How Boutique Consultancies Can Overcome Prospects’ Indecisiveness

“87% of sales opportunities contain either moderate or high levels of customer indecision.” This is one of the research findings from Matthew Dixon and Ted McKenna.

I find this number shocking, especially since the research also found that 40-60% of potential deals with customers who express their intent to purchase ultimately result in no purchase.

These numbers back up what I see daily in my work and communication with boutique consultancy owners and leaders. Failing to break through the wall of hesitation is one of the main challenges consultancy owners present me with. Prospects show initial interest but then disappear, and the dozens of follow-ups the consultancy sends end up in a dark, mysterious void.

So why are prospects so hesitant to make a purchase? And what can boutique consultancies do to reduce hesitancy and maximise their chances of winning new business? These are the two questions I’ll be addressing in this article.

Why are consultancy buyers hesitant?

In 2023, I read a book that significantly impacted me – 'The JOLT Effect: How High Performers Overcome Customer Indecision' by Matt Dixon and Ted McKenna. 

The authors explain that there are three reasons for clients' indecisive behaviour:

  • Clients are worried about choosing the wrong option
  • Clients are concerned that they haven’t done enough homework
  • Clients fear they won’t get what they’re paying for

This book stood out because of its relevance to the consulting industry. When I looked back at my conversations with consultancy owners and reviewed the pages of notes I had taken, I saw how eerily similar the behaviour of consulting service buyers is.

Let’s break it down.

The Fear of Messing Up

An essential factor in prospects’ indecisiveness is what the authors refer to as the "Fear of Messing Up". It’s the anxiety and hesitation customers feel about making a wrong decision.

What drives this fear? The potential negative consequences of making a wrong choice:

  • Risks associated with their choices
  • Judgement from peers, colleagues, and supervisors
  • An overwhelming number of choices
  • Potential for future regret
    And more

The foundational fear manifests in several behaviours: 

  • Procrastination: Delaying making decisions to avoid the anxiety associated with committing to a potentially wrong choice.

  • Seeking excessive information: Going overboard with research in an attempt to validate a potential choice.

  • Defaulting to the status quo: Sticking to existing solutions or making no change at all.

Prospects are worried about choosing the wrong option

This problem stems, first and foremost, from the prospects’ lack of understanding of the root causes of their problems. While they are acutely aware of the symptoms, getting to the bottom of the issue falls outside their scope of expertise. That’s why they are looking for external counsel—an expert consultancy to come in and resolve the issue.

For example, if a multinational company’s strategic initiative is not delivering expected results, is it due to (1) employees’ improper adoption of new processes, (2) misalignment and poor implementation of the strategy, or (3) the strategy itself being the wrong choice for the company's needs?

Prospects are concerned that they haven’t done enough homework

  • 75% of B2B buyers prefer a rep-free sales experience.
  • 77% of B2B buyers say they will not talk to a sales rep until they have conducted their own research.

There are dozens of statistics like this on the purchasing behaviour of B2B buyers, including buyers of professional services.

They all point to the same reality: prospects do their research before even considering working with a specific consultancy.

However, how much homework is enough? In my experience, prospects often worry they haven’t done enough homework. This is where a consultancy can make a significant impact. If a consultancy can confirm that the buyer has done thorough research and explain why, it provides a great vote of trust.

This validation relieves the buyer, giving them peace of mind and increasing their confidence in working with the consultancy.

Prospects fear they won’t get what they are paying for

A modern consultancy services buyer is results-oriented. They, like everyone else, live in uncertain times. Budgets are volatile. Decisions are interconnected. Stakeholders are numerous.

Buyers are not looking for big, empty words from their partners. They are no longer impressed by wining-and-dining old-school strategies. They are sceptical of sales pitches.

They want measurable outcomes. They want transformative results. They want to minimise risk and maximise output.

That’s the reality of a modern buyer.

How can boutique consultancies overcome the indecisiveness of prospects?

For boutique consultancies, the solution to prospects’ indecisiveness comes down to two action points:

  1. Educating the audience as opposed to selling to it
  2. Having a crystal-clear value proposition and social proof around it

Building trust and helping the audience gain a deeper understanding of the root causes of their pain points through education-driven thought leadership

I avidly advocate using value-driven audience-education marketing to generate new business. I believe that the traditional sales model is outdated, and the reasons I listed earlier for clients’ indecisiveness are proof of that.

Consistently producing and promoting educational content, on the other hand, is a strategy that helps boutique consultancies achieve numerous wins:

  • More robust engagement: Educational content tailored to a target audience’s pain points and problem areas generates significantly more engagement than dull sales “look how great we are” content. It’s exponentially more likely to be shared by others, turn a regular prospect into a loyal reader, and receive higher overall visibility.

  • Trust-building: Educating the audience means generously sharing one’s knowledge and expertise. This inevitably builds trust with prospects, who are much more receptive to hearing proposals from consultancies and consulting leaders they feel they already know.  

  • Discoverability: Consultancies that create value-driven content regularly around a specialised group of subjects are more discoverable. Their content will appear in Google searches when prospects are trying to identify possible solutions to their pain points. It will appear on professional networks like LinkedIn because it is being shared by the target audience. Colleagues will send it to each other as a helpful resource.

  • Prospects pre-qualification: When educational content is centred around specific problems of a particular group, it acts as a pre-qualifying tool. It signals the parameters of a consultancy’s expertise to prospects, weeding out prospects outside the target audience.

  • Stronger clarity of prospects’ problems: Through educational efforts, consultancies can help their prospects gain a deeper understanding of the root causes of their problems. This, in turn, will help them be more decisive when picking out the right consultancy for their needs.

Recommended reading: Why You Should Share Your Expertise To Grow Your Consulting Business

Setting up the parameters of work and expectations through a crystal-clear value proposition and outcomes-focused social proof

The second prong of resolving the problem of indecisiveness is setting clear expectations with prospects.

That’s where a value proposition comes in.

A well-designed value proposition offers prospects the following information:

  1. Why clients come to the consultancy
  2. What clients usually struggle with
  3. Who the typical client is
  4. What clients typically achieve by working with the consultancy
  5. How the consultancy can help
  6. When prospects should reach out to the consultancy
  7. What the entry service is – how to get started
  8. What are the pillar themes of thought leadership are

When condensed, this information can be communicated to a prospect in under a minute. It’s an impactful way to explain what the consultancy does, who it works with, how it can help, and what the outcomes will be.

This creates certain parameters for prospects’ expectations. They go into the partnership knowing exactly what they will achieve, which helps prospects minimise risk and be more confident about the value they will receive for their money.

Social proof supports the claims in a value proposition. Here, I’m talking about case studies and testimonials.

However, not all case studies and testimonials are created equal. “John is a great guy to work with” kind of fluff will not cut it. Rather, I strongly encourage boutique consultancies to look at their past client work and create case studies that clearly identify the pain points, how the consultancy approached resolving those pain points, and the tangible results. That’s what prospects want to know about a consultancy, not whether John is a great guy.

Recommended reading: How Consultancies Can Get Started With Value Proposition Design

In conclusion

Overcoming prospects' indecisiveness is a significant challenge for boutique consultancies, but it is not insurmountable.

The key is to prove to the prospect they won’t fail by choosing the consultancy’s expertise. Their primary concern is the fear of failure, or FOMU, the fear of messing up.

It's not about convincing them to change the status quo.

To achieve this, consultancies must inspire, educate, motivate, and activate their prospects.

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