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How To Stand Out In A Competitive Consulting Market

Most consultants struggle to combine their consulting work with the necessary sales and marketing activities required to grow their consulting business. It’s one of the most discussed challenges in my conversations with consultants on the subject of their revenue growth. 

It comes down to changing your state of mind and re-framing your approach to growing your consulting business. After all, we can sit there, build a beautiful website or profile, hang out on social media but if we don’t sell, like it or not, nobody will buy.

Of course, if you get the help of an incredible platform such as COMATCH, you are a big step ahead. However, to get the best possible results from such a platform, you will need to stand out from the crowd with your expertise. Let me explain. 

Standing out in the consulting space is not about selling yourself.

Marketing in consulting is not about sales. Marketing isn’t about pushing a product or service or making sudden on-and-offline efforts when you are desperate for work (and income). Instead, it’s all about sustainably growing your visibility and building trust in your expertise. You do this by sharing your knowledge using simple, jargon-free language and providing something of authentic value to the (specific) problem situation of your prospects/clients. 

Consulting is a credence business

Your ability as a consultant to sell your services comes down to your ability to build trust in your expertise. This can’t be achieved by sleazy selling methods. Prospects need to find, like and trust you before they buy. 

Your revenue growth should come from the market's awareness and respect for your expertise, your social proof, and your reputation. It's strategically the only way to go about it in the long run. 

I've done it. You can do it. But it’s not an overnight job. It takes time. 

This is how I see it: sales and marketing in consulting is a SIDE-EFFECT (yes!) of doing these five things extremely well.

  • Sharing your expertise: creating the foundation of narrowly focused expertise, shared in various formats that serve a single goal – building up your visibility as a consultant and a distinct subject matter expert. Openly sharing your expertise sends a message that you are not afraid to reveal your expertise because you are that confident in your own skills and knowledge. It sends a powerful message that you have a lot more to offer because of how freely you share your knowledge.
  • Clearly defining your MVA: a laser-sharp identification of your (smallest possible) target audience (your Minimal Viable Audience - MVA) and openly sharing your expertise with your MVA.
  • Addressing prototypical pain points: getting traction from your target audience by addressing the heart of their prototypical pain points. You will only stand out as a consultant in a crowded market when you help bring hidden problems and patterns to the surface, inspiring your audience to shift the way they think about their fundamental or underlying challenges. Your audience doesn’t want to hear what they already know about their problems. 

When hiring consultants, clients look for deep specialist know-how. Clients’ rating of the quality of consulting work is strongly influenced by whether they see the consultant as a specialist.

  • Picturing ‘The Promised Land’: the ability to succinctly explain your transformative offering that will allow your prospects to move from their pain-ridden state to “The Promised Land”. You will need to create a bold vision about the transformational potential of switching to a new, different approach. Your vision should be contagious. You translate your expertise into the confidence that you give your audience about the positive potential of a transformation. What you ‘sell’ is not what it is, but what it does (never forget this sentence!). 
  • Being consistent: consistency in the sharing-delivery of everything you learn, consistency in measuring the impact of your work and writing about it, consistency in communicating to your target audience, consistency in everything you do. Consistency is an extremely important component of trust-building.

Consultancy is marketing, it’s not separate from you as a consultant

As a consultant, you ARE the product. You ARE the marketer and the sales rep of your expertise, your approach, and your unique blend of experience and delivery. But it doesn’t matter how good you are. Nobody will come across your expertise if you can’t organically translate that into a: 

  • Visible subject matter expertise: you are known and visible for your deep vertical expertise and you have discovered all the patterns of the prototypical client problems. You combine this with broad contextual, horizontal  (or cross-functional) understanding. The T-shaped consultant, remember? 
  • Trusted advisor: you earn trust when you solve ‘their problem’, for bringing your clients from point A (problem status) to point B (problem solved status). The ‘Promised Land’ delivery. 
  • Influencing skills: you shift people’s thinking and ultimately you inspire behavioral changes (to get the problems solved).

A good consultant is a good marketer of their expertise.

Final thoughts

Its become more and more clear to the hundreds of consultants I’ve talked to and worked with in the past Corona year that prospects are searching for subject matter experts to help solve their problems quickly and reliably. 

That has been the main reason why visible experts and trusted advisors with solid social proof were able to keep most of their clients, even in the difficult early days of the pandemic and amidst the growing pressure and incredible noise in the market.  

Like it or not: prospects have more options today than ever before. It takes focus, specialization, and authority to stand out in a highly competitive consulting market with risk-averse, impatient buyers who can find anything in seconds. 

Digital platforms such as COMATCH demonstrate that the professional world is becoming ‘smaller’. Therefore, the likelihood buyers will go online to look for specialist consultants is growing. And in this environment, the leverage you can get by focusing and/or specializing is more powerful than ever. Deep expertise in a specific subject matter will always stand out in the long run, even in difficult times.  

I frequently remind my consulting clients of one important fact—your competitor is only one click away.