How (not) to sell your data consultancy services

are you creating a menu of data management options?

are you creating a menu of data management options?

“Great. Now I know what you do, I’ll be in touch” - spoke the words of a CIO for a UK-based motor manufacturer.

The CIO in question was responding to an account manager who had subjected them to a data management slide deck, that was clearly hand-crafted by Satan.

Death by Data Powerpoint

I had lost the will to live at slide 50. (And I was on the side of the 'sales team').

By slide 75, I was thinking of ways my wife could text ‘there’s an emergency at home’ alibi.

After Slide 100+ (seriously) the face of the CIO took on a red tinge that I found fascinating and disturbing in equal measure.

When 5 minutes before our allotted hour was up, the account manager looked up from his deck and asked if his ‘hot prospect’ had any questions.

The CIOs parting comment were the prophetic words of this post:

“Great. Now I know what you do, I’ll be in touch”.

His response was utterly predictable the moment we entered the room.

The slide deck in question was a smorgasbord of data offerings for a mega-consultancy, listing every case study that had anything resembling even a tenuous link to auto-manufacturing.

But it was clear, the salesperson was stretching the link well beyond breaking point.

Because I had a background of data management in the motor sector, I was hauled in to be the account manager’s 'wing-man'; the SME who would take the brunt of the prospect's questions.

But I knew the moment we walked in the room, there would be no ‘consultative selling' on the agenda today.

And no offer of tea and coffee, as it transpired.

So why no questions (or a refreshing brew)?

The CIO had been push-sold.

The Perils of Push-Selling

It turned out the CIO wasn’t trying to solve a pressing problem that was keeping him awake at night. Instead, he had been pitched relentlessly by the account manager.

I felt sorry for him. (The CIO, not the account manager).

The CIO obviously felt the simplest solution was to give up an hour of his precious time, lest he be subjected to yet another LinkedIn InMail campaign.

At one point, towards the end of the deck-fest, the CIO looked at me and we gave each other a pained, and knowing, glance.

He knew it was time up for the account manager.

And I knew it was time up working for a mega data management consultancy.

I quit the following week.

Of course, not every account manager is that poorly trained. I’ve worked with some exceptional business developers and account teams who add enormous value.

But the underlying issue is that push-selling is a tough task at the best of times.

And if you back that up with a disjointed ‘data services smörgåsbord' - you’re screwed.

If you’re not clear on the problem and pain your ideal customer faces, and a compelling proposition for resolving it, your chances of cold-pitching are virtually nil.

It’s like being a doctor and guessing what’s wrong with every patient who walks into your surgery:

“Hi, I’m Dr. Smith.

Let me guess…bunions?

No, no…hang on…hmmm….hernia?

Hang on…I’ll get it. Slipped disc?"

If you ask enough random ‘patients’ if they need a particular ‘medicine’, at some point you’ll hit the jackpot and guess right.

It’s like a cruel lottery, with your mortgage repayments at stake.

And yes, sometimes, the push-selling approach can work. But only at scale and if you’ve got a big enough runway of time, money and resource to help you.

But as a specialist data consultant or small consultancy owner? I’m guessing don’t have the time or budget.

So what to do?

Stop Pushing and Start Pulling

After quitting the mega-consultancy, I began building my 'data authority’ through content marketing.

I developed a data-client-pull-system through blogging, webinars, videos, speaking - whatever it took to grab attention.

And when I met clients after this approach, it was always at their invitation.

They ‘pulled’ me into their world of broken data silos, conflicting data ownership, bad data quality and derailed data migrations.

And I didn’t need a slide-deck. Because they were doing the talking.

They had pains and problems that needed a proposition, my proposition, right now.

There was no push-back of “Send us a proposal” or “Thanks for coming, we’ll be in touch”.

They were sitting on fires that needed to be put out, yesterday.

But of course, the process of achieving this transformation was not easy.

To get an invite into the room, I had to learn how to become an editor, copywriter, web developer, salesperson, marketer and coach.

All the skills I now teach via myDataBrand which I wish I could have been taught back in 2005.

Yet, despite the steep learning curve, what a fun experience that was, particularly after working with data for 15 years.

Like you, and the data consulting journey you’re on, I felt like Columbus - excited at washing up on a land of boundless possibility.

But terrified about those menacing obstacles coming my way.

Lessons Learned

So what can you take away from this tale of data salesmanship woe?

  • If you hate working for a big consultancy or employer, it’s not going to improve - plan your exit now

  • Push-selling is soul-destroying, and drains your motivation for running a consultancy

  • Having a great big menu of services to offer might look attractive, but it confuses the hell out of the market and makes it much harder to get referrals

  • Pull-selling (for a tightly defined offer that you know people need) switches the narrative and positions you as the expert

  • Building your data authority and positioning as the market leader in your niche is a blast and will transform your life in more ways than than you can imagine

And finally, one bonus tip...

Just because an organisation asks to meet you, doesn't mean an opportunity is on the cards.

Balance the cost in time and money for attending endless 'can we pick your brains' type meetings against the value you could be creating in that time.

It's not about ABC (‘Always be Closing’), it's about ABQ - ‘Always be Qualifying’.

Good luck, and don't forget to book a breakthrough call if you want to attract more clients (and avoid death by data Powerpoint ;-)