How Consultants Who Aren’t “Natural Born Sellers” Can Still Sell Successfully

Guest post from the editors of

Oily. Smarmy. Phony. Mendacious. Two-Faced…

Right or wrong, these words are often associated with salespeople. They are also the first words that come to mind for many consultants (along with images of the overly aggressive, overly slick, walking sales cliché) when they are told they need to sell.

While being salesy is ill-advised for almost any sales rep, it is particularly bad for consultants.

Buyers of products often say, “I don’t like the sales rep, but I can tune her out for the next few minutes and simply evaluate her product against the competition.”

Buyers of consulting evaluate the sellers. Why? The seller is often the service provider. The relationship does not end when the sale is completed – it is just beginning. Thus, the foundation of trust set up between the buyer and seller in the sales process is of paramount importance.

There is Nothing Wrong with Selling

Quite the contrary, the act of selling, when done well, adds a significant amount of value. A well-planned sales conversation can help even sophisticated buyers make smarter decisions.

And, you can be effective without sounding like a used car salesman. You can and should sell with high integrity, and high success, and do it without snake oil tactics.

In fact, we’re going to let you in on a little secret: you can apply the same skills that make you a great consultant to help you succeed in selling—all you need to do is sharpen them to apply them effectively.

As a Consultant You Already Have Many Skills You Need to Be Great at Sales

Here are four ways you can apply consulting skills to your selling process:

1. Sell as You Serve: Many consultants who have never sold think the purpose of selling is to part someone from their money at any cost. They believe that to be successful at selling, consultants must leave their values and everyday personalities at the door and adopt a sleazy persona and voice, one that would naturally say something like, “What’s it gonna take to get you into this shiny, red, pre-owned sports car today, ma’am?”

Nothing is further from the truth. The best rainmakers bring in new clients because they are no different when they sell their services than when they deliver their services.

Great consultants create better futures for their clients that the clients didn’t know were possible.

The best rainmakers meet mutually-set expectations over and over again, building trust, relationships, and confidence. The best rainmakers are ethical at all times.

The skills that make you a great consultant can make you a great rainmaker. Sales is about helping clients and prospects find solutions that solve their problems and help them succeed.

2. Sell to Need: Great consultants are masters at uncovering clients’ goals and challenges and helping them to make the changes necessary for success.

Great rainmakers are no different. However, many consultants feel uncomfortable making connections, uncovering needs, and working closely with people they don’t yet know well. Too often the first conversations go awry when they don’t need to.

The same skills you use to get to the root of your clients’ problems and develop solutions to help them meet their goals are the ones you can use to uncover prospects’ needs and propose winning solutions. You just need to recognize what you need to do and bring these skills out at the right time and in the right way.

3. Communicate the Value: Great consultants understand the value they provide to clients. They craft compelling solutions based on their clients’ unique needs, and communicate that value to clients clearly and articulately.

Selling is no different. You must learn to lead discussions that influence direction and outcomes, and you must advocate your services and communicate your value. Just like when you advocate new ideas to your clients when you work with them, you must be persuasive, confidence inspiring, and empathetic all at the same time when you sell to them.

4. Plan for Success: It’s been said that if you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will get you there.

Great consultants have a clear process that they follow. Each project has a specific objective, timeframe, budget, and resource allocation. Rainmaking is no different. Like consulting, selling is a process, and it’s waiting for you to master it.

Make the Transition from Consultant to Rainmaker

To help you figure out what that selling process should look like and to make the transition from consultant to rainmaker, we’ve written a free 27-page report, Selling Consulting Services: Forget Everything You Know About Sales and Begin to Sell Without Selling.

This report will give you a proven process you can use to start bringing in more new business now. Plus, you’ll learn:

  • • How to avoid being “salesy” (which will actually lead to more sales)
  • • A proven process that will get you started bringing in more new business today
  • • How to uncover the full set of your clients’ needs (most sales advice only gives you half the story)
  • • Whether or not cold calling is dead
  • • The best kept secret in leading successful sales conversations

Download the Selling Consulting Services free report now.

Disclosure: As a consultant whose expertise is in helping clients with online marketing, social media and SEO — not selling — I know how difficult this can be for service providers. While has offered to pay me a small commission for anyone who signs up for their training program, I wouldn’t have published this post if I didn’t believe that this is an excellent program for talented but sales-challenged consultants.

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  1. Interesting comment, and for the most part I agree.

    That being said, anyone who is selling should know what they’re doing. And for consultants it’s perhaps even more important, because a consultant “eats what he kills” and if they don’t kill anything, they don’t eat. So take the commission from RainToday, if a consultant signs up for their training courses and that helps them be more successful, you’ve done everyone a good turn an you deserve the commission.

    By the way we are NOT in the sales trainig business or in the CRM business, but we do have a lot of consultants who use our product to help them with their selling activities. We also have a blog which focuses on sales.

    Mel Harding

  2. Thanks for the input Mel. To me, the challenge is to properly balance my time between consulting (which feeds my kids today) and business development (which feeds them tomorrow). Anything that makes me more efficient at the latter gives me more time for the former, which is a wonderful thing.

  3. There is a delicate balance between being too salesy and not pushing enough. I can sell from my web site, but had a really hard time selling in the offline world. Much easier writing sales copy than picking up the phone!

  4. @Wendy- I feel the same way. It’s something about the shroud of comfort that the web gives us that makes it much easier to be sales-y, and, since it isn’t inherent within us, to actually change personas a little. It is much harder to do this in real life.

  5. When you’re not a natural salesman, asking for the close is the really hard bit … I’ve got the “Phsycology of Selling” by Brian Tracy, the cds are a few years old now, but have given me a lot of confidence and tips that have really helped … never leave a prospect without having tried a close is what I’ve learnt, if you don’t ask you don’t get!

  6. I couldn’t agree with you more. Consultants and professionals must sell, but do so in a subtle manner. Acting distant and like you don’t care isn’t good for business. The biggest firms sell to clients because they want the work. They put a ton of resources into selling a project. There’s no reason a solo consultant shouldn’t do the same.

    That said, avoid over-promising and under-delivering. This never works out well in the end.

  7. Thanks Jack. Spot on – setting proper expectations is crucial. Under-promising and over-delivering is the key to building successful long-term client relationships.

  8. It is fascinating yet essential that we are most of us natural salesmen. We are stymied only by the shared truth that we gain if they buy. If you really don’t care what others think of you (as opposed to caring or not caring about the prospect), you can be successful. It is that easy. It is that hard!

  9. Thanks for the great tips!! I’m very new to consulting and having read this, i’m a 100% more confident. Too bad I missed out on the free report. Are there going to be any new free reports in the future? Selling is the hardest thing for me. Thanks again for all the great tips, Keep it up!!

  10. Hi Joey – thanks, glad this was helpful! As for additional reports – nothing planned, but it’s possible.