A solo consultant wrote me this week sharing a specific challenge on his journey moving upstream. He used to sell short engagements in the $5,000-$10,000 price range. Now he has a qualified opportunity for a $50,000 project, and, in his words, "can't move this really big deal through my pipeline."
This is a common challenge, and one that can be easily understood using some visualization.
Your pipeline is composed of a collection of deals, or business opportunities, and is usually illustrated as a funnel. As you get more and more commitments from each prospect (such as explore their needs, present solutions, address concerns, etc.), the correspondent deal moves down the funnel. The moment you win the engagement, the deal comes out from the bottom of your pipeline.
Your funnel was built over time, as you learned how to transform opportunities into revenue. As opposed to consultants who are just starting out, you probably have at least a dozen consulting projects under your belt. You won't win all of them, but the deals will move through your funnel in a very natural and effortless way.
Until you, like the consultant who wrote me for help, start to focus on selling larger deals. When this happens and big opportunities are generated, you find out they are too big to fit through your sales funnel. You need to stretch it.
While this might involve specific changes in your sales process, most of the time what you need to improve is your sales skills. The root cause of the problem is that these deals are more complex and will require you new abilities to navigate them:
- Generating bigger opportunities in the first place is significantly harder. You need to focus much more on creating and nurturing relationships, and prospects are much more likely to be working with someone else.
- There's never a single buyer or decision-maker in big deals. There are buying committees with people from different departments, and you will need to map each of their needs and build consensus to present a viable solution.
- Negotiation gets also much more common and complex as the size of the deal grows. And you will need to deal with legal and procurement people, who don't have buying authority but can say no to you and your terms at any point.
The obvious and most effective solution is investing in your personal development. Selling is all about engaging with people. So here's when you should consider investing in sales training or coaching for you or any of your consulting partners.
Once you have "stretched" the bottom of your funnel by improving your sales skills, opportunities will not get stuck anymore. What you see today as a "really big deal" will become nothing more than a deal. That's how you level up as a consultant and a rainmaker.