De-ambiguifying “consulting” to close 95% of leads

December 31, 2023

How do you educate potential clients during your sales process to illustrate the value of what you do… when what you do is famously hard to explain neatly? 

Like, say, if you’re a consultant. 

Sara McCabe is a leadership and business consultant who has implemented strategic education points into her sales process to “de-ambiguify” consulting. And let’s just say her methods work — in 2023, she’s closed 95% of her leads. 

Here’s our conversation, edited and condensed for clarity — link at the end to listen to the full, raw interview that’s more like a podcast!


Was there a moment when you realized, like, ‘hey, I need to figure out how to talk about what I do in a more tangible way’?

Absolutely. I mean, I almost feel like I felt that right from the start.  Very early on in my business, I felt like I was getting lumped in with coaches and that’s certainly not what I do. That’s not my background.

Consultants are way more about kind of telling you what to do based on their expertise and less about helping you become someone who knows what to do, right?

So I always say, very simply put, a coach is somebody who treats a client as if they are the expert. And through indirect questioning, a coach is helping somebody uncover their own answers. A consultant is coming in as an expert on that subject and has a much more heavy hand in guiding that process and making very direct recommendations. 

Let’s talk about step one in your sales process: the inquiry form. What have you done there to help educate potential clients?

The words people use, their chosen language, and what they highlight help me understand their values and communication style. So the inquiry form includes simple questions like, ‘What issues is your team facing? What have you tried to address them? What’s your ideal outcome working with us?’ These questions guide me to identify areas where I need to educate specific clients about the process, including time and budget considerations. 

It serves as a starting point for our deeper sales conversation, where I clarify that projects typically span six to seven months, entail a specific budget, and require a certain timeframe, etc. 

Let’s talk about the proposal itself. How have you clarified what you offer in the proposal?

Sure, I actually gather valuable insights after a project ends, which then helps shape my future proposals. Clients answer around seven questions in a survey, and a few of them are particularly informative. These questions touch on their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. It’s crucial for me to understand their mental and emotional states, as well as what they’re thinking and feeling. I use these insights to create proposals that are easy to understand and loaded with details.

In the proposal itself, I break down each phase meticulously, with a clear timeline, action steps, and deliverables. I specify the hours I’ll invest and outline what I expect from the client’s team. Also, I include a Loom video where I guide clients through the proposal. I’ve found that some people prefer explanations through video rather than just reading a document.

How does your approach proposals differ from a more like conventional approach?

So I think their proposals tend to be much more high level, and I have gotten to a point where I see a lot more value in being very specific about the actions that I’m proposing. 

For instance, I’ll write out that in phase 1, we’re doing an internal analysis. I’m going to compile the results of that. I will give you a SWOT report after that. And we are going to spend three meetings walking through all of this information. So I probably take a lot more effort and time to break it down into specifics, but to also also contextualize it, to help people understand why we’re doing the things that we’re doing. 

Another thing that’s different is just the flourishes that I add in, like doing a video walking you through everything.

Can you talk about how you use case studies in your proposal and sales process? 

I try to demystify the role of a consultant by using case studies as a visual tool to convey my work process. My clients, typically founders, agency owners, or directors, have limited time and prefer visual representations. So, I crafted case studies that tell a visual story of the before, during, and after stages of my work. These case studies are also included in my proposals to illustrate the potential outcomes.

Now, concerning the structure of my case studies, they are more process-focused than result-oriented. I hesitated to share quantitative data because the impact of my work isn’t often immediately measurable. For instance, if we’re altering a system, it takes at least 90 days to gauge the results. And, in the realm of leadership and team development, these changes take time to manifest.

Can you talk more about the visual nature of your case studies? (I encourage anyone listening or reading this to visit Sara’s website and explore the case studies. Unlike many case studies that are primarily text-based, hers are highly visual with lots of custom infographics.) 

If you look at some of my initial case studies, you’ll see that they are very text heavy and that really relied on people’s curiosity to dive in and do a lot of reading. 

But eventually it hit me that I needed something more visual to convey the process. So I partnered with a copywriter and a graphic designer together to figure out, okay, how do we create some infographics? How do we tell this in a much more condensed way in terms of text?  So it really was a joint effort.

I have a question for you based on the surveys you mentioned earlier that you ask at the end of your projects. Do you remember the main themes that emerged from those surveys and how you address them in your proposals and sales calls?

Absolutely. Early on, I was surprised to find that many clients were taken aback by how collaborative my consulting process is. They often expected a more prescriptive approach. 

To clarify, when I work with clients on processes like building a workflow, I use tools like Miro to create a standard framework. However, I also encourage them to share their current processes, client needs, and thoughts, and together we adapt and build upon that framework. This collaborative approach sets the foundation for our work. 

So now, I highlight this in my sales calls and use case studies to illustrate how extensively I work with their team to develop solutions. 

Another common concern was the time investment. Some clients didn’t anticipate the level of effort required for meaningful change. I address this by being upfront about the time commitment and setting realistic expectations for achieving their goals.

What advice would you give to a consultant or consulting firm that’s facing challenges because potential clients struggle to grasp the value of their services?

Do some informational interviews. If you’re struggling with people not getting what you do or what the value is, then I think you likely don’t have a firm grasp then of where your  aligned, ideal clients are at. E.g. What they deem are the most important, valuable things for them, What it is that they’re currently feeling or experiencing and where they really want to go. 

Thanks to the surveys and interviews I’ve done, when I’m talking about my work, sometimes I simplify in ways that I normally wouldn’t. Sometimes I highlight certain aspects of a process that I don’t think are actually the most valuable, but it is valuable to that client. 

So a lot of the time what’s key is your ability to be able to be curious enough to try to understand where someone is at so that you can better articulate, speak their language, highlight the things that are of value to them, even if you yourself, the consultant, the service provider don’t necessarily feel like those are the most interesting and or important aspects of the work that you’re doing. It’s about getting out of your own way and really being able to have that information to understand and speak their language.

Yeah, I second that. That’s what I do with all my clients. It’s crucial because as service providers, there’s often a gap between our knowledge and our clients’ experiences. We can’t truly empathize just by sitting in a chair and imagining. So getting ‘informed empathy’ through qualitative data is essential. 

Exactly. We tend to make assumptions, but I’m a big advocate for direct communication. I’ve reached out to potential clients to ask about their problems, their willingness to invest in solutions, and their perceived value. Having this data beats making guesses.


🎧 Listen to the full, unedited 30-minute interview with Sara, like an exclusive podcast ➡️ Click here to listen.


About Sara: Meet Sara McCabe, a seasoned People and Business Development consultant with over 12 years of expertise in transforming businesses and teams throughout North America. From spearheading a 134% growth initiative to optimizing operational efficiency, Sara has navigated the diverse landscapes of startups and corporate giants alike. 

But it’s not just about business for her. As a certified Learning and Development Specialist, her passion for mentorship and guest teaching has left an impact on organizations such as Global Startup School, Grow Tech Labs, Viatec, and Futurpreneur Canada. Sara firmly believes there’s a better way to do business, and it starts with putting humans first, always.

Learn more about Sara:

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