7 Mistakes That Will Stop A Consulting Proposal Dead In Its Tracks

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There aren’t many feelings that compare with nailing a proposal to a room of potential lucrative client(s).

You make them painfully aware of their problem, map out the perfect solution, and sign an agreement for your consulting services.

It’s an amazing feeling, but (sadly) it doesn’t come often enough.


So many factors go into attaining and delivering a proposal to clients.

You have to think about timing, coming up with industry specific slides, travel, and a host of other factors that make a perfect pitch seem as difficult to orchestrate as a planetary alignment.

It doesn’t have to be that way. We’ve come up with a few fatal mistakes that constantly trip up consultants, making them deliver a less than desirable proposal.

Avoid these mistakes, and you’ll start landing higher-paying clients.

Let’s dive in.

Mistake #1: Scheduling The Proposal Too Soon

Chances are, you know your services inside and out, you have a great marketing strategy, your pitch is compelling to a wide variety of clients, and you have slides that can be tweaked to fit just about any situation.

All of these are great.

BUT, how well do you understand the nuances of your potential clients’ business model, so you can tailor your pitch to their specific needs?

All too often, consultants schedule a meeting and robo-pitch a client after only a few minutes on the phone. Without enough insights into your client’s industry and goals, your prospect will be left wondering how you fit into their plans.

Key Takeaway: Take some time. Develop a relationship with decision makers through email and phone calls. Get some information about your prospect before you pitch.

Gather that intel thoroughly, then schedule the meeting.

Mistake #2: Pitching the Wrong People

Every consultant has dealt with gate keepers.

It’s frustrating at times, but part of the game.

One thing that will absolutely kill a proposal is meeting with people who intend to “relay” your pitch to key decision makers at a later time. Taking the time to put it all together and then giving your proposal to a gate keeper with a “we’ll let you know” is an awful feeling.

By contrast, closing a deal is much easier when your main contact is someone with the power to say “yes.”

Sometimes, though, gatekeepers are unavoidable. In those cases, you have to suck it up and alter your pitch to make sure it’s easily shared.

Key Takeaway: Ensure you’re talking with the decision maker before scheduling your call. Here is a great resource to help.

Bonus Takeaway: If your back is against the wall and you have to present to a lackey, you need to change your mindset. Realize that you’re pitching someone who is going to pitch the decision maker for you. Focus on the one or two most intriguing points and drive them home. If you have a good “hook,” the decision maker will want to contact you to learn more.

Mistake #3: Failing to Define Your Unique Selling Proposition

A unique selling proposition is something that every consultant should have. The consulting industry was almost half a trillion dollars (with a T) in 2015, and whatever field you’re in, there are likely several other consultants competing for clients.

What makes you different than the others?

Your potential client may or may not have the idea during your pitch, but you should make it very clear why there are no better options. If you’re no different than others they’ve worked with in the past, it may just be a bid to the bottom. Your proposal will be glazed over and replaced by someone in their rolodex from the past.

Key Takeaway: Early on in your presentation or meeting, state exactly how you’re the perfect one suited to deal with their specific needs (don’t boast, though–more on that in a second). For an even better effect, you can develop your USP and deliver to your potential clients through an email marketing campaign. This will demonstrate your value prior to showing up for the initial meeting.

Mistake #4: Failure to Establish Authority

Having a unique selling proposition and developing a reputation are similar, but also very different in nature.

Telling someone how you’re different and demonstrating your expertise in your industry are both things that can make or break a sales meeting.

Businesses hire consultants for several reasons, but it boils down to handing off a task to a qualified person or team that will get measurable results. If you can’t convey that you can deliver, you’re wasting your breath.

Key Takeaway: Developing authority is difficult, and doing it in a 30-minute meeting is next to impossible. This is a step that has to begin the moment your prospect becomes a lead. Here are a few tips from Forbes.

Warning: Building authority and conveying how your brand is unique can be a slippery slope down the path to self promotion. Bragging about yourself is a sure fire way to ruin a pitch. Demonstrate that you know your stuff, but keep it focused on your potential clients’ needs.

Mistake #5: Approaching New Industries The Wrong Way

Our first point highlighted the danger of scheduling your meeting too soon, and this tip is related. One of the most crucial mistakes made during a proposal is failing to mesh how your service integrates with the prospect’s industry.

While many consultants choose a certain market or industry and stay within their niche (which is smart), you never want to pass up opportunities to branch out into other types of clients you’re perfectly capable of helping. Let’s look at a tough example.

Example: Suppose you are an inbound marketing consultant who specializes in social media based out of New York. You work with a local print shop (one of your first customers) who is a member of a large network of printers across the U.S. He offers to get you a meeting in Colorado with the council of the Printer’s Association that could mean hundreds of clients if your company is endorsed.

While your typical client may be in another industry, this is a revenue stream that is too promising to pass up.  It won’t come easy, since you’ll have to research an industry that is skeptical about social and digital media. In fact, some view digital marketing as a direct competitor with print.

After a little research you find direct evidence (like this post) that social media helps sell more print services, and suddenly you have an awesome pitch.

Key Takeaway: Take a good look at the industry you’re entering, and brainstorm potential objections and fears they might have. When you know your potential clients better than they know themselves, you’ll be prepared to handle objections with ease and confidence to win the proposal.

Mistake #6: Sloppy Prep Work

We aren’t your English teacher from High School and neither is your potential client, but everything you show in public either speaks for you or tells on you.

Consultants can get so caught up in developing their service pricing tiers and dynamic one liners, that they (sometimes literally) forget to dot I’s and cross T’s. Here are a few common mistakes you’ll find in a sloppy presentation:

  • Typos
  • Claims Without Data Or Citations
  • Bad Grammar
  • Too Much Text
  • Clip Art
  • Incorrect Information
  • Misspelling
  • Heavy Sales Copy
  • Useless Jargon

Those are the big ones.

Make even one of these glaring errors in front of a business owner, and your presentation looks amateur. Picking out a thrown together proposal isn’t difficult. Make sure your expertise is shown in the right light, to give yourself the best chance to win a contract.

Key Takeaway: Finish your presentation then let it “rest”. Giving your thoughts and slides a day or so to sit around will allow you to look at them with fresh eyes. You’ll be able to pick out mistakes easier this way, and it always helps to have a friend or colleague take a look.

Mistake #7: Failure to Deliver Real Answers

Here’s the deal:

As a consultant, you’re only ever invited into a company or meeting to deliver answers.

If you fail to fit your services into the needs and goals of your prospect, you won’t get the gig.

You can list the tactics you offer all day long, but theory isn’t usually what’s needed from you. Your prospect agrees to a meeting with you because they have a need. The person who best fits that need (and produces the best results within the budget) usually wins.

Key Takeaway: All of the previous tips can take you a long way, but finding the question(s) that prompted the decision maker to reach out for a solution can help you land more clients this year. Dig deep, and make sure you can articulate the exact problem your prospects are facing.

Avoid These Mistakes And Win With Your Next Proposal

If you’re an independent consultant, you should never view your proposal as a pitch, but rather a solution that clarifies why you are the perfect fit for the company you’re engaging.

Next, ensure that you have established your credibility in the industry through testimonials, email marketing, and delivering quality content before your meeting.

If you are honored with the permission to present your solution to a new potential client, take it seriously. Avoid these mistakes and you’ll have a great chance of landing the deal.

Question: What’s your #1 strategy for finding and landing high-paying clients?