Many otherwise powerful and skillful technical consultants grow pale at the very thought of discussing their clients’ business issues with them. Those consultants can talk all day about the various features and capabilities of their services and products, but they freeze up when the conversation turns away from technology and toward business.
Talking business can be intimidating if you’re a consultant who wants to have all the answers and give advice. But here’s the secret: you don’t have to be an expert on a business to talk about it; you only have to be willing to learn about it. The good news is that clients love to talk about their businesses. It’s up to you to link your services to the business issues you uncover during the process of sales, delivery, and expansion.
The working principle is: the more strategic your conversations are with your clients, the more leverage you’ll gain to influence them. Deep conversations about technology bells and whistles are fine but they are still at the tactical level of product features and capabilities. Technology is important to discuss (and fun to talk about) but it’s critical that you also attempt to discover the most important issues that really motivate clients. Those issues give you the leverage to influence clients to change, buy, or move their thinking in your direction.
So, break out of the “talking tech” mode, especially during the Discovery and Assessment phases of a project, or when making recommendations, selling, up-selling, or cross-selling new services. Here are some of the important client issues you may learn about (although not necessarily in the same conversation):
- What the technology will accomplish in the client’s organization or the marketplace
- What impact it will have on their business operation
- How it will affect their bottom line, i.e. building revenue or cutting costs
- How it might change their organizational culture
- How it will help them meet their strategic business goals
- How it will impact their people and processes
In our Power of Partnership course, we train consultants to be curious and ask great questions to learn and build deep strategic credibility and trust. The rule of thumb for conversations is to follow your client’s interest and enthusiasm.
It’s true that if your client is a low-level analyst he or she would probably not want to discuss business strategy with you. Don’t, however, make hard and fast judgments based on someone’s organizational position. A COO might be more interested in hearing about your technology than discussing strategic or financial issues. In the same way, a CIO might be very interested in company strategy. You will only know where to take conversations when you ask questions at both the tactical and strategic levels.
Add some additional questions to your usual approach, and be unafraid to ask about organizational culture, finances, business strategy, and business operations as appropriate. We’ll bet that you will increase your credibility and gain more business leverage with your clients when you go beyond a “here’s how the technology works” conversation.
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Authored For S3 Solutions by Marty Friedman
Marty Friedman is one of the architects of the “Power of Partnership”, a training course for consultants and solution sales professionals who want to sell bigger deals and have smoother projects. He has co-presented this training for clients such as HP, Accenture, and Bell Canada as well as many mid-sized companies and start-ups. Find out more at www.PowerofPartnership.net