The Consultant’s International Challenge
Canadian consultants promoting their expertise are effectively promising to deliver a future service. Unless the consultant can prove past performance, that promise can only be based on an impression established at the first moment of contact.
When the eye buys, the mind and heart follow
The lonely consultant knows that the first image a potential buyer experiences is vital to the credibility of the pitch that follows. Research shows that trustworthiness is established in the first 8 seconds of a meeting and in that short time the future client makes a subconscious decision: he will either listen politely and then dismiss the proposal, or trust what he sees in those first seconds. What he feels and hears in those few seconds will be the basis of a future relationship with the consultant.
In general, since clients will usually only buy a consultant’s expertise if others have reported positive experiences with that service, the lonely consultant who seeks new clients needs to first create an image. The next step is then to creatively transmit the perception of the service to be delivered, promising to fulfill the future client’s needs.
Large service providers like accounting firms, global banks, worldwide airlines, all levels of media, well-known architects, international lawyers, fashion designers, entertainment groups and many others all started with an original idea, and then delivered on the promise that idea.
Therefore, before reaching any professional level of notoriety, every large company inevitably grew from one individual who then created a small company. If successful, this grew into a mid-sized firm and eventually even became a multinational giant. Good examples are Henry Ford and Steve Jobs, whose companies were once simply an idea in their minds.
When making a sales pitch, these large companies usually calm a potential client’s concerns simply by their size and their brand-recognition. A well-established presence in a market creates the professional image that helps large companies obtain new business in their chosen field.
In contrast, the individual consultant who does not have a large corporate identity, faces daunting challenges when trying to develop new business. He has to work much harder to create the image that future clients will consider.
How does it all start?
The Canadian consultant selling his services at home is likely to know the general requirements of potential Canadian clients and, as a result, he is usually able to adjust to territorial, economic and cultural challenges because, after all, it is his country.
The challenge of selling consulting services overseas is more difficult because the consultant is working in a market whose standards will be different to his domestic clients’. Whatever he does at home to develop business may not apply to the international market chosen.
Therefore, selling and promoting consulting services internationally requires a much broader set of transferable skills. These include (a) an ability to understand the target culture and adjust to it seamlessly; (b) a certain linguistic ability in order to learn some basic phrases, if not fluency; (c) a large amount of patience because people in other countries have their own perspective of time; (d) a thick skin and the ability to NOT take things personally; (e) tenacity when blocked by unexpected hurdles; (f) ability to change and adjust one’s presentation to fit into the new market’s parameters; (g) deep pockets to be able to move forward in the face of rejection; (h) flexibility and imagination to overcome preconceived prejudices; (i) recognition of one’s “foreignness” in the target market and the ability to turn it into an asset; and (j) remembering that when abroad we represent all of Canada and that our actions, reactions and ideas will colour others’ perceptions of us as a nation.
We all know that a product is used, but a service is experienced. A product is impersonal but a service is personal. A product is tangible, but a service is intangible, so:
– What does it take to sell and get acceptance for an intangible concept in a foreign market?
– What does it take to convince a potential client abroad to consider hiring an unknown Canadian to do something that does not yet exist?
– How does an individual create an image in a foreign contact’s mind that will lead to being hired to provide that intangible service?
– What is the FIRST STEP to selling an intangible idea internationally?
In the world of Relationship Sales there is an adage that says one must seduce first and sell afterwards, because
– YOU CAN’T SELL UNTIL YOU PERSUADE…
– YOU CAN’T PERSUADE UNTIL YOU HAVE INTEREST…
– YOU CAN’T HAVE INTEREST UNTIL YOU’VE ATTRACTED ATTENTION…
and “ATTENTION” means that the initial visual image is vital to the success of the steps that follow.
The Canadian brand
There is no doubt that Canadian consultants are as able as others to provide competitive professional services internationally. However, current world events are affecting potential relationships and it is often difficult to establish credibility, trust and professionalism, particularly when one is new to a market.
Fortunately, during those vital first seconds of a pitch, Canadian consultants can rely on Canada’s excellent worldwide reputation to get the initial attention required. While the Canadian brand will not guarantee success, it adds undeniable credibility to a consultant’s promise to deliver a professional service to a prospective client.
The Canadian consultant can then focus on matching that positive initial image with a convincing presentation that will develop the interest needed to successfully move the discussion forward.
As an international businessman and keynote speaker, Ennio Vita-Finzi’s comments are based on many years of hands-on experience in front of audiences on three continents. firstname.lastname@example.org