This three-part article series discusses a highly effective framework to grow the client base of a 10-200 employee consulting firm using an outbound, authority-based sales strategy.
Implementing this framework, and the team and systems around it, can dramatically change your firm’s growth trajectory. You will learn how to acquire new high-value clients, penetrate new market segments and geographies, engage prospects with authority-building content, and “get on the menu” to win deals against your competitors.
This is not just a strategy piece. It’s a tactical step-by-step framework to help mid-size consulting firms accelerate their client acquisition and leap to the next stage of growth.
This Article Is NOT For You If:
1) You work for a large global service firm like E&Y, Deloitte, Bain, McKinsey, KPMG, or Wipro with a well-known brand and unlimited budget.
2) Your firm has less than 5 consultants. At this stage your capacity to invest in outbound demand generation is limited. You’re much better off driving new business through an ad-driven funnel, content marketing and speaking engagements.
Otherwise read on…
What Is the Consulting Firm “Growth Trap”?
Mid-size consulting firms often rely on a combination of approaches to acquire new clients. This combination eventually leads to a plateau in the firm’s growth:
- Referrals from existing clients and personal networks
- Industry events – (typically) expensive seminars, trade shows, meet & greets, forums, speaking engagements, etc.
- Content marketing – your website, sales collateral, webinars, research papers, books, industry surveys
- Pay-per-Click or banner ad campaigns
- Rudimentary prospecting efforts such as “email relevant people in my personal network every 3 months” or “send invites to 20 CEOs on LinkedIn and try to get a conversation” or “hire an intern to do research and try to get calls with decision-makers.”
Only ONE of these techniques is considered “outbound”. The rest are inbound. And the outbound piece is usually done inconsistently, if at all. There is no systematic, targeted process for outbound new client lead generation.
New client leads tend to be all over the place, undifferentiated, and poorly targeted. With inbound marketing you can only target at a high level with keywords, demographics, general location, or industry event attendance. This generates a high proportion of unqualified leads that waste your team’s time.
Consulting firms essentially miss out on half or more of their potential revenues because of over-reliance on inbound marketing tactics.
The result is a major “growth trap” for mid-size firms that stalls the rate of new client acquisition. It’s very hard to generate “new name” business consistently unless you move beyond this limited inbound marketing paradigm.
Why Consulting Firms Fail At Outbound Client Acquisition
Consulting firms are notoriously bad at executing their own outbound client acquisition programs.
Two tactics are often used that lead to failure:
TACTICAL FAILURE #1: Hiring a Dedicated Outbound Sales Team
Hiring dedicated outbound sales executives with deep industry knowledge is very expensive and typically fails to land new client accounts at a substantial rate.
Recruiting and onboarding a sales team can take significant time and investment. Consulting firms generally have limited sales infrastructure (CRM, lead generation team, etc.), so your new hire must implement it before actually selling. This wastes time and costs the firm more money.
The expectations Partners put on outbound sales executives are often unrealistic. Partners think, “Great! We’ve got a sales exec now, we should soon start landing new major client accounts!”
Unfortunately, what usually happens is this:
The sales exec spends most of the time prospecting, not closing deals. The reality is new service relationships take time to build. Assume conversations with prospective clients will start off cold. If your firm lacks an active pipeline of qualified leads, your new sales team will be starting from scratch.
When a sales exec uncovers an opportunity and gets into a legitimate discussion, he or she runs out of knowledge quickly and can’t move the opportunity forward. Your firm’s capabilities are not communicated effectively, a position of authority is not established in the prospect’s mind, and the conversation peters out. Every meeting requires two people — the sales exec (who mostly just sits there) and a senior consultant to drive the conversation and share subject matter expertise. It becomes a “two pony show” with one pony pulling all the weight. To make matters worse, the senior consultant has to step away from billable client work to attend these meetings.
95% of sales executives won’t be able to take new client conversations past the initial discovery meeting. The sales executive can’t close deals because he or she doesn’t have the subject matter expertise. Even with years of training and market exposure, they simply don’t have the hands-on knowledge to close complex service deals on their own. As a result, potential deals die on the vine.
Your leadership team gets frustrated because Sales is setting up “too many meetings that don’t turn into business”. Then they start asking “why did we hire this person for $100k-plus if he can’t close a deal on his own?”
Sophisticated consulting sales are always knowledge-based. What drives a client to invest in a new relationship (particularly with an up-and-coming firm) is the perception that the firm brings superior knowledge and delivery capability to the table. This requires building a deep well of trust during the sales process. Only your senior consultants have the expertise to develop this trust and close complex service deals effectively.
TACTICAL FAILURE #2: Making New Client Acquisition Part of the Consultant’s Job Description
In this case, the firm’s billable senior consultants and Partners are tasked with outbound client acquisition, on top of their service deliverables. This rarely generates the desired client growth.
Consultants are notoriously bad at outbound sales prospecting. It’s not their core competency, and most dislike reaching out to people they don’t know. What they’re natural at is generating billable time for the firm based on their own knowledge and expertise.
Outbound prospecting for new clients is a full-time job. It requires a factory-like “sales funnel” approach that starts with a large number of unqualified leads and progressively whittles them down to qualified prospects ready to buy. This is what well-trained outbound growth teams excel at.
Adding “new client acquisition” to a consultant’s job description creates a dangerous priority conflict. You never want your lead consultants asking themselves, “Should I focus on my existing client relationships, or work on landing new ones?” The consultant ends up jumping from high-value client work to fishing around aimlessly trying to land meetings with new prospects. This can easily devolve into a disjointed zero-sum game.
Outbound client prospecting cannibalizes a consultant’s billable time. This costs the firm revenue, reduces delivery quality, and undermines the client experience.
In a nutshell, giving your consultants a second, unrelated sales job will produce a low number of new clients at an extraordinarily high cost.
So what to do?
Creating an Effective Outbound Client Growth Plan
Solving this client growth challenge requires a combination of the right client targeting, right team, right content, and right outbound channels. Doing this requires investment and orchestration. However, once in place and running, this framework has the potential to double or triple your firm’s growth rate.
Even a minor investment of $25-30k in what you’re going to learn can yield several high-paying clients worth 3-10X that investment (each) that are a great fit for your firm’s offerings.
To be successful, you must directly engage a large number of new targeted prospects in a way that leads with authority, credibility, and value. This is part art, part science. When done consistently, the results can be impressive.
Learn how to do this starting in Part 2…