5 reasons why your consultants won’t sell (and what to do about them)


Pay-off: Understand the top 5 limitations holding your consultants back from selling

Investment: < 7 minutes

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If you lead or manage a team of consultants who you think should be developing business but are holding back, it’s probably due to any or all of these five ‘value-limiting’ challenges.

If you are a consultant reading this who is resistant to developing business, this might help clarify what’s going on in your mind and will hopefully steer your thinking towards creating more value for your clients.

Why consultants resist developing business

Let’s start by acknowledging that business development or ‘selling’ doesn’t usually come naturally to most consultants, and probably wasn’t on their mind when they chose to pursue their career path.

I was once a consultant who was very uncomfortable with the idea of developing business or selling.

I faced all five of the challenges below – and learned to overcome each one.

To this day, it doesn’t come naturally to me. But I’ve sold into plenty of well known major global organisations including McKinsey and Company and Capgemini.


By developing tools, frameworks and ways of thinking that get me to do it. I’m an engineer by degree. I engineered and optimised a repeatable system to get me to do it. It works.

And most of the technical and management consultants, engineers, accountants and other professional service consultants I work with usually face the same challenges that I did. They could fix them too.

Here they are:

1. They don’t think they need to develop business or ‘sell’

Although they might have been asked to, or might feel a bit of pressure to do so, they think they’ll progress just fine without having to actually do it.

They might say that it’s not their job to, or they might accept that it is part of the job, but think that if they keep quiet, they’ll manage to avoid it and get paid anyway.

Or they might feel that times are good, and work keeps landing on their lap.

Some thoughts on this:

Trying to persuade anyone that “it’s not my job to sell” is an attempt at selling. Oh the irony. Maybe if they learned to do it better they’d get them themselves off the hook? (Or start enjoying it…)

The mark of a professional consultant

It’s understandable that they want to prioritise delivering and doing what they do best. But the mark of a professional consultant is one who continuously creates value for their clients and looks out for them. Professional consultants have their client’s back. They don’t have the blinkers on. They aren’t reactive. They’re proactive, curious, and always seeking to create more value.

And they’re out there. You don’t want them in your competitors firm, taking ideas and insights to your clients that your team failed to bring to your clients attention.

Someone’s probably working on doing that right now.

It comes back to the question that’s often on my mind when working with consultants; “do you want to be a professional consultant or appear to be a  professional consultant?”

Consultants need to develop business

Consultants won’t keep getting away with avoiding this. I’ve seen this way too many times now. As circumstances shift around them, sooner or later, consultants have to sell. They must sell themselves, their ideas, their insights, their solutions. If they don’t, when the pressure builds, they often find themselves having to sell themselves into another job. Usually a consulting job that requires them to sell.

It pays to get better at doing it.

The best time to learn to sell is immediately after you’ve learned to crawl and then walk. Crawl, walk, sell. The second best time is now. Stick it on your agenda.

2. They don’t want to sell or develop business

Those who accept that they need to develop business won’t all want to.

But when you explore why, in my experience, there are two main reasons behind it:

1. It conflicts with their self-image that they’ve spent their life building. Most consultants are smart, and they’ve spent their life priding themselves on being accurate – on getting things ‘right’. Why would they want to put themselves in a position where they’re about to fail, get rejected, and damage their otherwise immaculate self-image?

Well, there’s a solution to that, for those of us who like to get things right.

First, there’s a way to develop business so that you’re never really proposing solutions that don’t fit. It’s quite hard to be rejected when you’re not really proposing anything that can be rejected. And if an idea, suggestion or offer does get ‘rejected’ it just feels like progress when you’re respectfully collaborating with your buyer. You’re problem solving together. On the same team.

Second, you can create a robust and methodical activity plan that increases your chances. And so long as you follow it correctly, then you’re getting it ‘right’, regardless of the outcome. You can be accurate in your planned activity. You just have to clarify and commit.

And there’s something magical about leaning into sales activity; it gets results. Most people aren’t getting results because they’re not leaning consistently into the right activity. It’s that simple.

On to the second reason why consultants don’t want to sell…

2. They’re unclear on what it entails. Lack of desire is often magically solved at the ‘clarity’ level.

Often, much of what they don’t want to do, they don’t actually have to do and shouldn’t do.

Most people who aren’t experienced in effective business development, assume you have to say and do things that you don’t.

Sales fear

People exaggerate their fears. If you fear spiders, you never picture a tiny one around the corner. You picture a huge one. One that’ll bite your hand off. It’s how we’re wired.

We fear what we can’t see, what we don’t understand. We fear the unknown. So we make something up to ‘see’. And we create in our mind the worst possible sales person we could imagine.

The remedy?

Make the unseen ‘seen’, make it understood, make it known. Get clarity. Get clarity on the real, sensible, professional business development activity we should be starting with. Start exploring those sales or business development professionals who are honest, trusted, smart and who we respect and admire. Then we can make a plan to become a bit like that.

Get clear on the small stretches we can and should make. Get clear on more comfortable alternative ways to achieve the same result.

The next belt

And to be clear myself here, your consultants shouldn’t be aiming to become salesperson of the year. They’re not going for their blackbelt. They just need to get clear on how to get the next belt up from where they’re at, and why it makes sense for them to do that as a professional consultant.

3. They’ve convinced themselves that they don’t have time

I believe this to be the number 1 excuse for not leaning into sales or business development activity.

Don’t get me wrong here. We’re all busier than ever, and I understand and respect how being overwhelmed makes people feel.

But hearing, “I’m too busy to develop business” should raise some questions:

  1. Are they genuinely too busy to put any attention towards spotting and creating more value for their clients? Really? It’s worth examining rather than just accepting what they say (although expect an emotionally charged conversation.)
  2. Is it an excuse for not feeling like they need or want to sell? (Often that’s exactly what it is.)
  3. Is it a lack of clarity that business development takes up time beyond their delivery time? It needn’t. It’s not an add-on. It’s best done when you’re with the clients delivering. You don’t complain when you’re driving that you don’t have time to listen to music as well as drive to your destination. Amazingly, you do them in parallel. Much business development activity can be done whilst delivering to your clients. Still too busy?
  4. Are they too busy doing things ineffectively? Banging their heads against the wall a little too often? Where could an extra 20 minutes a day be found to step up and get their ‘next belt’? Surely everyone is spending some of their time on low value work? Could we all switch some of that for more BD activity?

People are often too busy. But too busy to act like a professional consultant? I don’t really buy into that. They’re going to need to sell that to me better.

4. They think they are selling just by being likeable and friendly to their clients

But they’re not. The relationship matters. But only as a conduit to connect trust and value.

Trust and value are created and connected by engaging our clients (or prospective clients) in conversations that create sparks. Conversations that create tension, urgency, and are taken seriously.

That’s what the professional consultant does. And as it happens, it enhances the respect and the relationship. It can be done over lunch. But it can also be done walking down the corridors with your clients. Or “..whilst I have you here on the phone…”.

5. They don’t know how to sell or develop business

Not knowing where to start is a legitimate reason. But is fairly simple to solve.

There are plenty of books, courses and resources available. Or you can give me a shout and I’ll help you determine exactly where to start.

If you want help for your consulting team and you think I might be able to add some value to your business, get in touch. We can arrange a conversation to see if it’s worth talking further or not.

If you have thoughts about this, or any questions, you can give me a shout in the comments below.

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