One of the things I often hear from learning and development professionals who are new to consulting is the challenge they have around “selling.” Like most people who go out on their own, they’re experts at (and inspired by) what they do, but they soon realize that there are other aspects of the business they need to attend to – the administrative, the financial, the marketing, and, of course, the selling.
My suggestion is to not think about it as “selling.” Instead, think about it as helping a client achieve goals, overcome challenges, and fulfill needs. It’s about asking good questions (needs analysis), communicating effectively, building relationships, and mapping learning solutions to performance needs – all the things learning and development professionals do on a daily basis.
But how do you get started? It helps to have structure. Step one is, of course, to identify an opportunity. Consider this scenario. You’re at a networking event and are introduced by a former colleague to the VP of Engineering at a large hi-tech company. After exchanging backgrounds and pleasantries, you ask what her current biggest challenge is. She shares that one of her project teams is struggling to meet deadlines for deliverables. There have been two instances so far on a current project where mistakes were identified too late, causing delays in the timeline, and additional cost. As the conversation continues, you learn that team members seem to operate independently, each focused on their part of the project, with little team synergy or communication along the way.
Learning and development opportunities generally fall into two categories. One is where the client just knows that development is a good thing and they have the budget to do it. They don’t necessarily have a problem, but they want to invest in a team development activity that’s more meaningful than bowling or a ropes course. The second category is where they know they have an issue, but they’re not sure of the cause or how to fix it.
You’ve gleaned from your conversation at the networking event that the engineering project team falls into the second category. Through several follow up emails the next week, you manage to set up an initial meeting. The next step is to prepare for the meeting. What do you need to know before you go? What questions will you ask once you’re there?
Obviously, you want to know as much as possible about the organization and the individuals who will be in the meeting. Are you meeting with a decision maker or is this initial meeting at a different level? What is your goal for the meeting? What does your agenda need to be to get there?
Remember that this meeting is all about the client, not about sharing your menu of solutions. Prepare questions that will help you understand their goals, challenges and needs, as well as:
- The business goal that is not being met
- The impact of it not being met
- Skills and behaviors that are “mission critical” to the business, or impact all employees
- Performance deficiencies within these skills and behaviors that have the greatest negative impact
- Expected or desired performance levels
As you think about your goal for the meeting, include what you want the client to do after the meeting – Introduce you to the next level up? Schedule a next meeting? Connect you to others in the organization?
Making the time to thoroughly prepare your questions, agenda, and goal for the meeting will increase the likelihood of a positive outcome.