When I first started in the consulting business in my twenties, I couldn’t gain large corporations as clients. I thought the problem was my age, but I would eventually discover that it was something else.
That discovery happened when the firm I worked for asked a few vendors to bid on a market research project. I sat in on the vendor presentations. Two of the presenters were seasoned salespeople from large, well-known firms who presented well. They talked about work they had done in the past and the process they would use to get the data we wanted. While we felt they were competent, they didn’t wow us.
It was the third presenter, a young woman in her twenties named Marsha, who blew us away.
Although Marsha was less experienced than her competitors, she demonstrated something the others didn’t. We saw the difference when she started describing how the most successful companies these days were changing how they conducted and used research. She shared with us some recent studies and reports and showed us how new research methods could double and triple the value of research to an organization. The real-life examples of her work with big corporations that she used really made what she was saying come alive for us. Her knowledge seemed endless, and all of us in the room were eager to pick her brains. We ended up having a fascinating discussion on how we could make the most of the research we had planned to do.
At the end of her presentation I thought about the difference between her and the other two presenters. That difference really came down to one thing—expertise. The other two were fine researchers, but Marsha was an expert. She was a walking encyclopedia of state-of-the art of market research.
We wanted Marsha’s expertise, and so we made the no-brainer decision to go with her.
As I reflected on Marsha’s presentation, I realized that my youth wasn’t blocking me from access to large corporations, just like it hadn’t blocked Marsha from her big clients. It was my lack of knowledge. I simply didn’t have the expertise it took to wow my prospects.
And that’s when I made a personal goal to become—in six months—an expert in the field I was consulting in—business planning. To do that, I did these five main activities:
- Read half a dozen planning books
- Reviewed dozens of studies, white papers, and magazine articles
- Watched and listened to countless TED talks, podcasts and webinars
- Enrolled in three different courses
- Booked short meetings with ten or so business leaders I admired to pick their brains
I essentially inhaled everything I could find on business planning. And as I worked with my clients I made sure to ask as many questions and learn as much as I could about their businesses, their issues and their successes.
Landing my first big client
The time investment I made in that six-month period changed my career. I learned a ton about business planning and how companies like my clients could use it in cutting-edge ways to grow revenue. After than intensive learning period I landed an appointment with a major institution. Throughout that meeting I wowed the decision makers with my expert knowledge and opened their eyes to state-of-the art business planning processes that could transform their organizations. They gave me the go-ahead and became my first big corporate client.
The last word
I didn’t stop learning after that six-month period. I made learning part of my practice. That’s the thing with expertise. It can get stale pretty quickly. And really, that’s why the first two guys didn’t impress us much. Their presentations were probably the same ones they had been giving for years.
I keep my expertise fresh and that brings me a steady stream of big clients.