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Discussions on The Prospect Consultation

~ with Candice R & Alan W

What spurred the topic of a 'Prospect Consultation'?

Candice R:

What spurred this topic was the countless times we see entrepreneurs drained by prospects with endless conversations and no actual conversion - and even when the conversion comes, they never get back the time and effort spent getting there, and many times relationships start to break down in the process, founders and CE’s alike are left wondering if it was all worth it.  It doesn’t make good business sense to approach business prospects in this archaic manner of back and forth, presenting and pitching and convincing.  Time is money and today we discuss the value of the prospect consultation before investing your time, effort and soul into any potential partner, client, investor, and the like.

Alan W:

Yes, by ‘prospects’, we refer to any sort of prospect seen to be important to our business as it may be those  potential investors, employees, collaborators, partners or even vendors we seek to do business with..

Candice, will you kick this off with some clarity, what is The Prospect Consultation all about anyway, in the business sense?

Candice R:

These are YOUR discovery sessions.  It is about asking a LOT of questions, more follow-on questions and continuing to ask why till you have a full understanding of the prospect’s proposition on the table so that you are equipped to respond. This is about getting as much information as possible.  You’re not here to solve anything or give a proposal/offer/idea/solution/an answer, not just yet.  You want information, that’s it.  Why? Because meaningful connections in business are about finding mutually beneficial grounds, no matter who the other party is and how you/your business plan to interact or engage with them. What typically happens is that as we move through the sales/recruitment/pitching/partnering or whatever it may be, process, we tend to gather crucial information either along the way or after the fact.  This means a lot of lost time, effort and less likelihood to convert this meaningful connection into something fruitful and impactful for your business  We overlook things and often loose our way or mess up our chances.

The ‘old way’ of going through those typical pitch/interviewing/sales processes with prospects, meant that many times we were just a number not a person.  For example clients sending mass briefs out to suppliers, in most cases they are looking for the cheapest and a whole lot of ideas that are revealed in the pitch process.  If this is the case it is unlikely they will even give you their time for a prospect consultation. The same with investors getting everyone to pitch, not selecting you. Or even with collaborators or potential employees who have not selected YOU to work with but you are rather just a number on their list that they are engaging with.  And when you enter this long process with them, or any prospect, there is no loyalty. We need to step back and realise many prospects have different intentions, some potential employees just want to compare you to their next offer, some investors look for ideas, some collaborators also look for ideas - do NOT give your ideas away for free! 

The point is that the prospect consultation must be about a well researched, purposeful connection and conversation you are looking for in order for it to be meaningful and not to be taken advantage of as in a ‘pitch’ scenario.  Take the lead, remember, meaningful connections mean there is equal advantage for BOTH parties, both during the process and if you reach the end together,  there is no powerful one and submissive one in this approach to a prospect consultation.

Alan W:

So to clarify WHY we do a prospect consultation pre proposal/pitch/job offer/vendor selection/partnership deal/etc. is:

  • to understand the challenge, we are BOTH solving for one another, NOT THEIR self-diagnosis of what they THINK they need

  • to understand value, so that you can prepare your costing for the proposal or your pitch for investment or what to offer for the potential employee, or ideas around collaboration, and so on.

These answers are unlocked through asking the RIGHT questions.  Remember YOU are the one who must take the initiative to ask these questions.  And it takes time and practice.  The sorts of questions you are asking in a consultation are something like this:

- how have they solved the problem before or is this a unique problem and first time resolution they are seeking

- why you, why not others

- what benefits do they expect you/your business/your work to unleash

- what is the cost/impact of not solving their challenge

- what does success look like for them

There are a bunch of questions you should be preparing to get as much out of this session as possible.  And we always ask the question WHY until we get to the essence of the REAL answer. What we are aiming for is enough information so that we too can decide if we believe we are a fit for them, if this can be a fruitful relationship and if we can meet on an equal footing and both derive value from connecting in business.  What is unique about specifically connecting with them, and them connecting with you - remember there is only one of them and one of you.  How can these uniquenesses be brought together to make magic like no other.

Candice R:

There are three key themes of questions you should be asking in the prospect consultation.  

These are: 

1) establishing your fit with the prospect, 

2) the business challenge/opportunity at play and if it fits your business and 

3) your fit in terms of investment/the cost of engaging i.e. your pricing and the clients budget/investment.  And remember sometimes this will be other forms of exchanges in value, not always monetary, like in collaborations when one may swap skills or share clients, for example.

Alan W:

Lets touch on the first one, client fit.  Are we like-minded organisations, do we feel comfortable working with them, do they uphold our values? Can we work with them, in the ways we feel comfortable with?  And so on.

Candice R:

And the sorts of questions you asking here could be:

  • Can you tell me a little more about your business? 

Probe: who, what, why, how, when, where

  • How are you typically going about solving this business challenge/opportunity? 

Probe: examples, types of people/businesses used, internal 

  • Why us and not other service providers/collaborators/partners/etc?  Probe: experiences to date, expectations/hopes from you/your business

  • How open are you to other ways and ideas, especially from an external party like us? Probe: value of your unique  expertise, what if we find root causes and solutions that are different to what you expect - are you fixed on this problem and this solution in your mind?

  • How involved would you as a decision maker be when we work on a particular engagement together?  Probe: we like to work closely in order to keep the engagement pace as well as for us to reach solutions collaboratively and to also ensure our contributions are sustainable for long after we leave - do you see this way of work as viable? Probe: who needs to be involved

Alan W:

The second one, business challenge fit.  Can we even help them, offer a solution to the challenge they face.

Candice R:

Questions you could ask here may include:

  • Can you tell me a little more about this business challenge/opportunity/idea you are presenting us with. Probe: who, what, why, how, when, where Probe: what is the negative impact being experienced Probe: why this business challenge over others you may be experiencing

  • What is it that you need/want to solve this?

  • Why are you wanting to solve this business challenge now?

  • Why us and not other service providers/businesses/partners for this particular challenge?  Probe: experiences to date, expectations/hopes from DD

  • What would a positive outcome look like?

Probe: what is leaderships vision of success on this

Probe: what are the KPI’s for success

Probe: deliverables, desirable end state, what does the solution look like

  • When do you need to decide on this and when do you need to start and why?

Alan W:

The last one, investment fit.  Can we deliver to their expectations?  Is the money right?  Don’t undercut yourself, rather walk away - there will always be someone else.  Time investment - do we have time now?  Will we neglect other clients or potential business if we engage with this prospect?

Candice R:

Questions may include:

  • How much value can be created by solving this challenge/taking this opportunity? What could the potential impact be on your business? Probe: more time, more money, more business, brand value, work experience

  • How much is this unsolved business challenge costing you? Or the potential loss of not capitalising on said opportunity. Probe: peoples time spent, over what period of time, impact on brand/client business

  • Have you set a budget/investment to solve this business challenge? Or to take up this opportunity? Probe: what have they spent to date, over what period of time Probe: what is too much? Can they afford us

Alan, in your view, is The Prospect Consultation something that Founders should be considering?

Alan W:

Yes.  Put your “BUYER” hat on.  As a buyer there are certain expectations, As a SELLER there are certain expectations, so think about the long term effect this has on your business as a whole and it includes team members, clients and vendors.  That’s why i would suggest a structured way of exploring first before making hasty decisions.  And by having something to use repetitively, it helps eliminate stress, uncertainty and unhappiness down the line.

Candice R:

This is something founders HAVE to consider because successful prospect conversions are key to reaching our milestones. This is what keeps our businesses alive through outcomes with the right fit people and/or businesses it can even induce hyper growth and game changing success for your business.  For some, its a life/death business situation.  So absolutely, this is something to seriously consider and a must have to incorporate into how you do business.

What do you see as the benefits of investing in/doing The Prospect Consultation?

Alan W:

There is A LOT of value in one well designed prospect consultation, it can really save our business time, money, effort and sanity.  At DNA-Business we have a rule, no consultation, no next steps.  It works.  We encourage you to try it.

Candice R:

Can't argue with that!  It’s about being as purposeful as you can when approaching viable opportunities to engage with others that have potential to be good for business.  Believe me, we have learnt the hard way and sharing today comes from lessons learnt.

What about some of the questions I should be asking myself, if I'm considering pursuing The Prospect Consultation for my business?

Alan W:

Are we giving ideas away for free?  Are we going down a dead end instead of finding new clients willing to engage?  Do we WANT to work with them? If we do, how does this impact our other clients and our team members?  Do we neglect other clients and can this business engagement be leveraged to the benefit of our other clients?

Candice R:

It is simply reflecting and asking yourself whether you are costing your business with time and effort spent on the wrong prospects for your business challenges, opportunities and ideas.  It's that rabbit down a hole scenario when nothing comes from endless conversations many of us are having with prospects.  Many times we need to go back to the start, are we even a good fit anyway.  If you can recall such bad experiences, then building in a prospect consultation is something that you can follow, this can put you on the right track again.  Remember a very low percentage of prospects will actually convert into a fruitful business relationship, so this is about sifting them early on.

Final pearls of wisdom to share on this topic?

Alan W:

Do not avoid the money topic, talk about money early. Prevent spending a lot of time and effort on an endeavour they are not willing to invest in/pay for/bring their value or commitment to the table. Get a feel for their budget or what it is that they are willing to give of value (could be paid for, could be sharing clients if it’s a collaborator, could be investment & contacts if it’s an investor, and so on).  Ask what other similar options are affording them or ask them what amount/offer they expect to hear.  .Don’t mention exact amounts/details just yet.  DON’T MENTION AMOUNTS.  If you ABSOLUTELY HAVE to then anchor high.  Give a range.   Biggest amount first, lowest amount last. The bottom amount should be the amount that you want.  Tell them it is an estimate but that you will give them three options. Lastly, we’re in control, we make the decisions, if  your gut feeling is not good, let go.

Candice R:

Commitment, outcomes, timing, timelines, dates, this is also a very important element to talk about early and throughout the relationship.  You need to fully understand these variables and to manage expectations within those each step of the way. Sometimes when these are out of sync/miscommunicated, all opportunity to meaningfully connect and move forward can fall short.

~ From the podcast, "THE PROSPECT CONSULTATION", take a listen over here

Work with ALAN W

Work with CANDICE R


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