Do you sell a service or a transformation?

Often in our consulting businesses we're so focused on finding clients, and persuading them to buy our services, that we actually forget about them!

We forget about what they’re really buying.

Hint: They’re not buying a service, but a transformation.

Let me explain.

There are typically 3 stages of maturity that consulting businesses go through when it comes to their services.

  1. Skills-focused
  2. Marketing-focused
  3. Transformation-focused

01 Skills-focused

The first stage, when you first start your consulting business, is when you’re all about the technical thing that you do. Whether you’re an accountant, an architect, an IT professional, whatever.

At this stage you typically don’t know a thing about marketing.

Of course, you do know your stuff when it comes to your technical capabilities. And you’ll have likely spent many, many years and lots of money acquiring those skills.

You’re an expert at what you do and you feel people will instantly recognise that.

You don’t think you need to market (at this stage you probably don’t even know that you need to market!), so your services are all about you.

Your LinkedIn profile still reads like an online CV espousing all the responsibilities that you had in your last employed job. You haven’t even started to think about the outcomes you delivered because that’s not how employment works.

At this stage the services page on your website still lists the things that you do.

For example, in my first consulting business I listed about 10 different services all based upon my technical expertise. Things like:

  • IT Strategy
  • Procurement
  • Project Management

(If you've got lots of services in your consulting business, read this article)

It’s no surprise that fledgling consulting businesses struggle to attract clients!

02 Marketing-focused

Either through being an incredibly switched on individual, or more likely through the pain of not having enough clients or money, you recognise you need to know more about marketing. So you immerse yourself in marketing training. You consume so much knowledge about marketing that, after a while, you start to think that’s what your job is!

Yet you never started a consulting business to be a marketer! (unless, of course, you're a marketing consultant). You started your business to deliver your technical skills to clients so that you could have the freedom and autonomy that you desired.

But instead you’ve become a slave to marketing.

By this time you’re probably following so many ‘gurus’ that you don’t know what to do anymore because they’re all giving conflicting advice.

What you have learnt, however, is that no-one is interested in your list of technical capabilities - sorry, I mean services - that you have listed on your website.

Don’t get me wrong, your business might have been going well at this stage. But you know that you can still count the number of concurrent clients you have on one hand. And the only “new” clients you’ve landed are people you already knew, or from a couple of lucky referrals. (You ask for referrals all the time, but nothing ever seems to come of it!)

In short, your marketing efforts are based on luck!

But it’s ok, because your website now lists the services that you offer. You’ve learnt that much.

For me, I’d learnt that people were looking for a service to help them achieve a goal. To resolve a business challenge using technology.

And that became my strap line was:

Resolving business challenges through technology

I changed my services list to sit within an overall programme of works.

I focused on helping businesses to identify technology solutions to resolve their immediate problems (IT Strategy), on helping them choose solutions from a bewildering array of options, and taking them through the complex purchasing process (IT Procurement), and I helped them to ensure that the technologies were implemented such that the original targeted business outcomes could be achieved (Project Management).

I was now at a point of marketing maturity where senior execs were open to listening to me.

But I still hadn’t quite realised what I was selling. I’d progressed from a list of my skills to a list of client-focused services. But I wasn’t quite yet at Stage 3.

03 Transformation-focused

After a long period of time, the penny finally drops. You’ve realised that it’s not your technical capabilities that your clients buy.

It’s not your pithy strap line or elevator pitch, or the polished list of services on your website.

Those things help of course, but what your clients are buying - and what you are selling - is transformation.

That’s right - TRANSFORMATION.

You help your clients to resolve their problems. But at the same time you help them to transform into something else.

Let’s take a look at some cases in point, starting perhaps unexpectedly, with food and beverage.

Let’s start with alcoholic drinks. What happens when you buy a Pimms?

Do you buy a tasty drink, or does it transform your mood? Does it take you immediately into a feeling of summer? How about some inspiration:

When we buy a Pimms we’re seeking transformation into a summer feeling; a feeling of relaxation.

Let’s up the ante and consider cars.

Largely all cars resolve the same problem of getting us from A to B quicker and easier, maybe with varying amounts of luggage. Of course, cars are designed to suit certain purposes and budgets.

But what’s the difference between a Ford and a Mercedes-Benz? They technically do the same thing, but they transform us in different ways. A Mercedes-Benz makes us feel more successful, more accomplished, maybe less at risk because due to perceived reliability.

That’s not to say that a Ford doesn’t provide transformation too. A Ford projects an image of financial consciousness, of sensibleness. 

Still not with me? Let’s get closer to home and consider my consulting business.

I help mid to large professional services firms to improve their project delivery capabilities. I do this through the provision of two services:

  1. Development of bespoke delivery methodology,
  2. Project lessons learned as a service.

My client is buying the transformation from being ‘ok’ at project delivery, to being exceptional (or at least above average). And that’s easily measurable through project outcomes, such as faster, cheaper delivery and great profits.

How is that measured? Lessons Learned as a Service anyone?

I’ll give one more example (this is not a plug, but perhaps closer to home and so easier to understand!).

In my coaching business I help consulting business owners to build sustainable, scalable and potentially saleable businesses. That’s what I consider a successful consulting business - one that is sustainable, scalable and maybe one day saleable.

But when clients come to me, they’re typically focused on a specific problem. Most of the time their biggest painpoint is the need for more clients.

Now I could just fix that for them by showing them a specific marketing approach. Problem solved.

But the thing is, the biggest problem most consulting business face isn’t the need for more clients. It’s much deeper than that. They need a much broader and deeper understanding of what it takes to run a successful consulting business. They just think that having more clients is all they need to resolve things.

If I helped them with just that, I'd be addressing their craving, their symptoms, but not the root cause.

Instead I transform them from a struggling consulting business owner to a savvy owner of a successful consulting business that is sustainable, can scale, and is building intrinsic value that means it might be sold one day.

So what stage are you at?

Does your consulting business sell transformation, or are still only focusing on services, or worse still, are you waiting for clients to come to you for your technical capabilities?

(Click here for a recent article on attracting your ideal client's attention)

Don’t agree with me?

Well, whatever your opinion I’d love for you to share it in the comments section below.

Images courtesy of Unsplash and the following photographers:

Jez Timms Katie Moum

  • Ohh wow, i love this article and indeed Eye-opening. Truth is most people come for consultation purposely to solve that on the surface problem but not the root cause of the problem. Therefore, it’s a better idea to package our services to provide transformational solutions. Let us not aim at selling our products and services, Its Time to sell Transformation.

    Thanks for Sharing.

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