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Making a winning consultant pitch

You’ve managed to successfully bag a first meeting with a prospective client. Hopefully the business need will have been defined so you can take the time to analyse their needs and draw from your own background the resources you have to solve their issues.

The focus of your attention and time has got to be their needs and what you have got to offer them to help. When you meet them it will not be the time to plunge in and talk about yourself. You are planning for a meeting that will mean moving one step closer to establishing trust and also demonstrating to them with every single interaction what kind of consultant you will be.

How to properly showcase yourself

First and foremost you need to show that you have the skills of a consultant who understands the difference between this and a permanent executive role, and the starting point of this is ensuring that you already think of yourself in this way. You are a consultant and this is the transition that you need to have made mentally before you attend the interview.

By applying for consultancy based projects, you are putting yourself into an unfamiliar position of vulnerability. You are the person who needs to prove yourself and you are being assessed. Make sure you are ready to make this mental adjustment.

In every single dealing that you have with the company or the recruiter charged with sourcing a consultant, ensure that you show them the kind of person that you are. The easiest thing is to be prompt in your responses to them, courteous and succinct in your communications, and always showing that you are professional and efficient.

Take nothing for granted

When you are planning for the interview, take nothing for granted. This is the time for punctuality. Find out everything you can about the interview itself. Who will be attending? How long have they scheduled for the meeting? Is it an informal first stage chat over a coffee or is it a panel interview - or is it something in between? You need to make the right kind of impact and establish credibility to ensure that management teams will be ready to listen and respect your experience and your plans.

Treat it like an interview

Being interviewed for a consultancy role will be very different from any interviews you may have had for an executive role. It may not even be called an interview, but could be called an opportunity to present, to bid, to tender or to have an informal discussion. Whatever it is called, the outcome will be the same - a decision on whether or not to hire you for your services.

You need to be ready to deal with whatever method of evaluation and decision-making that the company has. Whilst it is impossible to second guess the track they will go down, it is possible to anticipate what most of the interview questions could be. The most successful person at interview is generally someone who has spent time reflecting and anticipating the questions that could be asked. Not only that, the best person at interview is the one who is able to set the agenda and subtly gain control by guiding the debate down the routes that show them in the best light, highlighting their strengths or showcasing their subject matter expertise.

Do a presentation

It is safe to assume that the company will already know something about you. You will have sent them a link to your website, they may have your CV and any marketing materials that you have created to support your business. However, the best way to be prepared is to have a presentation ready to show them when the opportunity presents itself. Some businesses will ask you to prepare something in advance, but the best approach is to have something anyway. This should not be a generic ‘salesy’ PowerPoint that you have on your laptop for sales situations like this. You’re pitching for an assignment that will have significant monetary value, so take the time to create a slideshow that is short, creative and focuses on the business you are meeting. This will be a consultancy presentation on how to approach the specific needs of this one business.

If possible you should include previous examples of how you have tackled and resolved similar situations. The risk in creating this presentation is that it will be an active example of how you work. If the presentation is long and dull with 1000 words per slide, then you run the risk of killing the project off. However, a creative short slideshow that is colourful, insightful and concise, clearly created specifically for this one meeting, will win the day. This is a chance to show your consultancy skills so make the most of it.

Be armed with questions and answers

The top tips for this initial meeting are to plan your answers and have examples and illustrations front of mind. Strike a balance between a strategic approach and providing specific examples and anecdotes that are backed up by data, turning the meeting into an opportunity to showcase your personal style.

The prospective client will be using this interview to gauge what kind of consultant you will be and how you will fit into existing teams. Think about the qualities you wish to demonstrate - not someone who has the answer to everything. When they ask ‘Do you have any questions for us?’, have 2 or 3 carefully crafted questions that show you understand the business issues. This meeting will require you to be firing on all cylinders. Not only are you ensuring that you are giving the best possible picture of who you are, you need to be making points as well as answering them.

Keep gathering information

You need to be highly observant, noticing the dynamics of the people you are meeting and working hard to establish the rapport you need in order to leave them with the impression that you would fit well with them. You might have the perfect background and the best skills and experience, having answered every question impeccably, but if you do not fit with them or they do not fit with you, you will get nowhere.

In addition to having presented brilliantly, when you leave that meeting you need to have gathered more information about them so that you know if you want to proceed with your interest in the project. Remember that the decision-making is two way and you’re interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

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