Move the Goalposts and Make Prospect Risk Aversion Your Friend

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By Mike White | Mar 23, 2021

During a recent client call I sat in on, one of the partners mentioned an opportunity to begin doing work for a global 1000 business (“Company A”). My client happened to be one of the few non-law firms with which I work- a strategy consulting firm that works with global corporates. My strategy consulting client had done a good job of setting the table and matching needs with capabilities, but their dialogue was plateauing. The below bullets reflect how I helped them find a decision catalyst to implement the relationship. One of the challenges was the perception that other strategy consulting firms competing against my client were specifically familiar with Company A’s industry and products; i.e., they had the benefit of reusable knowledge. Below are some comments I offered about how my client could “move the goalposts” and cause Company A to view retaining my client as being a less risky choice.

Make “Risk Sensitivity” Your Friend

► A decision by Company A to work with any of the other more technically oriented consulting firms likely will be a hat tip to risk aversion. Businesses derive comfort from reusable (technical) knowledge; reusable knowledge = no wheel spinning = less time and $ to generate insights = higher probability ROI.

►How can you inject “risk” into Company A’s decision to go with cheaper consultants who bring with them reusable technical knowledge?

► Reframe Company A’s problem from being a technical problem that is a creature of the relevant industry sector to being i) a growth problem, ii) a change management problem, iii) a creativity problem, a iv) it is a . . . . problem, but it is not a technical problem.

► High impact recommendations coming out of this process will require Company A to put in motion multiple work streams that look little like their legacy business; this will be hard. They will need an expert in how to manage de novo, unfamiliar work streams– i.e., the cadence, the carburetion, monitoring and course correcting, etc. A consultant who knows how to build Company A’s technical product is not an expert in unfamiliar, de novo work streams. Getting organizations to do something new for the first time is hard- and it is a discipline in and of itself. The real risk to Company A is in not finding a resource with THIS expertise.

► Technical industry experts with presumed reusable knowledge are more likely to bring with them parochial, insular “me too” prescriptions. How can you convince Company A that it is critical they make a real breakthrough here? That requires thinking (i.e., creativity) unconstrained by the narrow lens of “technical literacy and deep industry knowledge.” Amazon did not go to a retail consultant to go into the web services business, etc . . .

How to Deal with The Price Objection

► Company A is going to need to see what kind of prescription my client could author that is different in kind and capable of generating geometrically more value than another conventional technically oriented consultancy. Can you paint this picture during the sales stage before you have yet to do the work?

► Stories – the best way to move people in big ways to another place is with penetrating individual stories. Is there a case study you could cite where you were chosen at a much higher cost and your client experienced home run impact that clearly would not have been delivered by another “usual suspect” competitor?

Whether you’re a strategy consulting firm or a law firm, “difference in kind” persuasion requires big “goalpost moving”- you’re going to need to get prospects to look at their problem and the opportunity fundamentally different from the way they are likely looking at it when they present it to you. If you “move the goalposts” you win; if you allow them to lazily accept the framing they brought with them before talking to consultants you likely won’t win.

Mike White was a practicing attorney for seven years prior to founding and operating two enterprise software companies — Sirius Systems (sold 1997) and MarketingCentral (sold 2007). He owned and managed ClientQuest Consulting, LLC for 10 years serving law firms. He holds an AB in History from Duke University and a JD from Emory University School of Law.