invest in your services, if they aren’t committed, it’s not likely to make a significant difference.)
- Resolution Questions — And lastly, only if you AND they seem engaged and interested, ask if you could help them with [their challenges and desires] and help them bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be, might they be interested in exploring this?
- And if they say yes, and only if they say yes, you can ask “Would you like to hear my thoughts on how I think I can help you?”
- And, if they say yes once again, you’ll take a moment to lay out one or two options that you think will BEST fit their needs, addressing why you think the option(s) would help them bridge their gap. Lay out the options, but do not share the price yet.
- Then ask for feedback: “What are your thoughts?”
Obviously, at this point, they may have positive thoughts, critical thoughts, or questions. This is where you simply have to pay attention to the energy and feel into whether what you’ve laid out feels like it lands with them and if you want to adjust your options to ensure they land solidly. With that said, know your boundaries and what you are willing and not willing to do. As an example, if you solidly believe that your Interview-Based 360 process is the best way to get truly useful feedback for people at the Executive Level, and they push for a survey-based 360, it is an opportunity for you to hold the line. “Although it can be more expedient and less expensive to use a survey-based 360 tool, I feel strongly that if you want useful feedback for Executives, interview-based 360s are the way to go because …” If you have a strong value proposition to your approach and hold a strong boundary, your ideal client will acquiesce. (A non-ideal client may not 😊.)
Also, you want to have the prices of your offerings and the various components solidly inked in your brain, so as you discuss, you can propose ballpark numbers on the spot and can get a sense of how the pricing lands. If it’s too expensive, you want to know before you spend time on a proposal, after all. If they don’t ask about price, you still want to discuss ballpark numbers before you end your meeting and create a formal proposal.
This brings up a question I often hear, which is, “Should I ask them about their budget?” The answer is quite nuanced, but typically I’d say “No.” Why?!? Because if there is a burning need, and the cost of not working with you is too high, they will find the money. Unless they are a Fortune 1000 company, it’s likely they don’t have a big stash of money for coaching and development, but if a key leader is floundering or a senior team can’t work together effectively, they know there is a huge opportunity cost to not getting help. (You can also help them see this using those “Implication” questions!) As an example, when a client experienced a sticker-shock reaction to the price of coaching a valued executive that was on the verge of burnout, she said, “It’s a lot less expensive than replacing her.” (And guess what? She landed the gig at her full-price offer.)
Know, too, that most people will try to negotiate with you. After all, decision makers are well versed in negotiation. The key is that you don’t undermine the value of your services. If they truly need to spend less, then see if you can shift the scope and still make a significant difference. As examples, you may choose to interview fewer people for the 360-interview process or coach for six months instead of nine months to get that clear and powerful “yes” from your prospect. I encourage you to hold true to your value. If you discount your coaching package (charge less but keep the scope the same), you are setting a precedent that will be hard to overcome in the future.
Lastly, make sure to set up a proposal review meeting for the day after you send the proposal. There is nothing more painful than working hard on a proposal and then hearing crickets after you send it off. Setting a meeting ensures that the process moves forward if that’s the direction it’s going and also allows you to get clear if it’s not moving forward so you can let it go.
The business development process is a winding, nuanced road. I love helping my clients master this process because it is a game changer for the health and wealth of their business and ensures they get to do the great work they love. If you need support in honing your business development process, feel free to reach out. I’d love to talk.
In my next article Getting In Front of Decision Makers, I will share an alternative approach to getting in front of decision makers and helping you form strong relationships with them that will be valuable to you both. Stay tuned!