Consulting Buyers Are Risk-Averse

Your main goal is to "not blow it."

A consultant colleague shared with me this Seth Godin's post on the hierarchy of B2B needs. Here's how he ranks the goals of your buyers:

  1. Avoiding risk
  2. Avoiding hassle
  3. Gaining praise
  4. Gaining power
  5. Having fun
  6. Making a profit

You may not like seeing this, but it's very true. In most organizations, nothing happens unless at least one of these needs is met, and avoiding risk is at the top of the list.

Why is risk so important when selling to businesses, when compared to those selling products or services to individuals? By hiring your firm, the buyer wants to make sure he or she is not making a huge career mistake. Those who sign the contract are spending someone else's money.

Also, they have personal interests - although no one would admit it. They want to please their colleagues and superiors, building or preserving internal status. This is why "gaining praise/power" and "having fun" comes before "making a profit".

Here's an example: there are hundreds of firms selling team-building engagements to improve workplace culture. Many of them win projects without even exploring measurable business goals with their clients - because they don't need to. Financial impact is irrelevant for most buyers, as long as the cost is under their approved budget.

But can you guess what the most successful of those firms do? Explore risks, by painting a bleak picture of their current state and asking:

  • What happens if your workplace culture is so bad every meeting is turned into a messy and aggressive personal discussion?
  • What if those under your supervision refuse to work together?
  • What if your best people start quitting?

If a team-building workshop or 3-day group retreat is what your buyers need to pacify the situation (or allow them to save their skin in the future by saying "I've tried my best to fix things"), they will hire it.

Risk mitigation is one of the most powerful ways to strengthen your consultancy's value proposition. Embrace it, and you'll quickly see a positive impact on your marketing and sales initiatives.

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