It's rare for true buyers - as opposed to gatekeepers or committees - to question immediately the credentials, background, or legitimacy of consultants. Buyers are more interested in what you can do for them. As a rule, buyers get concerned early about credibility only when consultants give them reason to be concerned early.
Nevertheless, many consultants still possess an inferiority complex created by a lack of staff, absence of a fancy office, and a dearth of name recognition. Here are some easy, but effective, steps to gain credibility within the first 10 minutes.
Use a firm handshake and confident bearing. Don't attempt to break the prospect's hand, or grip too tightly. But don't extend that "limp, dead fish" that always makes a weak impression. Stand up straight, and sit straight in a chair. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Don't remove your jacket. Look the buyers in the eye frequently, but not for long periods that may create discomfort. (Look down to take a note, or off in thought for a moment.) Refuse any proffered drink, since it may spill on you or your potential clients. Speak up and in complete sentences. And never end your sentences with an upward inflection (as in a question).
Learn a conversation "nugget" about the prospect's organization. Look up the buyer's stock price, and find out how the firm is doing compared to its 12-month high or low, if publicly traded. Use the Internet to do a search and learn something about the client. Request an annual report ahead of your visit and study the business pages. ~
Arm yourself with some provocative questions. Learn a little about the industry your prospect is in, or how the economy is affecting the organization. Ask a prepared question such as, "How have you resisted the merger mania in your business?" or "Have you added significant staff to handle your recent growth?" The sound that people like the best is their own voice.
Don't talk too much. Allow the prospect to answer questions fully, and ask your own follow-up questions as well. Don't feel constrained to provide lengthy answers or to cite what you would do and how you would do it. Keep in mind the three magic words when the prospect asks a confrontational question, such as "What can you do for me that others can't?" or "How much will this cost me?" Those magic words are: "I don't know." ("I can't answer that until I learn some more about your situation.")
Pursue a series of small closes. Don't try to walk out with a signed contract. (If you do, please write us to explain how you do that.) Move toward agreement on key points. If more relationship building is needed, move toward agreement on the next meeting. Set reasonable, small agreements. When the timing is appropriate (agreement is obtained on objectives, measures, and value), move toward submitting a written proposal.
There's no reason to walk in with an inferiority complex. But if your lack of resources begins to haunt you as you consider the meeting about to take place in the buyer's sumptuous 40th floor office, then practice the techniques above. But remember, the prospect wouldn't be seeing you in the first place if you didn't have something of interest to offer.
Many consultants are overly concerned about their own perceived lack of credibility. With this attitude, they often spend all of their energy trying to impress buyers rather than listening to their clients and establishing a good rapport.