Personality and Selling Consulting

If consultants played more a proactive role in selling, consultancies could grow faster and be more profitable.

I strongly believe that anyone who can work with a client in a consulting relationship can develop new business by holding the right kind of conversation.

But the consultant must know what to do, how to do it, and they must want to do it.

In future videos I will cover these issues, but right now the question is, am I right? Do consultants really have what it takes to be effective in selling consultancy?

Or must they have a special kind of personality to succeed?

That’s what this video is about.

To help us answer this question, we consulted Nick Shannon of Management Psychology.

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Slow down! Build trust faster.

This is a very simple way of demonstrating that you understand your client. And that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.

Some consultants treat clients as if they are just a source of problems to solve.

Consultants are expected to be on the ball all the time. They probably went through a gruelling testing process to get the job in the first place. They had to show that they could absorb information quickly and respond rapidly.

So, it’s not surprising that this can spill over into the way they relate to clients.

A client meeting can seem like an exciting test. How quickly can you get on top of the problems and come up with a credible solution? And then present it in a compelling way.

But hold on a minute. How do clients really judge whether they can trust a consultant?

I mean trust to the point where they will spill the tea, give you the lowdown, and talk about the kind of stuff you’d wish you’d known before you started the project.

If you think back to the last time you went to someone for serious advice, I doubt that you wanted them to jump down your throat with an immediate answer. Even if it turned out that it was the right answer.

You probably wanted to feel that you were understood. That you were being treated as an individual, and that the person you were speaking to was on your side, had got your back.

Now the good news is that to create that feeling in a client, you don’t have to have a personality transplant and present yourself as a caring person.

Just a few simple behaviour changes will get you a long way. So, don’t just say, “I understand” or “I get it.” And then ask the next question. Demonstrate that you understand and get it.

You could say, “What I understand from what you are saying is …” Or you could say, “Have I got this right? Are you saying …?”

And don’t forget to listen for what is just below the surface. How about if you say, “From what you said, I get the impression that …”

It’s all about getting into the habit of using particular words and phrases like this so that they come naturally, and you automatically demonstrate you have taken on board what the client has been saying.

By showing the client that you have heard them, by going out of your way to offer a little summary of what you have understood so far, you will reassure the client that they have been heard.

When you slow down a little to make time for this, they will feel less need to keep repeating the same stuff again and again, and you may well get to where you want to go in a shorter time.

Why would they do that?

Thoughtful young consultant

As a coach I get to act as a sounding board when people with expertise want to test out a proposition for their clients. It can get complicated when there is more than one stakeholder.

When there is one proposition and several stakeholders, it’s easy to slip into focusing on the proposition instead of thinking about the interests of the individuals to be influenced.

One of the most powerful questions I can ask is, “Why would they do that?” What usually emerges is that there is not just one proposition, but several: one for each of the stakeholders.

At first this sounds complicated, but it invariably turns out that it is easier to develop several straightforward influencing strategies than one complicated one which overloads individual stakeholders with information they don’t care about.

What is your experience?

If you would like an informal chat about how you position your practice, why not book a free session with me.

Just go to and choose the discovery call and a day and time to suit you.

Let’s speak soon.

12boxes and the UK’s departure from the European Union

From February 1st, 2020 the UK is no longer a member of the EU. This means that as from 1st January 2021 the trading relationship between the UK and the EU will change in ways that have yet to be agreed.

As the owner and principal coach of 12boxes Ltd, it has always been my intention that our services should be easily available to individuals and organisations in the European Union. This was a major consideration in my obtaining citizenship of Ireland in October 2017. (In addition, I will continue to hold a UK passport.)

The consequences of this are twofold. The first is that my capacity to deliver services in person throughout the EU will remain unchanged after 1st January 2021 whatever settlement is agreed.

The second is that my registration of the domain will continue to be valid despite my current base being London UK.

As a company registered in the UK, 12boxes Ltd will be monitoring developments during the remainder of 2020 and continue to adapt our policies to ensure that we remain EU compliant (including GDPR).

Thank you for your interest in 12boxes. I look forward to being of service to clients and associates throughout the EU.

Malcolm Sleath
1st February 2020

How to demonstrate credibility

I thought a bit before recording this video because the issue seemed so obvious to me that you might feel slightly insulted that I should bring it up at all. But something happened the other day that underlined the importance of what I’m talking about.

I was working with an independent consultant to whom a couple of things had happened to push him off track, and he needed to refocus. So, I suggested we revisit his value proposition.

One of the ways we do this in 12boxes is with something called a ‘people who’ statement. It’s a simple way of defining the target audience for a proposition and it goes something like this:

People who – are trying to do something
Because – why they want to do it
But something, which we specify, is getting in the way
So, they need a way of overcoming what is getting in the way so they can get on with achieving what they are trying to do.

The idea of this simple narrative is that it resonates with the target audience, so they go, “That’s me!”
That’s why the emphasis is on looking at the situation from the client’s point of view and describing the challenge in a way that they would recognise.

It’s not about what we would do for them. That can come later after we’ve established the value of overcoming the difficulties and achieving what they want.

Before my meeting with the consultant, I had shared with him the structure of the ‘people who’ statement and asked him to think about creating one from his clients’ point of view before we talked again.

But what came back was – guess what – a statement of what he could do for the client.

And when we had our meeting, he continued to repeat what he could do for the client.

It sounded as if he was delivering an elevator pitch and the more he repeated it, the less credible it felt. The problem was that it wasn’t describing a situation that one of his prospective clients would relate to.

One of the most important ways of building credibility with a client is not to parade your past achievements, or the distinguished history of your organisation, but to show that you can see things from your client’s point of view.

You might see this as a statement of the bleedin’ obvious. Forgive me if it seems like it.

But it is amazing that even experienced people forget that the most powerful phrases we can use with a client are things like, “Is this how you see it?” “Have I got this right?” “Is this the way it is?” or even, when we are feeling confident, “It’s like this, isn’t it.”

Even when we have got it slightly wrong, and the client jumps in to correct us, we are halfway there, because the client knows we are interested in them and their issues, and not just making a pitch.

I’m pleased to say that the consultant I was talking about did create a convincing ‘people who’ statement without too much difficulty, and he will be positioning himself in a way that will get his practice where it needs to be, with the focus firmly on where his clients are starting from and how they see things.

If you would like an informal chat about how you position your practice, why not book a free session with me.

Just go to and choose the discovery call and a day and time to suit you.

Let’s speak soon.

What to do when the client picks the wrong solution

You may have experienced this. You’ve had a preliminary chat with the client and go to see them with a solution in mind. When you get there, you find they have made their mind up to adopt a solution that you think is completely unsuitable. You are thinking screwdriver; they are thinking hammer.

So what do you say when the client has picked the wrong solution?

This is about why you shouldn’t immediately challenge the client, what you should do instead, and how you should go about it.

Why shouldn’t you challenge your client? The first thing I am going to do is contradict myself and say sometimes you can. It’s what I call the lifesaving ‘no’. If the client respects your authority, you might be able to say, “That’s not a good idea”, and they will accept it.

But most of the time you shouldn’t. This is because you are up against the motivator of consistency. Once people have said they are going to do something, they tend to feel that they should do it and if they don’t, they feel they lose face. So, if you directly challenge them, you are immediately establishing a conflict between your opinion and their emotion.

A similar thing happens if you ask, “Why did you decide on that solution?” The ‘Why word, has many uses, but in this situation, it is an invitation to your client to justify their decision. And you might well end up by reinforcing exactly the opposite of what you want – again because of their need to be consistent.

What I am going to suggest is that you find a way to focus on interests, rather than positions. The hammer is a position – and so, incidentally, is your screwdriver.

An interest is about what the person is trying to achieve with the hammer or the screwdriver. And you express this as what we call a WOST – a way of, so that. So, expressing the hammer or the screwdriver as a WOST might be a ‘way of fixing two pieces of wood together, so that they don’t come apart’.

So, how do you do get to the point where you can express your client’s position as an interest? Well, this is yet another use for an open question about the past beginning with the word ‘how’.

You can start by saying something like, “I’m interested in your thoughts on this. Can I ask, how did you arrive at the decision to use a hammer? What was in your mind at the time?”

By getting your client to do a bit of time travel, and retrace their steps you should find there is a point where you can say, “Oh I see, so what you were looking for, it’s a way of fixing two bits of wood together so they won’t come apart. Is that right?”

If you can get your client to agree to that, you are still allowing them to be consistent with their original intention.

And most people want to be seen as reasonable people, so you can now say, “So you would be prepared to speak about other ways of doing that.”

And then off you go with a conversation that is based on a shared understanding of the interests of your client.

Now I can’t guarantee that this will work, but it is a serious alternative to challenging your client’s entrenched view and ending up by getting them more committed than they were to start with.

It’s much more difficult if your client has already been speaking to other people about their preferred solution. This is why it’s almost impossible to be successful in submitting a non-compliant response to a request for a proposal.

Incidentally, if you have ever been successful in doing that, I would like to hear about it, because I generally discourage people from trying it, and I’d like to be proved wrong.

To summarise

  • avoid challenging your client, otherwise they might dig themselves in firmer
  • explore how they came to their view. Focus on the story, not getting them to justify it
    and from the story, work out the interest, the way of so that
  • Once they have agreed it, exploit their desire to be reasonable in discussing options
    And hopefully they will come to see that your screwdriver is really the tool for the job.

Thanks for inspiration to: Robert Cialdini, Elizabeth Stokoe, Roger Fisher and William Ury (who wrote “Getting to Yes”) and my clients.

If you would like an informal chat about how you position your practice, why not book a free session with me.

Just go to and choose the discovery call and a day and time to suit you.

Let’s speak soon.