Getting that first customer is exciting, but before you sell to just anyone, you need to know what type of customer is appropriate for your consulting business. The first customer is not just revenue. As a matter of fact, money should be one of the last things considered in your first endeavor. Your first customer can provide you with valuable feedback to help firm up your processes and keep your company moving in a positive forward motion.
In most situations: advertising, sales, and marketing link a customer and a business. The customer learns of the business and the service through one of those medians, and they contact the business to learn more. For your first customer, it makes more sense for you to personally contact them based on their environment, their industry and their needs. Serve the business that will benefit from your services the most. For this, you will need to do your homework.
Your journey as a consultant will depend on your customer’s satisfaction with your services and the customers you choose. The first customer is the most important for many reasons: so you can clean up any of your rough edges, to get valuable feedback, and also to get your processes in sync with real world applications. Everything worked on paper, but now is the time to put your services through a real test.
Now that the tables have turned in your favor, and you are choosing your customer rather than the other way around, you have the empowerment to find a business that may be easier to work with, that will require the least amount of tweaks in your product, and has a genuine need for your consulting services. The process of finding that first customer can lead you down a plethora of avenues. First, define whether the business qualifies as a customer. If they do, are they the candidate you would choose to be that all-important first customer?
Does this business qualify as a customer?
Need – is there a need for the service you are providing. On a scale of one to ten, for example, what is the value of your service to them? If they rate a ten and would see their profits climb twofold if they utilized your consulting services, this is the business that most qualifies as your first customer. Choose the customer with the highest quantitative benefit from your services.
Funding – do they have the funding to engage in a full spectrum of your services or are they only interested in choosing one service you provide? If they are suffering under the current economic conditions and you see in the news that they are laying off some of their workforce, this may not be the best candidate for you to approach at this time. However, keep their business in your “future contacts” file and check back every quarter.
Workability – would you be performing your consulting services under duress? If you or your partners are going to suffer a great deal of stress while performing this service, this is not a good choice for a first customer. Some of the questions that need to be asked are: What sort of timeline will you be against? What type of people will you be working with? Are you going to be negotiated down to little or no profit? Is the company’s contact easy to approach with issues? Are they easily contacted by phone or email? Do they answer questions in a timely fashion? Unfortunately, most of these questions are difficult to ask yourself until later stages of prospect evaluation.
Your costs – how much will it cost you to obtain this company as a customer? Will you need to pay for multiple extravagant dinners or golf sessions? Is their company’s corporate office located in another state, in which case you will need to purchase plane tickets or rent teleconferencing hardware? Will you need to pay for meeting rooms, extra books for research, or briefcases for all their executives with your logo attached? The higher the cost, the lower your consulting firm’s profits.
Schedule – does this prospect have the time to view and seriously consider your presentation when contacted? Will the decision makers have the ability to collaborate and get back to you in a timely matter? Some companies have busier schedules through different times of the year. It is best to rule them out this quarter, if they are a toymaker in the month of October or November. Put them on your calendar to be revisited in January or February.
Relationship – do you, or any of your partners, have a positive working relationship with the prospect? It is always best to start your consulting business in familiar terrain. If you have a potential customer that you have worked with in the past, this is a great way to get candid feedback, not only on your services, but also on your sales techniques. Business acquaintances can also help you get your foot in the door to the decision makers and other important contacts within the business.
Communication – your consulting firm will be using this first customer almost as a “beta” run. The first customer needs to be able to communicate with you on a continual basis. You will need to know what you are doing right and what you are doing wrong, and document it for future use. You will be taking their input and using it to change your processes for the next customer. Communication is the key, as it will allow for valuable insight that will move your company forward.