Close Bigger Consulting Projects Faster With This One Phrase

There’s a phrase that will help your consulting firm close more, larger projects, faster.

You’ll use this phrase when you submit your consulting proposal (not in the proposal itself) and omitting this phrase is like forgetting to dip strawberries in chocolate. The oversight yields results that aren’t as reliably tasty or rewarding.

In all likelihood, your proposals for consulting projects are good already. (Particularly if you’re using the Perfect Proposal Template.)

You’ve crafted powerful proposals by always including a few alternatives, because you know alternatives are a critical continuation of the discovery process. They ferret out insights about preferences, risk tolerances, and boundaries for your project.

In some instances you may actually provide too many alternatives. A buffet of choices.

The buffet appears when your client pushes you to unbundle your consulting offering into individual, separate components. You might also present a buffet when you could be engaged for an undetermined number of instances (e.g., different individuals, groups, departments, divisions, service lines, geographies, etc.).

Alternatives are generally good, but there is a downside, especially as the number of choices climbs: choices add complexity to your client’s decision calculus. That can slow down the decision-making process and reduce the likelihood of the client choosing any alternative.

Hence, you need a few words that enhance the benefits of providing alternatives and mitigate the downsides.

That phrase you’re looking for is what I call an…

Empathic Recommendation

Any time you offer your consulting prospect alternatives, you should also help them navigate the choices. Remember, your clients are anxious and insecure about their decision to hire you. If they choose poorly, they have wasted valuable resources and they lose face.

Your guiding hand tamps down their fears and accelerates the decision process.

How you couch your recommendation matters.

For instance, saying, “I think you should…” is an okay lead into your recommendation, but not great.

  • It can sound like a self-serving recommendation of the alternative that’s best for your consulting firm.
  • “Should” is a judgment word, and your clients don’t want to feel judged for seriously considering a different alternative.
  • It highlights a gap between your  thinking and your client’s thinking if he leans toward an alternative other than your recommendation.

The Empathic Recommendation is subtly different. It sounds like this:

“If I were in your shoes, I would…”

This particular phraseology reinforces that you’re acting in your client’s best interests.

It also imputes social proof to back up his decision if he agrees with your recommendation.

If your client favors an alternative other than your recommendation, he’ll feel like he hasn’t fully shared with you what being in his shoes is like. That’s much better than him feeling like your consulting firm’s thinking isn’t aligned with his.

By always including an Empathic Recommendation, you increase the likelihood of winning a consulting project, you decrease the decision-making time, and you can guide your clients to select more valuable, richer alternatives.

What language do you use when you guiding your clients through choices in your proposals?

By | 2018-08-22T21:18:36+00:00 August 22nd, 2018|21 Comments


  1. Ian Tidswell August 22, 2018 at 6:21 am - Reply

    Nice formulation. Mirrors the concept with a doctor of asking “if one of your relatives had this condition, what would your recommend for them”.

    • David A. Fields August 22, 2018 at 6:30 am - Reply

      Excellent parallel, Ian…. of course, it depends on whether or not you like your relatives!

  2. David A. Fields August 22, 2018 at 6:44 am - Reply

    By the way, breakfast in Valencia (Spain) yesterday morning. Horchata, and look at all that tasty chocolate…
    tasty chocolate in Valencia!

  3. Rhonda August 22, 2018 at 7:30 am - Reply

    Thank you. I agree the word should is a powerful negative. A better way to influence someone to undertake a step forward is to add in the benefit to the client in choosing a particular option.

    This approach has worked in many difficult conversations I have managed in a range of circumstances.

    • David A. Fields August 22, 2018 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      Absolutely, Rhonda. When you say what you would do were you in their shoes, you provide the rationale, of course. It sounds like you’ve used this approach very effectively and I’m glad you provided a case study.

  4. David Discenza August 22, 2018 at 8:25 am - Reply

    If I were in your shoes, David, I’d take one of each.

    • David A. Fields August 22, 2018 at 8:54 pm - Reply

      Now you’re talkin’ like a consultant!

      We’re on the same wavelength, David.

  5. Paula August 22, 2018 at 9:34 am - Reply

    I’m not sure you understand my situation. I will need at least 3 of each. Delivered tomorrow!

    • David A. Fields August 22, 2018 at 8:59 pm - Reply

      Overnight delivery is by plane. Since my flight back from Spain was an all-day trip, somehow there were no pastries left for delivery when we landed. Drats! Sorry, Paula.

  6. Tom Borg August 22, 2018 at 12:41 pm - Reply

    Great answer concerning “relatives “
    You must know some of my relatives!
    All kidding aside. I love the statement “if I were in your shoes….”
    It puts things into an excellent perspective.

    • David A. Fields August 22, 2018 at 9:02 pm - Reply

      Clients are looking for guidance. That’s why they turned to you in the first place and why they asked you to develop a proposal rather than just issuing a detailed RFP. Advising them on how to work with you shows from the get-go that you’ll be an excellent thought partner for them.

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Tom.

  7. Curtis Bingham August 22, 2018 at 1:15 pm - Reply

    David, why would your recommendation be anything other than option 3? Or, if we’ve created option 3 to make 2 look good, what would the buyer think if we recommended #2? “What? Don’t you believe in #3? If not, why did you put it on the proposal?”

    • David A. Fields August 22, 2018 at 9:06 pm - Reply

      Curtis, I believe in all three alternatives, or else I wouldn’t propose them. Nevertheless, there is a “best” alternative for the client–there must be, by definition. That best alternative isn’t always the most expensive.

      Sometimes, one alternative reflects what the client asked for and the other alternatives reflect what I believe is a better solution. The client’s request might be the least expensive or the most expensive. Regardless, I recommend what’s in the best interest of the client, not what’s in the immediate best interest of my checkbook.

      Good question.

  8. Debbie August 22, 2018 at 4:49 pm - Reply

    When providing proposal alternatives, for example 3 alternatives, each one includes additional value and an increase in price. If you recommend alternative 3 with the highest value an cost and say “If I were in your shoes I would….” it seems you will need to give some rationale why you are recommending the most costly option.

    • David A. Fields August 22, 2018 at 9:10 pm - Reply

      Debbie, you need to give a rationale no matter which alternative you suggest. Sorry for not making that clear in the article.

      I’ve been known to say to a client, “Look, if I were in your shoes, I wouldn’t do any of these. I think you should approach this differently. However, if you believe this is the right way to go, then go with Alternative #X.”

      As consultants, thought leaders and thought partners, we should have opinions and share our opinions with our clients. However, that doesn’t mean we’re always right or know better than our clients. My clients trust me to share my opinions and I trust that they know their own situation better than I do if they choose to go down a path other than what I advised.

  9. Michael Kuznar August 25, 2018 at 5:16 am - Reply

    Nice article

  10. Joe Frisbie August 26, 2018 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    We are sharing our perspective so why not just say so,..” Mr. Client, let me share what I have learned….”

    • David A. Fields August 27, 2018 at 6:20 am - Reply

      You can absolutely say that, Joe, and in many cases that’s exactly what a client wants to hear–after all, they’re turning to you for your experience.

      On the other hand, “Let ME share what I have learned…” is all about the consultant. It doesn’t show that the consultant is considering the client’s position. As long as it becomes clear that you’re thinking first of the client (Right Side Up, and also the top point on the Trust Triangle), then you’re golden.

      Good question, Joe and I’m glad you suggested the alternate phrase.

  11. Jim Horan August 27, 2018 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    Once again David, this is excellent advice! I will share this with our consulting team!

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