Your Consulting Positioning Has the Single Biggest Impact on the Buying Decision

If someone asks your past client what you, as a consultant, do, what would be the answer? Will your client be able to say without hesitating or having to think for more than five seconds what you, as a consultant, bring to the table? Will their answer encourage others to hire you?

Let’s talk about positioning. More specifically, today, I’d like to explain why every consultant must regularly audit their positioning, why positioning matters, and how you can conduct a self-assessment. I ran a webinar on this subject in October 2021 and you can find a summary, the slides, and the video here.

What is positioning?

Let’s start with the basics – defining positioning

Positioning is your place within a marketplace. It’s a statement, the way you are perceived on the market, and the parameters you set for your own work and engagement with clients.

A strong positioning statement follows the following structure: XYZ

  • X = your target audience
  • Y = your impact/output as a consultant
  • Z = your approach to producing that output

Here’s my positioning statement:

I teach consultants the strategies to grow revenue by standing out in a crowded market

  • Target audience = consultants
  • Impact = strategies to grow revenue
  • Approach = standing out in a crowded market

Positioning makes it easy for your prospects to understand what you do and how you do it. However, it goes deeper than that. Strong positioning is your shield. You use it to protect your time and your expertise. You don’t take on projects that require you to complete projects for the wrong clients. You don’t take on projects outside of your narrowly defined expertise. You don’t use methods outside of those in your portfolio. Your positioning is how you filter incoming requests.

Why does positioning matter?

I already briefly mentioned that a clear positioning statement makes it instantly clear to your prospects whether you are a good fit for their needs. I’d like to dive a little deeper into this topic.

There are so many opportunities for consultants on the market at the moment. No, really, they can be found left and right. The demand is there. However, so is the supply. The consulting market is highly competitive. Clients have more options than ever and, thanks to the magic of the internet, they can do their own research and pre-qualify consultants before they even speak to them.

So how do you stand out in this saturated market? How do you monetize on the sea of opportunities in a way that doesn’t burn you out? How do you navigate the market in a consistent, organic way, qualifying prospects and cherry-picking your clients?

You guess it – it starts with your positioning. 

Of course, I’m not going to claim that this is the only thing that matters. Far from it. However, it’s an important cog in your overall consulting mechanism. It’s one of the foundational elements that you build upon, which means you have to get it right.

All of these elements of your consulting business are built upon the foundation of positioning:

  • The audience you market your services to
  • The references and referrals you receive from your clients
  • The case studies you develop
  • The speaking engagements you accept
  • The fees you charge your clients
  • The number of hoops your prospects make you jump through to get a contract

And so much more

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You see, success in sales is a side effect of strong positioning. If you establish yourself as an expert, an authority in a narrow field, and show that you can resolve important pain points for your target audience, your business will not have to stress about the lack of clients.

You will not have to prove your value over and over again. Your body of work will do it for you. You will not have to follow up on your proposals. Your target audience will see the impact you can make in their organizations. You will not have to take on any project that comes your way. You will select the ones that fit in your pipeline and growth plans.

poor positioning

What you do – the audience you cater to, the prototypical problems you solve for them, and how you go about solving those problems – stems directly from your positioning. It defines your specialized area of expertise. It sets your priorities and defines your body of work. 

How can you assess your consulting positioning?

Due to the importance of positioning, I recommend that every consultant assesses it on a regular basis. Here is a checklist that I’ve developed over the years that will help you understand whether your positioning is hindering your success or facilitating it:

    • How do you feel when you are pitching your services? Are you confident in what you say, how your message comes across, and the value you can provide to your client?

    • Do your prospects see you as a vendor or an expert as you pitch your services? Are they considering you for the role of an order taker or a strategic advisor?

    • Is preparing a proposal effortless or a big investment? How many hours/days/weeks do you invest into preparing a proposal? The more you invest, the more desperate you are to get a positive response.

    • Do you have a meaningfully different point of view and do your prospects connect to it? Or are you offering the same solution as hundreds of your competitors on the market?

    • Are you able to charge premium fees? Can you confidently charge more than the market average or do you often have to offer a discount to win a project?
  • What are you really protecting when pitching your services – your income or your time? Protecting your income means you will take on any project that keeps your business afloat. Protecting your time is about taking on the right projects.
  • Who do you deal with during the project? Are you working directly with team leaders / senior executives / C-level representatives? Or are you cc-ed on hundreds of emails from the execution team?
  • Do your clients respect your payment terms or do you have to chase their assistants for delayed payments? Do you get paid for a project or do lower-level executives keep track of your timesheet, paying you an hourly rate?
  • Do you say no to incoming opportunities? Or are you worried about your revenue and take on any project that comes your way?
  • Do you feel like you’re overservicing and undercharging your clients? Do you have the constant nagging feeling that if you don’t give into a client’s every request, you will lose this client?

Answer these questions honestly and you will get a very clear idea of how you have positioned yourself as a consultant. 

If you are in a constant client-pleasing mode, worried about your revenue, dealing with execution and getting cc-ed on hundreds of emails from lower team members, if you have to offer discounts to win bids, if your clients don’t know how to recommend you, if your body of work doesn’t have a clear focus, if your audience is too broad – your positioning is weak.

If, on the other hand, you don’t stress out about following up with prospects, you feel confident about your value as a consultant and provide your clients with honest feedback, receive premium fees, get invited to speak, share your knowledge through thought leadership content generously and regularly, are invited by prospects to come on board in an advisory capacity – congratulations, you have positioned yourself as a top expert.

Recommended reading: Consulting USPs need to die a brutal death. Here’s why.

In conclusion

I see many consultants on the market make the same mistake – rushing to pitch their services without putting in enough effort into their positioning. It always seems so counter-intuitive to me. It makes growing a consulting business that much harder.

Without strong positioning, you do not have a proper framework to organize your priorities, your client work, and your sale process. What’s more, your target market has no clear idea of what you do, how you do it, and why what you do is of value. 

So take out a piece of paper and a pen and go back to the drawing board. Get the foundation right and the rest will follow.

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Luk Smeyers

Hello, I’m Luk Smeyers and I’m guiding consultants through the journey of growing their business by helping them transform into visible authorities.  I have been in consulting businesses for almost 20 years, in very different roles: as European CHRO in a global consultancy, as a startup founder in an analytics consultancy, and as a leader in a 'Big 4' consultancy, post-acquisition of the startup. I had the privilege of achieving global visibility as a consultant and I never had to sell, persuade, or negotiate as a result. I have now bundled all those experiences, expertise, know-how, research, reading, successes, struggles, and failures from managing and growing that visibility in the past years. 

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