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5 Questions Every Consultant Must Ask During a Sales Call Discover the best practices to follow (and the mistakes to avoid) when running your consulting business.

By Terry Rice

entrepreneur daily
Jose Luis Pelaez Inc | Getty Images

What's the easiest way for a consultant to completely flop on a sales call? Talking about yourself the whole time. I help consultants efficiently scale their business, and this is one of the most common mistakes I see them make. I know it can be challenging. You may have been taught to perfect your elevator pitch or to speak about some magical proprietary process you developed. Unfortunately, your prospects don't want to hear your sales pitch or about your unique approach — they want to be understood. And once you prove you understand their challenges, they'll want to hear about your plan to solve them. That's it.

Related: Take Your Career into Your Own Hands By Becoming a Consultant

You shouldn't even think of it as a sales call, it's an enrollment conversation. At the end, you want them to be excited about the potential of partnering with you. You never want to feel like you talked them into doing something they didn't fully understand, or aren't completely committed to.

That dreaded "sales-y" feeling

If you're not overly "sales-y," the selling part of your consulting business can be terrifying. Fortunately, you don't need to be sales-y. You just need to have a genuine desire to help your clients. Beyond that, with the right process in place, you'll most likely never need to do any cold calling. Instead, you can connect with prospects through referrals or a lead magnet on your website.

A lead magnet is content you provide in exchange for a prospect's contact information such as a guide or checklist. A good lead magnet solves a real problem and is specific to your intended audience. Mine is an eBook "The 10 Biggest Mistakes Entrepreneurs make on Social Media and What You Should Do Instead". If you don't already have something like this in place, you should make a plan to do so. These conversations go much easier when you've already proven your value and expertise.

When chatting with a prospect you should be listening more than you talk, but you'll need to make sure you're receiving the right information. These are the five questions you must ask during any enrollment conversation.

1. What's going on and how is it affecting your business/personal life?

You most likely have some information before entering this conversation. You can use that to tee things up, but you'll still want them to essentially start from scratch. The more information you can get about their specific need, the better you'll be able to explain how you can help them, assuming that you can. If you can't help them, this is the time to make that known. Maybe you have a colleague who can, or you have some resources that might help, but the whole "fake it till you make it" approach is a good way to damage your reputation and it's not right to waste someone's time and money. Hopefully, you're still in a position to help them, and you can continue asking probing questions.

Related: 4 Signs You're Expert Enough to Launch a Consulting Business

If you're able to quantify revenue impact, this will make it easier for you to explain your fees later on. You'll be able to show them a clear ROI from the partnership. If you can help someone make $80,000 and your fee is $10,000, it's clearly a good investment. However, some challenges aren't associated with revenue, such as the inability to get a sufficient night's sleep. In this case, you'll want to better understand how this problem is affecting their personal life.

Take notes, and ask them to pause if necessary. It's not rude, you're proving that you have a genuine need to understand their challenge.

Related: Why 'Fake It Till You Make It' Is Useless Advice

2. What have you already tried to address this problem?

Again, you don't want to start talking about yourself until you have a better understanding of their challenge. Their response will help you in a few ways:

  • You won't recommend solutions that have already failed for a legitimate reason.
  • You'll be able to course-correct solutions that could have been successful with the proper guidance.

Beyond that, you'll get a better insight into how important it is for them to solve for this challenge, and the pain associated with this resolution. This is also your time to show genuine empathy by paraphrasing and hypothesizing.

For example: "It sounds like you've been working on this for a while, I imagine it's been a drain on morale and productivity implementing one solution after another."

Related: 4 Reasons Why Empathy Is Good for Business

3. What are some approaches or resources you haven't explored yet?

This can easily be one of the most unselfish questions you ask. Together, you may both determine there's another internal resource or someone they could hire full-time to solve this challenge. You may be able to assist or reengage if the problem persists after they attempt to solve it on their own. Your goal is to help them resolve their problem, even if they don't need you to do it.

Again, this is an unselfish approach, but it will go a long way in boosting your reputation for being trustworthy and solutions-oriented. I've consulted myself out of job opportunity during this phase, only to receive a referral from the same prospect months later.

Related: 6 Facts You Need to Know About Starting Your Own Consulting Business

4. What would need to happen in order for you to feel good about our results? What outcomes are you looking for?

This is a paraphrased version of an approach developed by Dan Sullivan of Strategic Coach. Get ready to take notes on their response. They'll tell you exactly what they want from you, and — inadvertently — exactly what would earn you a referral or testimonial. You'll also hear more about their vision. Just talking about this vision will make it more tangible for them, and you can position yourself as the person who will help them get there.

Paraphrase this response back to them, reinforce any poignant or mission-critical aspects of what they said. Once this part is complete, you can start talking more about how you can help achieve this vision. Again, only move forward if you're certain you can help them achieve their goals.

Related: Phone Call or Email? How to Choose the Right Sales Outreach Approach

5. Would you like my help?

This is a simple but powerful question I began using based on the advice by Mike Koenigs, Advisor and CEO of MikeKoenigs.com.

Always ask this question during the conversation, overtly. This can lead to a no, yes or they'll ask more probing questions. Don't say, "Well, I can send you some more information." Or ''Would you like to think about it and set up another time to call?" Just ask. If they want more information or to think about it, they'll tell you.

Of course, you should only ask this question if you actually want to work with the client. You want to be a friend of their future, not just a service provider.

This can be a challenging question, but you'll have a more immediate understanding of how things are going and can start planning any necessary next steps. Hopefully, things go well. If not, you'll be able to better focus on the next opportunity.

Final thoughts on consulting sales calls

It's important to remember that the prospect wants this call to go well. They have a problem and believe you may be able to assist. This isn't a contentious situation, so you should be relaxed. Focus on being who you are, listening to their needs and enjoying the conversation. The best version of yourself is all you need to be, and you can't do that if you're trying to be someone you're not.

Need help with the pricing, packaging and promotion of your consulting business? Join Entrepreneur's online course "How to Start a Successful Consulting Business". You'll gain access to over 40 instructional videos, The Consulting Playbook and join live weekly Q&A calls. Learn more and sign up today!

Terry Rice

Entrepreneur Staff

Business Development Expert-in-Residence

Terry Rice is the Business Development Expert-in-Residence at Entrepreneur and Managing Director of Growth & Partnerships at Good People Digital; an agency that provides marketing and monetization solutions for entrepreneurs. He writes a newsletter about how to build your business and personal resilience and personal brand in just 5 minutes per week and created a revenue optimization checklist to help you multiply your income potential. 

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