Question from a reader:
"Hi Danilo. We are finally seeing concrete results from our new lead gen initiatives, with a bunch of opportunities coming in. But they are not advancing as well as they could. I feel like the sales conversations are too short, and there's no time to build trust and get them excited - I just wish prospects were as interested in the risks we can help them mitigate as I am."
This has a name: curiosity. It's the desire to know, the interest leading people to learn more about a topic or issue. From what I understand, the consultant is passionate about how his work, but the prospects that benefit from it are not.
You are responsible for instilling curiosity in prospects and clients.
Sure, once people connect with you or come across your visibility-building initiatives (writing, speaking, networking, etc.), most of them will naturally get curious about how (and if) you could help them. But the initial interest can vanish quite quickly. Once a prospect thinks, "I know all there is to know about him/her", what's the point of engaging?
Dr. Jacqueline Gottlieb, a professor of neuroscience at Columbia, has shown that curiosity is one of our most powerful intrinsic motivators. The more curious prospects are, the more willing they will be to meet. Other research by Dr. Matthias Gruber at Cardiff University found that people remember more facts when they are curious about the subject at hand.
That's why my advice to the reader is to copy what other consulting partners who thrive in business development do: When an idea sticks, focus on creating curiosity, not pushing.
One of the biggest drivers of curiosity is the careful use of suspense. A good story, or fiction book, doesn't jump straight to the end or conclusion - curiosity needs time and space to grow. As the research shows, this isn’t a “cheap trick” to hook people - it's quite enjoyable and helps them learn.
The problem is that, when we're exploring business opportunities, we often feel pressure to rush things: “It was tough to schedule this meeting, I need to get something out of it.” But the fastest way to develop a client relationship often is to slow things down and give the story time to unfold.
Here’s what to do when a prospect or client inquires about something specific you can probably help them with:
- Communicate that you are in the business of giving expert advice: Show them you are not a desperate consultant and resist the temptation to tell the prospect what they should hire you for. You might answer their question in general terms, but let them understand that you can’t prescribe before diagnosing.
- Communicate you care about them and their business: Let them know that you are willing to invest in the relationship, and offer them the opportunity to see how you work in a separate call. Your demand generation initiatives need to be designed to earn trust, uncover relevant risks and opportunities, and make a clear business case for change.
"Can you tell me more about X?" is not an invitation for you to say, "Sure, typically we help clients who want X by offering our Y services." It's a cue for you to keep asking questions and come up with ways to create awareness and urgency while keeping people curious.
Don't let your sales conversations be reduced to "if X, then Y."