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How to secure commitments from clients?

· Career

I was recently having difficulties trying to secure commitments with some potential clients so I asked my mentor and partner, David Lock.

He mentioned that one of the reasons could be that my product offering to that specific client is not clear. I wasn't able to clearly define the product offering because I haven't listen hard enough.

The clients have dropped "cookie crumbs" or hints along the way. He mentioned that it is key to listen to use the information to clarify.

It is also key to allow the client to have something small to test. It is very hard for the client to digest a chunk of the big picture framework. As such, it is key to offer something small and specific. This helps the client to have lower risks in agreeing to start a project.

For someone to spend time with you suggests this person has a personal liking for you. Yet the common key concern for a consultant, a lawyer or anyone providing professional services is  

Am I losing time which I can meet another prospective client or I can fulfill some other projects?

He suggests that one of the best conversation starter to address this concern is to look at the end of the client and say the following:

"Dear _____, as much as I enjoy using my time to help you, I really need to eat and to take care of my family."

When anyone that provides professional services learn to say this, that person has to say it with the reflection that thoughts on that concerns:

I have bills to pay and it's coming to the end of the month. I am looking at my bank account and it's depleting. I am looking at my invoices and no funds are coming in. I look at my 80 plus years old granny and wonder whether I can bring her for her regular medical checkup. I look at my 60 plus years old day and wonder when was the last time I can bless him with a dinner or actually spend time having a good conversation with him.

My mentor continued to mention the following up conversation:

"Perhaps we can start a simple project for 1 full week at $X,000."

There are 2 types of project that a consultant can do.

The first type of project is Cat A project or templatized project. This proposal clearly outlines the defined parameters, defined scope and defined deliverables in a templatized format.

The second type of project is Cat B project or iterative project. This proposal defines a fixed amount of time spent with clearly defined activities without a clearly defined deliverable.

For any new client, the recommended advice is always to start with Cat A project. Firstly I would be able to finish the project as efficiently as I possibly can. This is because I know the mechanics of fulfilling the project and I have practised fulfilling such projects over time. Secondly, I would be able to determine the gap between the client's expectation and the actual outcome of completing this project.

Should a new client wants Cat B project then I should always go back to communicating to that client why it makes sense to do Cat A project. If the new client insists on doing a Cat B project, then I should educate that client and communicate the possible risks of not reaching an expected outcome.

The other concern about helping the client to keep doing Cat A project at a low market rate is :

" Will I ever get stuck at this rate with the client forever?"

This is one of the biggest concerns for anyone providing professional services be it lawyers, consultants or advisors. A low rate will definitely get some work but it has the potential to hinder any consultants from making income progress. In addition, it is also important for consultants to assess the impact of this work for this client. Is this client a fast rising company? Or is this client going to move into another big company ? Or is this client influential to refer more work to the consultant?

Discerning an opportunity is more often an art than a science.

As such to address a low possible rate, my mentor suggested trying to do 3 rounds of engagement with the client and evaluating the possibilities of having future engagements. This is one conversation tip:

Dear ____, I have been helping you at this rate. Kindly, please allow me to adjust this rate so I can make ends meet.

After having this conversation with my mentor and partner, I realized that some of my concerns can be addressed. I feel at ease and am very thankful for his last tip. The way to end this conversation with that potential client is to look at his or her eyes and say:

"Please help me."

Thereafter let the silence do the work. It always pay to eat the humble pie and yet be shrewd to discern the attractiveness of working for a specific client.

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