Your Expertise Is Not Enough

To thrive, experts need to sell.

As we start 2022, I imagine most of you want your consulting business to grow. You want to win more ideal clients or more business with the clients you already have. If that's the case, here's a little story for you to reflect on.

The Truth Hurts

Last year, I ran a business development workshop for four partners of a respected boutique consulting firm in the UK. After everyone got comfortable and ready to start, I shot my first question: "How many hours have you spent cultivating your expertise?"

After a short pause, one of the partners said: "Thirty thousand hours. I work between two and three thousand hours a year, and have been doing this for over 15 years."

One of his colleagues added, "Well, if we count the time you took to get your degrees and a couple of qualification courses I'm sure you get to forty thousand."

"Right", I said. "Now how many hours have you invested in learning business development? This means, finding ideal prospects, turning them into paying clients, and nurturing those relationships to generate even more work?"

The partner makes a funny face while answering, "Maybe ten?!"

Everybody laughs, but you can feel how uncomfortable those consultants are.

That's The Norm, Not The Exception

That question was not designed to make the partners feel guilty, and neither should you. If you're like the average consultant, you barely invested any time to deliberately study how to generate new business. Very few have the chance to get any mentoring or specialized training.

Marketing or sales consultants usually feel a bit more comfortable promoting their services but still struggle to do it effectively. They are experts in serving their clients' needs. Developing and implementing a proper system that works for them is a completely different thing.

Whichever industry or domain you are in, you've got one foot in delivery and one foot in growth. Satisfying the client's needs, but also winning and retaining more business. It's easy to fall back on the delivery side (which is your core expertise) than it is to focus on business development.

That would work in the past, where there were fewer qualified consultants out there. But now the market is flooded with expertise. Your specific knowledge and industry experience are not enough anymore.

We need to do the work well while also convincing people we can do the work for them. And as your business and career progress, your capacity to do the latter becomes more and more important. To thrive, experts need to sell.

Yes, it can be learned. And yes, you can do that while decreasing your workload. But you will need to approach business development with the same seriousness you did with your core expertise.

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