In this session, Danilo discussed:

  • The seven elements of the client's decision journey, according to "How Clients Buy" authors;
  • The differences between evergreen, acute, and optimizing services;
  • Why learning which one your consultancy provides can boost the effectiveness of your marketing and sales initiatives.

Links and resources mentioned include:

Video Recording


Ok I think we can start. All right, so welcome everyone. Good attendance today - yes, I can see 10, 12 members here. So for those of you who are joining or watching this for the first time, BCC bites it's a chat, these are quick chats that we we do every other week and are open for everyone to to join. What we usually do is we talk about a specific topic (usually something that our members or email subscribers suggest) and and we have a quick Q&A about it. So today we're talking about evergreen, acute, and optimizing service firms. What they are, how you can use this classification to improve your marketing and business development initiatives.

But let's get into it. If you have questions please feel free to to throw them in the chat and we'll go through them by the end of the overview ok?

Ok. So the source of the the ideas that we'll be talking about here... they are mostly coming from this book "How Clients Buy", from Doug Fletcher and Tom McMakin. I don't know if I pronounced it right. It's a great read for any consultancy founder, consultancy partner. I really recommend it. I'm dropping in the chat the link to my personal summary of the book. So we have a few book summaries which are mainly a collection of notes, every time someone recommends a book. I'm putting in the chat the book summary for this title here, "How Clients Buy". If you want to read it there's a link where you can buy it. But anyway. The main idea behind this book is that consulting services are bought differently from products or productized services. Your reputation, relationships, referrals, they all play a big role and generic marketing or sales techniques or methodologies are usually harmful. They are ineffective or even harmful for consultants. Which is something that if you know me, or you've been to to any of our workshops you will know that this is literally the reason why the Boutique Consulting Club exists. There's a huge wave of generic advice and micro consultancies are underserved. And that's where we try to help.

In this book, the whole idea here is the authors took a design thinking approach. So usually when you look at traditional sales training it's all about what you as a salesperson should do. So you should generate leads, you should pre-qualify them,  you should be persuasive, etc etc etc. The idea here is ok, what if instead of looking "what should we do?", "how should we sell?", or "how do rainmakers sell?", we ask "how  do clients buy?". This is where the the title came from. So based on research and, they made interviews and some observational data, they have anecdotes and all of this, they put together this client decision journey which they call "the seven elements of the client's decision journey". which is a description of how, of the path of of every client of consulting services. Right. So, aware: prospects needs to need to know that you exist. Understand: they need to understand what you do, they need to be able to communicate what you do to others. Interest: So, I mean, just because I know you and understand what you do it doesn't mean that what you do is relevant for me, your services are relevant to me, or your expertise. So here your offerings need to be relevant. Respect: they need to to have confidence that you can help. So they look at, they might look at your track record, or talk to peers, or they can look at a variety of heuristics. Look at awards, look at your body of work, the content you put out. Trust. They need to be able to hire you, which is mostly connected to the person you're talking to. They need to have the authority to hire you, they need to have the budget to hire you. And ready: so even if someone knows you, understands what you do, are interested in what you do, in your services, respect, trust, and are able to purchase your services, nothing will happen if the timing is not right. if it's not a good timing for them inside the organization. Sometimes it's a matter of external events, sometimes they need to have the head space to engage with you. Doesn't matter now. Let's not get into the discussion of how accurate this client journey is. Yes, it will change from firm to firm. Yes, younger people are hiring consulting services in a different way than older buyers do. For the sake of this quick chat here, let's take this as true for now ok? This client decision journey.

Now, having this documented is great because it allows us, it allows you to use this as an assessment tool, diagnostic tool. So if we, for example, put together a set of questions for each of those elements here, we can get a sense of where you're doing great and where there are opportunities for improvements. So, for example. If a lot of people know my name, but no one... I struggle to communicate what I do, no one really knows what value I provide, or how am I different from other consultancies then, that's something that will stick out in any assessment. Now, here's where things get interesting. Let's say you go through this assessment, you make this assessment, and you get a score for each of these elements to see how well you're doing your job to make it easier for clients to buy from you. What should be prioritized? Should I kind of double down on the strengths? Should I cover the gaps? Where do you start? Can any of you guess the answer?

Write in the chat. I'll give you a tip: the answer is what every consultant says to a client whenever a tricky question gets asked.

Yes, yes (laughs). So yes, the answer is "it depends". Where do you start? So the emphasis... let's say, how much attention you dedicate to each of those different elements will change depending on the kind of service that you provide. And this is where the three categories of professional services come in. Which are in the the title of the chat here. There are a billion ways to categorize consulting services, professional service firms, this is one that they explore in in this book. And I think it's quite interesting.

So, we have evergreen service providers, or evergreen firms. With evergreen services, you work with clients year-in and year-out. A typical example would be a tax accountant. Or an HR consultant who checks and vets new employees. Or an IT consultant who provides some kind of recurring maintenance of systems. So, an evergreen service is something that is cyclical, you work with clients year-in year-out. Every year you need to do your taxes. Every quarter you need to perform some operational tasks. Ok.

The second category is acute, so acute service providers they come to the rescue just in time. So here, an example would be a turnaround consultant. A consultant is specialized in helping companies who are going bankrupt or in the risk of bankruptcy. This engagement, this kind of engagement, it's not recurring. It happens rarely, and it's often very urgent. It's an emergency. You come to rescue the client.

The last one would be optimizing services. So optimizing services, they help clients improve a specific aspect of the business. So here, if you're a consultant who helps clients increase revenue, decrease costs, reduce risk you are offering optimizing service, ok? It's a discretionary engagement. You may be, for example... a cyber security consultant. So you're improving the security of their data. Or a strategy consultant, so you're reviewing the overall strategy for next year. Or you're a marketing consultant, developing a go-to-market plan, for example. All of these services, they have a direct impact. On revenue, costs, they bring concrete value for clients. But they are discretionary. It's not an emergency. That's the difference from the acute services. For example, a web developer provides an optimizing services. I might recognize that I need a new website, but I can do it today, I can do it next month, or I can do it at the end of the year - depending on cash flow, how many things are going on right now for me... it's not an emergency I need to react to.

Now, I'm putting here a quick poll for you to tick. How would you categorize your services here? Evergreen, acute, or optimizing? There's a quick poll here. I don't know if I did this right. Yes.

Ok. Yes, so most of you... I won't wait for everyone to click here but most of you are offering some kind of optimizing service, as expected.

Now let's see how this fit in the client journey. So all of these seven elements are important. They matter. You need to look at them, you need to assess them regularly, and this will improve your marketing effectiveness, your business development effectiveness ok? However, depending on which category of services you fit here, some of these elements are more critical than others. There are critical elements that drive engagements, as I put here. I'll quickly show what they are, explain why they need to be prioritized because this is... this is really really important for you to make the best of your time. You're not redoing your go-to-market, your business development strategy, you're not looking at it at all times. But we can and should look at the critical parts of it and give more attention to it. That will certainly bring a lot of value and lift a lot the quality and the results of your campaigns.

Ok. Now, let's start with evergreen services. Evergreen services, as I said, they are offered on an ongoing basis right, or cyclical basis. And, what's interesting here is, if you think about it... let's think about an accountant, ok? A tax professional. Almost every company hires an accountant to prepare the taxes every year. It's not a matter of IF they engage with an accountant. It's a matter of WHO your accountant is. And I'm saying accountant because it's the most universal support service. But depending on your industry, on your niche, there are some critical activities that every single one of your potential clients need to perform.

Again, let's imagine your accountant. Because your service is so standardized, the challenge is how to differentiate from other accounting firms. Because the operational IP, the delivery, is standardized. It's not a big mystery how you do taxes. It's well documented. There are manuals, courses, certifications and so on. So what you want is to hold on to long-term clients, of course, and avoid new competition. And to do that these other elements are not that important. The key elements are "aware", so they need to know you, and "trust", they need to trust you. If you think about it for example, "interest": is your service relevant for me? No one asks, "is accounting services relevant to me?" because you need to do them (laughs). So not much work is needed to to generate interest. "Readiness": the timing is good. Well, you need to do them anyway, right? So, for evergreen service providers what prospects are asking themselves are: "do I know you?", and "can I really count on you to deliver what you're selling?" These are the questions.

Now let's see the acute service providers. So acute services are bought on a short notice, usually to solve an emergency. These are firms that are specialized in, for example, crisis management, bankruptcy, system crashes, PR disasters, turnarounds. And the critical elements here is "understand" and "respect". Now, "understand" comes from, the the way I see it... the big challenge is how do you articulate your niche clearly. What buyers are asking themselves are, "do you do exactly what I need?" Because in the middle of an emergency you want the expert. you want a specialist. So do you do exactly what I need. There's no space for vague descriptions, broad positioning. There's no space for that. "Ah, it's a generalist firm." No. Do you do exactly what I need? It needs to be clearly communicated. And the other challenge is "respect", establishing a high level of credibility. "Are you the best?" because when an emergency hits, the best will be top of mind.

Acute service providers usually need to be able to provide case studies. They need to show track record. They need to... and most importantly, they need to cultivate a network of referral sources. This is key. Because if you think about it, it's usually the generalist who refers clients to specialists, right? So, let's say I'm a turnaround consultant. A specialist in helping companies who are going bankrupt. I will probably work on several relationships with financial advisors. For example, a financial advisor who knows exactly the situation of his clients, he might say to a client, "you know, I see things are looking grim. I can't help you with a turnaround plan, but I often send clients to Dan Kreimer and hear good things back. He's a specialist, they are specialists at this, at helping companies who are going through what you are about to go through, reach out." This is how you need to navigate in terms of business development. It's quite obvious, but still many partners forget about this. If you think about it, if I'm a turnaround consultant I can't afford to go directly to organizations. First, because bankruptcy events are rare. I don't know who's going to go bankrupt and who's not. I can maybe look at news and say, "ok, they're not doing that great", but that doesn't give me the the right or enough clarity to approach a company and offer services. So I cannot go directly to prospects, I can't invest that time. First, because we don't know who will be interested in the service, and second because it's so rare. I can never know about the timing. I can't nurture relationship with 10,000 companies that I think might go bankrupt someday. I cannot do that. Instead, my time will be better spent by working on partnerships. Creating relationships with those referral sources. So if I have, let's say 150 financial advisors who usually send referrals my way... we can have some kind of structured partnership program, it's much much more effective. That's where the focus usually is. Now, these other... for example, "ready". You don't need to assess readiness for acute services. It's an emergency. So, this really gives you a map of where you should focus in terms of client journey stages.

Now, optimizing services. Most of you. I think it's quite clear that, when you compare those  three kind of services, consultancies selling optimizing services have the hardest sell. The hardest sell of all of these, simply because their services are optional. In the book there's a great analogy to explain this. The author said - I'm quoting from memory - the author said, let's say you you want to get in shape. If you want to get in shape you can hire a gym membership, for example. This is an evergreen service. If you get really sick you go to see a doctor. You go to see a specialist, a doctor. But what would make you hire a personal trainer? Under what conditions would you hire a personal trainer, which is an optimizing service? And the answer is ... when your priorities change. Really. When for some reason your priorities have changed, and now it makes sense to to hire specialized help to get fit. This is why we have "interest" here, we need to proactively generate some kind of curiosity, and "readiness", we need to be close to the prospects, we need to have some kind of nurturing activities so we know that as soon as their priorities change, or there's a trigger event, something happened, we will be close we will be top of mind they will remember us.

For example, let's talk about... since most of you are offering optimizing services, "interests". Most micro consultancies which are offering optimized services need to work hard to proactively generate demand and interest. You can look at existing demand, but then you're competing on price. You're getting into competitive deals, where it's very difficult to charge premium fees, very difficult to gain buyers' preference. So you're usually spending a lot of time, investing a lot of time in creating demand and creating interest. Let's say, for example, I'm a consultant specialized in helping Fortune 500 companies to create a strategic narrative for their brand. I'm making this up, but I know that there are some people who offer this kind of services. So I'm specialized in helping Fortune 500 companies to create a strategic narrative for their brand. Now, that's great. But if you're the client and you know me, so you're aware, and you know what I do and understand what I do, what you're thinking is: "Ok, how exactly does it help me? Why would I ever need this?"

And especially if I'm talking about Fortune 500 companies, I might be an executive in the leadership team, or I'm managing a team... I don't have a lot of time. I'm not doing research to find out what exactly a strategic narrative is, how it affects my brand... I'm not doing it. So it's your job to, it's your responsibility to educate me. Now, what I will probably be doing if I'm the one selling those those services is, I will be adding value and I will be asking questions and listen attentively, which is the whole key behind consultative selling. So I might start, for example, sharing an article or some content on what a brand narrative is and how it helped Fortune 500 companies create competitive advantages. I might start there. Later, or if I already have a relationship with this buyer or already know this person, I may offer, for example, a 60-minute workshop where... ok, I'll assess what your brand team is doing now, what they are not doing yet that could improve brand coherence, and then I'll estimate what the impact of those changes would be for your marketing and recruitment teams, for example. let's tie it up, let's see what your goals are for the year, for the quarter, let's look at what your brand team is doing. Let me identify some of the things that can be improved here and I'll quantify them for you. So throughout those conversations you start to build interest and curiosity. It's easier for a potential client to see how they can benefit from my expertise or my offerings. We're tight on time so let's... this was the the whole idea for this quick chat here, to give you this map and make you think about those different elements and where you should probably allocate more attention when planning your business development or marketing initiatives. Now, let me take a look at the questions. I'll stop here the the sharing.

Ok, so this is a good question from Tim.

"I'm offering an optimizing service. How proactive should I be in creating interest and readiness? We usually wait for a demonstration of interest, and then work to stay close to those prospects."

How proactive should you be? Right, so this is interesting. I hear this often from partners and what I often say is that not all leads or opportunities are the same. How they came to exist, and your interactions with them, they matter. Sometimes you look at the map, you take a look at your pipeline for example, these are the opportunities, these other conversations I'm having, and you play the numbers game. And you forget that how they came up matters. So let's imagine, for example...  I'm going to try something new here. I'm going to try to use this this whiteboard from Zoom. I've never used it before. Let's see if it works.

Ok, so this is the whiteboard. So, how proactive should you be? I will be playing the consultant here (laughs), playing up the stereotype, and making this two by two matrix. So, for example, let's say we have... the main factors were "interest" and "readiness" for optimizing services so let's say we have here "interest" on the horizontal axis and here we have "readiness". And here I have "proactive". "Reactive". "Proactive". "Reactive". I'm sorry about that, I'm making this on the go. So let's take a look at the different options, the different strategies that you can follow here for how proactive you should be.

Let's say you're reactive on "interest", so you're not creating interest, you're waiting for people to raise their hands. And you're reactive on "readiness", so you're also waiting for them to tell you when they're ready to hire. In this case, I would say you're probably replying to RFPs. You're waiting for companies to put out RFPs and you're responding to them. This is a danger zone, I would say. Danger zone. I think you're all aware of the problems that you have here, which is mostly you're competing on price, you're suffering a huge commoditization pressure, because there are a bunch of companies who are bidding to offer the same service. If you're selling to larger companies, you will probably be stuck for a while in procurement hell. They will make all kinds of requests in terms of certification, they will try to negotiate even after you close, they will try to get ideas for free, get strategy for free, you will struggle to negotiate terms of payment. So here it's a danger zone, you don't want to be here, especially as a micro consultancy. We don't have a lot of runway.

Let's say now that we have a reactive "interest" generation, so again we're waiting for people to raise their hands and say "I'm interested in this", but proactive "readiness". So we're following up, we're staying in touch, we're staying top of mind. We're constantly talking to potential clients in the industry. But we're not doing anything in terms of generating interest or showing how our offerings are relevant to them. Here I would say it's probably... pointless communication. Basically, you're staying in touch, you have a nurturing program, you're sending recurring messages, you're nurturing relationships. You might be able to build relationships, probably putting out some... you're contacting potential clients regularly, or the people in your network, but you're doing nothing to show them what they gained from hiring your services. In this case, it's really ineffective. Your marketing is going to be ineffective, you're wasting time, you're wasting money. And it's also a poor experience for the people you're talking to, because there's no value for them. You're contacting them, "hey, we're here, we're doing this, we're doing that", it's all about you, or "what's up, what's  going on with you? What are the news, the new challenges?" But you do nothing to show how your offerings, or how your expertise can  help them. It's pointless communication. In this case, I would really recommend you to take a look at your demand generation initiatives, DGIs is how we call them. By the way, we have a workshop on designing, promoting, and delivering DGIs, demand generation initiatives. So, basically you have two goals with DGIs. First. you're sharing insights. You're sharing your expertise, to demonstrate it. You're not only talking about what you can do, you're showing what you can do. You're demonstrating expertise with DGIs. And the second goal is you're listening to these people, and saying "ok, so these are these the things you are working on now, these are some of the obstacles you might encounter, and these are potential opportunities that we may be able to help you with. Here I really recommend, and I'll write you here... I'll I'll send you by email probably the link to our DGI workshop that is happening, if I'm not mistaken, in September. A group workshop. So, this is the recommendation.

Now, let's say you're proactive in generating interest. You're educating, having thought-provoking conversations with prospects, you're showing how much value your services could bring to them, why they're relevant. But you're reactive with the "readiness". And here I would say your client's... Your client preference is at risk. Your client preference is at risk. I spoke with a partner of a small strategy consultancy last month, and he told me a story about an opportunity he was working on. It was a friend from his MBA, a guy who became an executive and went through the ranks. He contacted this friend, this MBA colleague, they had a few conversations, and he was the the exact profile of their their ideal client. So he did a workshop for this guy for free, and for the other partners in the firm. They got excited, they discussed potential opportunities they could work together, and the guy said, "ok, the timing is not right, can you reach out to me in April?" It was the end of year. And the guy said, "ok, sure". And in his pipeline he had, "ok, I can count on this, this is a project that is won. They know. we worked with them, they loved our team. This is a win deal. I don't need to worry about this." It came April and he reached out to his contact. Who said, "Wow David, I'm really sorry but we just hired another consultancy to do that job that that we have discussed back then." And then he said, "But why?! We did everything together, you told me to reach out in April, I thought we were aligned, our teams fit well together..." And, he said "Yes, but we felt the need to move fast with this, I was in a pressed, and you disappeared. I did not reach out. We wanted to do this fast, and another partner came up with the idea of talking to two other firms, so we did and we ended up hiring them." And the guy, of course, David... he was crushed. But he played in this quadrant here. He was proactive generating interest, but he left it to chance. He was way too soft following up, staying close with the prospect. And here you put your client preference at risk. You're doing the work for others basically. You're educating prospects, and then disappearing. And this opens the door for them to look for other opportunities. So here, if you want to to fix this, I would often recommend you to start looking at your business development habits and your systems. By the way, we also have a group workshop coming up - I did not prepare this guys (laughs) - we have a group workshop on business development habits coming up. Check it out. The habits allow you to stay close, to stay top of mind. And the systems is the efficiency part, right. How do you nurture the relationships, how you stay present when you have little to no time.

Here is where you want to be, really. How proactive you want to be? You want to be very proactive, as proactive as you can be. I don't know what I can say. Because if you're here you have the client preference. You're the one who educated, you're the one who showed him how your service can bring in more revenue, reduce costs, reduce risk. You showed him the concrete benefits that an offerings such as yours can bring to his business, and you stay in touch. You will have the client preference because you differentiated yourself in the mind of the buyer and you proved yourself to be trustworthy, to be there, to be consistent. That's what I would answer. That was fun, the whiteboard here. I won't have time for more questions, sorry guys.

And by the way, just to close this...

if you think about the quadrant "readiness" x "interest", being as proactive as you can be in generating interest and staying close to the clients it's not only more effective to you but it's also how clients enjoy buying. This is something that deserves saying. The numbers... I think I had them a couple of newsletters ago. 71% of clients wish consultancies contacted them earlier in the client journey. So, seven out of ten. They realize they're not able to understand their problems, they realize they're not able to identify solutions by themselves. So contacting earlier and working to proactively create demand and interest is a win-win. The client doesn't want to waste his time or money working on the wrong things, and you and your consultancy win client preference and avoid procurement hell. So really a win-win. But that's it. Thanks, thank you to all of you who joined. We'll have another chat in two weeks time, we'll be talking about IP. Intellectual property. What and how to to document.

See you in the next one, wish you a great Thursday for all of you guys.

Thanks for watching or reading. You can get more specialized and actionable growth insights for micro consultancies in our newsletter. Every Tuesday, you get one idea from Danilo, one quote from other experts, one number you need to hear, and one question for you to level up your consulting practice.

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