4 signs a prospect relationship is going nowhere

Last week I wrote that senior level decision makers want and value long-term partnerships. They find transactional selling off-putting and time consuming. Instead they carve out careers by working with valued team members, fellow executives, and a few well chosen outsiders.

This inner network is precious to them. And it’s where we, as consultants, need to be. Some refer to it as the Trusted Advisor position.

It can take a lot of effort to build this type of relationship and unfortunately consultants tend to rush and not take the time needed. They fear that if they don’t hustle for work they’ll fall into “a series of interesting conversations that go nowhere, slowly.”

So, how do you avoid investing time in dead-end prospect relationships? Here are 4 signs that things are going nowhere:

  1. Saying everything. Saying Nothing. This is the prospect that tells you all about their business. How great their company is. The reporting structures. What they’ve achieved. The list goes on and on. What they never talk about are the issues and opportunities they face personally, or those of their organisation. Ask yourself, “is this prospect every likely to have, or admit to, a problem I can help with?”
  2. Endless fascination. The curious prospect who’s like a giant sponge wanting to learn about you, your experiences, your business. They are great listeners and question askers. It’s easy to get drawn into the conversation and want to go back for more. The prospect make you feel important and valued. Ask yourself, “is this prospect more like a fellow traveller than a business leader?”
  3. Busy bee. Fluid agenda. These prospects turn up late, cancel meetings at short notice and are generally disorganised and chaotic. You can identify them by their fluid agendas. Every meeting brings a new crisis they need to solve, you talk about it but by the next time you meet the issue has gone off the boil. Ask yourself, “will this a prospect ever focus on one thing enough to knuckle down, work through the issue, look at the impact, and make a decision to bring me in?”
  4. Food for thought. OK there’s nothing wrong with meeting for coffee or lunch with prospects. The problem comes when ambitious executives pick your brain multiple times, yet never engage you as a consultant. Ultimately this is about the boundaries you’ve put in place with them. I’ve heard consultants give away £1M ideas for the price of a steak, or coffee. Ask yourself, “do I exchange too much thought for food?”

The bottom line

It can take months (years) of nurturing to get yourself into a C-level executives’ inner circle. Choose your prospects carefully.

And, please let me know what you do to avoid the “interesting conversations” trap.