Consultants: 5 Reasons You’re Losing Potential Clients

by Alli Polin on May 3, 2016

losing potential clients

When our leadership team was brought in to “save” a failing division, we knew it would be tough. Unfortunately, like it so often happens in the recruiting process, we were sold a situation that was more wishful thinking than reality.

Charged with implementing a new innovation center, I had financial resources, but not a team, to spearhead our change initiative. Not ideal. Change was and is my favorite challenge yet, without an in-house team, I was nervous (to put it mildly).

When I heard him speak at a conference, I knew we needed him. Experienced, confident and creative, he shared his story of successful large-scale change. He was also regularly published by one of my favorite magazines that rhymes with Ast Umpany. After his speech, I got in line and waited my turn.

We talked, swapped cards and I texted my boss: I found the guy.

My boss was excited but reminded me that we needed to compete the work.

Since I spent the first 11 years of my career in Change Management and HR with Accenture, I reached out to them for a proposal and PWC too. Always a strong believer in small business expertise and solo practitioners, I included two small biz on the slate, including the speaker.

I followed “my guy” on Twitter, and we started talking more in-depth about the work so he could send me a strong proposal. Every time we spoke, he sold himself hard, but I was already on board. I just needed the proposal in hand and to submit it to purchasing for them to lead the competition process.

Unfortunately, the more we talked and the more closely I followed him on Twitter, the less I liked him.

When I finally got his proposal as a solo-practitioner advisor, the tens of thousands he put in there were hard to swallow. What and who was I buying? What happened to the sparkle from his speech?

Don’t be my speaker guy. Avoid these pitfalls of coaches and consultants who want to build thriving practices but are consistently losing potential clients and falling short of their goals.

5 Big Reasons You’re Losing Potential Clients

#1: Everything’s All About You

On Twitter, my guy’s tweets all started something like this: “Read my new article” or “My thoughts on” or “I’m smart and fabulous, and you should care what I have to say…” (Okay, he didn’t really write that last one.)

Social’s NOT all about you.

Not one retweet. Not one interaction or conversation. Not one share that wasn’t his article, his thoughts, all about him. It stopped looking smart and impressive and moved into big ego territory. This guy was a know-it-all. 

The thing is, the more I read his tweets, they did reflect his attitude and personality. This guy’s ego ran the show.

Social media has given coaches and consultants access not only to a “free marketing channel” and potential clients on a global scale but also to a whole new space for relationship building.

[Tweet “It’s called Social Media, not one-way megaphone all about me marketing. #smallbiz”]

Show them who you are, make a connection, build a relationship.

#2: You Talk About Your One Big Win Over and Over and Over

His stories sparkled from the podium at my conference. Later I discovered that his story of success was his only story of success. In his writing, speaking, tweeting it was all the same gig. Oh, and he wasn’t an outside consultant or coach, he was an employee leading a large initiative – a very different dynamic.

Yes, it was impressive but come on, who’s going to hire you because you did something once?

One dimensional stories fall flat.

How did you take those experiences and apply them to new people and organizations? Now that’s interesting to your potential clients.

#3: Nickel-and-Dime is Your MO

He saw corporate, he saw deep pockets, he charged $40K+ for advisory hours. He would be my advisor. Two full days to knock out the plan and a few regularly set hours over six months. If I needed more time or struggled to implement between meetings, I could pay to touch base.

Here’s the thing, I’m a coach and consultant too. I understand charging for our time but when you’re asking your customer to pay outrageous dollars, take their calls. If things fall apart because you can’t touch base for 30 minutes, their $40K investment in you goes to hell. Will not look good. Trust me.

Oh, if I wanted him to type something up or create… I’d have to sell my kidney before getting the additional budget from my company.

Seek to add value to your client and your relationship, not only add value to your bank account.

#4: You Dismiss Your Client’s Experience

I worked in change management for a very long time. Still, I wanted to hire an advisor for two reasons: 1) I was stressed without a dedicated internal change team, 2) I wanted new thinking to merge with my knowledge and experience.

It turned out my guy didn’t give a s*!t about my experience.

He didn’t want to be my partner or even advisor; he wanted to be my… boss. He knew how to do his thing, and his thing was the best solution. Period. End of story.

#5: Push Your Smart Solution with Trust Me and a Wink

He said he was listening to me when I discussed our business challenges but his responses were generic. It was all about his smart solution instead of demonstrating to me that he heard me and understood our needs.

It seemed he cared more about landing a client than solving our problem.

“When we have our two-day offsite, I’ll go into details about how to implement but it’s going to do exactly what you need.”

I understand keeping the ingredients to your secret sauce under wraps but for goodness sake, help me understand why it’s a good fit. Demonstrate that you have a grasp of our situation and if you’re going to push your solution, why it’s the perfect solution to take away our pain.

His swagger meant that he didn’t have to share. He was that good (or so he thought.)

All of this made it hard to chose the solo practitioner over the big consulting firm. Yes, they were two completely different levels of support and very different price points too. However, I was worried I’d get lost as Accenture or PWC led the charge. I wanted a partner – he just wasn’t the one.

Now that I am no longer working in corporate and have my own business, these lessons still come into play. Losing potential clients because I’m self-centered and a poor listener is not acceptable. I’m willing to be that it’s not acceptable to you either.

If you want to create a business that thrives, ask yourself:

  1. Am I treating my potential customers like a number or like a future partner?
  2. Am I listening or doing all the speaking?
  3. How can I help?
  4. What do they need to be successful?
  5. Am I the right person?
  6. How far am I willing to go in service of my client’s success?

[Tweet “If you’re not the one, build a relationship by making a referral. It’s still a win. #smallbiz”]

What would you add? What tips do you have to help people avoid losing potential clients? What pitfalls have you seen for coaches and consultants working to build their business?

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri Klass May 3, 2016 at 6:18 am

Fantastic post, Alli! All of your points resonate with me.

What I have learned as a consultant is that the best way to serve my clients is to just listen. Recently I worked with an organization that went through a merger. They wanted me to help them deal with the changes. All I heard when I truly listened was their fear and worry about losing their jobs. If I didn’t address that issue, I would have been superfluous. The only way I could have empowered them was to listen actively to their needs.

Thanks Alli and will share today!


Alli Polin May 3, 2016 at 6:24 am

Excellent, Terri. Listening can shine a light on what the client needs – and isn’t asking for in your initial conversation. By sharing what you’re hearing, it opens up the relationship and the space to bring forward a meaningful intervention. Thanks for sharing your experience!

~ Alli


Joy Guthrie May 3, 2016 at 9:25 am

Excellent advice Alli! We have had a strong reliance on specific methods to get people involved in a session (visual practices). At first, we wanted to stick with that method. We’ve since found that inventing things in the moment often works best for sessions. So, we start with our basic plan & adapt on the fly, as needed. Our customer’s results benefit from that. Your advice is excellent & serves as a reminder that everyone is not the same. Working with your customer how they need you to work with them is a great thing.


Alli Polin May 4, 2016 at 8:13 am

It’s a real strength that you’re able to adapt on the fly. Not every consultant is willing to risk letting go of the control to co-create something that is meaningful. It’s a comfort thing. “I know how to do this and if I change, I don’t know what will happen so I’ll stick to what I know.” There’s something to be said for meeting your customer where they are!

Thanks for sharing your experience, Joy!



Chery Gegelman May 5, 2016 at 12:18 am

I love your emphasis of adapting on the fly Joy! It is huge to be able to do that an entrepreneur, speaker, consultant, manager, parent, spouse… and throughout life!


John Bennett May 3, 2016 at 11:06 am

Seems the person in question forgot (most importantly) one of Stephen Covey’s Eight Habits: “Seek first to understand and then to be understood.” I don’t care if indeed I’ve received all the information I believe I need and have come to a tentative conclusion – key word, tentative. No one can be that good; the information sent is what the client believes supports what they believe or hope is needed. Sure, they may be misinterpreting the information but watching and listening on the first visit or more is absolutely critical…

Or it could be even worse – he’s a ‘one-trick’ pony. Whatever the circumstances, “Go with xxxxxx because it always works. If it doesn’t, you did something wrong.”

Good to find the real person before going to the client!!!


Alli Polin May 4, 2016 at 8:10 am

Appreciate your depth of knowledge on applying Covey’s work, John. Yes, this guy could use a refresher. His concept worked in a single org (albeit a complex one) Still, there was no guarantee that without flexing and adjusting his solution for our organization that the results could be replicated. I wanted a magic bullet and it sounded like he had one… until I remembered that doesn’t exist.

Thanks, John!



bill mc allister May 3, 2016 at 1:45 pm

One of the key points is the narrative among the clients and listening, understanding the questions and re framing them in a way that captures the dialogue & the knowledge.


Alli Polin May 4, 2016 at 8:07 am

Reframing is critical and something clients oftentimes need consultants to do. When you’re deep in the problem, it’s hard to see viable solutions. Grateful for your addition, Bill!

~ Alli


Chery Gegelman May 5, 2016 at 12:16 am

Great post Alli!

I love the evolution… How he looked and sounded so perfect until you did a deeper dive.

There is a giant gap between confidence and being cocky. And the latter never works!


Terri Deuel May 5, 2016 at 6:57 am

Excellent post Alli. The point Chery made about the evolution struck me too. Your guy was one thing until he wasn’t …. Initial impressions only go so far.


LaRae Quy May 5, 2016 at 4:00 pm

Great points, Alli! In my mind, the “nickel and dime MO” is the one that reveals character quicker than anything. It become a constant haggle, and it wears the client out after awhile…in addition, it shows your pettiness 🙁


Stella Chiu May 6, 2016 at 2:51 pm

Hi, Alli

I like your statement in the post “Show them who you are, make a connection, build a relationship.”. These three steps are true for any transaction both in business and personal level.

The failure of the guy was he concentrated only on the “show them who you are” and forgot the last two steps.

Luckily you stayed away from him who was not a good candidate for anyone.

Stella Chiu


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