Managing a Sales Funnel for Your Consulting Business

Photo by buddawiggi on FlickrWhen you’re worried about where your next engagement is coming from, it’s already too late. You’re at the point of desperation and may be tempted to take on work that doesn’t align with your goals just to pay the bills. Not good for business.

What should you have done? Better yet, what will you do next time, after you’ve ridden out this rough patch and are working on business development again? Create and managing a sales funnel. We spoke to our friend Brian Sullivan, Vice President of Global Accounts at Sandler Trainingwho offered us this advice:

View Your Sales Funnel as a Live Tool

Your sales funnel is a living entity that needs regular attention. It’s not a diary you pull out every few days and then put back on the shelf to collect dust.

To make it easy, make sure you have a simple vehicle in place that enables you to collect details about prospects and where exactly they are in your sales funnel. (download our consulting sales pipeline template.) When you do, it can yield valuable data, including early warning signs you’ve gotten off track.

Turn Down Work That Doesn’t Fit

If a prospect turns out to be a bad fit, then move on. Being honest early with yourself and with the prospect when a deal does not match your business profile will free you up to pursue and win deals that do. And the prospect will appreciate your candor and be more likely to consider you for future engagements than if you continued to pursue something you were not suited to deliver on.

To qualify each opportunity, ask yourself questions like:

• Have I done this kind of work before?

• Do I have the capacity to take on the work?

• If not, do I have trusted partners in place to sub-contract to?

• Does the proposed payment schedule and the client’s track record of payment match my cash flow needs?

• Can I price the engagement in a way where I make money?

• If I get this engagement, will it lead to additional business opportunities for me?

• Does the engagement involve work I can replicate elsewhere?

Discuss Budget Early

Asking a prospect what kind of budget they have in mind for a particular engagement is perfectly acceptable, as long as you’ve established a rapport with them. While it’s good to be thinking about money from the beginning, it’s best not to blurt out budget questions until you have a clear understand of the scope of the work – and what key pains or needs must be addressed.

Once you do, though, don’t be shy when it comes to asking about budget. It’s better to find out early in the process that a prospect doesn’t have the budget secured, or has to wait until the start of a new fiscal year to fund a project.

(Read more about talking budgets with buyers.)

Learn From the Wins and the Losses

As the saying goes, “you win some, you lose some.” And, as a consultant, you should leverage both outcomes to fine-tune your business development efforts.

Start by taking a look at common elements of engagements you’ve closed. Is there a specific service or solution you’re offering that is more in demand? Are successful engagements focused on a certain size business or within a particular industry or niche?

Likewise, analyze your losses; specifically, look for the pattern among them. For instance, is there a stage within the sales process where you’re falling short? Or is there a certain kind of project you’re not able to close?

The more clearly you understand your successes and failures, the higher your win rate will be in the future.

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