Enterprise Software optimize

Remove impediments to getting the contract

If a prospect presents one of these five objections to hiring you, here are possible responses you can give to help eliminate their concerns.

It's not like we consultants don't have enough trouble making the case for our business proposition on only the argument of cost versus benefit; prospects sometimes have other reasons not to hire you that have little or nothing to do with whether it makes good business sense. Since it's hard enough to find a good fit, you want to eliminate as many of those extraneous objections as you can, preferably before they're even raised.

"We've never used a consultant, and we wouldn't know how to work that through payroll."

Gently explain that you don't go through payroll, you're just another bill for an outside service. Have a clear and concise contract that you can explain without resorting to legalese, and then outline in simple terms how the arrangement works: "I give you an invoice at the end of the month, and you have X days to pay it." Don't forget to mention how you're a lot less trouble than an employee: no benefits, no FICA, no unpaid leave, no workers compensation, no unemployment compensation, and you're easy to fire.

"We've been advised by our lawyers not to hire consultants because there's no safe harbor for violation of statutory employee rules."

I've faced this one several times. First of all, always have more than one active client, and obtain permission in advance to share a minimal level of documentation about your relationship with your client to prove that they're really a client. Usually, a copy of an invoice or two will do. To that end, I generally construct my invoices in two pages: the first page only specifies total hours and dollars. The second page details the work performed. That way, I can easily get permission from my client to share only the first page (under non-disclosure) with other clients. Second, have a copy of your business license ready. Third, prepare to discuss how to manage your relationship so that the IRS will not question your autonomy. If you appear to know what you're doing in this realm, you might overcome this objection.

"We want to use an employee so we retain full control."

What exactly do they mean by "full control?" Point out that your contract grants them copyright to the works you produce for them, and also contains a non-disclosure clause. As far as project management goes, assure them that you're willing to assume or relinquish the initiative to whatever degree they desire.

"We need somebody full time on this."

That objection used to just shut me up. Now, I say, "If you don't mind my asking, why?" If it's because the work itself requires 40+ hours of attention a week, then OK. Often, though, it's a way of insuring that enough attention gets put on those responsibilities -- probably because the last person excused their incompetence by claiming they had too many other things to do.

"This work needs to be done on-site."

So, offer to come on-site to do it, if that's practical. If not, see if you can strike a compromise where you'll visit their offices as often as needed. Again, a blanket statement like this usually indicates an attempt to crack a nut with a sledgehammer. There's very little in our field any more that cannot leave the building, unless it requires physical access to the hardware. Maybe they had bad luck with remote workers in the past, so now they want to keep an eye on the person who fills this spot. Having a good track record for delivering while working remotely can help here. Collect some references from other clients to make this argument.

It's important not to dismiss a prospect's objections offhandedly. Acknowledge the validity of their concerns. Don't appear to know better than they do about their own business, but rather offer your alternatives as additional information that they should consider. Of course, sometimes an objection is just a smokescreen to hide an unspoken agenda. If that's the case, you can bet they do the same thing with project requirements. You don't want that kind of work.

About

Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

9 comments
MikeGall
MikeGall

I was doing offsite work for an employer after I left the west coast for the east which worked out great that I wasn't there. They had a major customer that frequently called at the start of the business day EST. The company was small so that meant either the owner or the dev lead got calls 5:30 in the morning. With me being in the EST it just meant I was getting a call before I left the house for work. So having me do parttime dev work + cover the morning oncalls worked out for the stress of the company. In short: a consultant can be a dumping ground for things that are painful for your employees to do but easier for them to do for some reason (access to hardware with a different flavor of OS that they prefer, timezone they live, proximity to customers you need input from etc).

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

Back when I lived in the East, I sometimes visited clients of my client who was on the West Coast. Saved them some travel dollars and made me an important part of their image.

reisen55
reisen55 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Bad experience with the previous consultant is probably what got you into the door in the first place. The client may or may not be fishing. But under this condition, aside from references and all the qualifications we can add to our resume, the client may or may not still believe us. I sometimes use the contract to hire method, popular enough in the real world. 3 months, and you can also get a good taste of the client's whole business structure. Maybe the previous consultant was NOT at fault but the client is one that you really do NOT want. I would also not count this client as a new account, put it into the probable list and play it by ear.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

The client often displays an odd combination of mistrust and blind faith: they expect you to be the white knight who will save them from the devastation caused by the previous consultant, while at the same time they're watching to see if you turn into another bad guy.

paul
paul

I'm in Britain, and the idea that anyone could trade as a consultant without professional indemnity and liability insurance is unthinkable. Not can I imagine finding any client who would not demand it, particularly as liability insurance is a legal requirement. We have nothing like the US litigation obsession, but no one would take the risk of not being adequately insured.

bond.masuda
bond.masuda like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

but I have heard: 1) do you have professional liability insurance? if so, we will need you to show us that we are covered with at least $10 US million coverage. I negotiated that down to $1M. 2) i'm sorry, we don't work with anyone who isn't on our approved vendor list. so, I ask, how do I apply to be on the approved vendor list? then I found out it is "by invite only." That sort of made me laugh but then I was able to find a contact in their legal department that got me on "the list". This is by far the biggest obstacle I run into every time, but I'm getting use to finding my way around it. 3) the most recent one was, "we want you on this project, your proposal is the best by far, we trust you,... but we just shut down several departments and management wants us to reallocate those people on any projects we can find and won't allow us to use consultants right now. to be honest, using your services would even reduce the cost of this project by 40%, but we're not allowed to use your services." some times you just can't win... I understand they were trying to avoid as many layoffs as possible and possibly someone's job was at stake. whadda ya do? thanks for sharing your advice!

biancaluna
biancaluna like.author.displayName 1 Like

And I am repeating myself, but there seems to be an inconsistent definition and perception what a consultant is and can do for a client and a lot of prospects have visions of the hotshot whipper snipper in an expensive suit an applies seagull management from 30,000 feet and does not connect the pie in the sky with the operational level then runs out the door. Been there to pick up the pieces, and so I have learned to wear a different title to make the client more comfortable. What is in a name, really. I have bumped into the approved vendor list and the PI issue, but I have insurance to 10 million, this is not unusual in Australia. I have also heard number 3, and patience is a virtue, sometimes I left that with an open end to be called in a few months later when the dust settled. I suspect that what we experience has a lot to do with perception issues of our trade, and in particular the association of the word consultant with the big boys. I do apply the try before you buy method - give me something defined that has been bugging the client to demonstrate my value. I hear different barriers to buy from government and private clients, with government clients a lot of the barriers are about probity and the need for someone to cover their backside. I've been playing this game long enough to know how to get past those roadblocks - and the buzzwords that get me in the door. If I want to get in the door that is :)

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I haven't run into any of those myself -- they all seem to be "big client" problems. I'm assuming these were all corporations with more than 100 employees?

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

... it might not be worth trying to overcome. You'll be rolling that stone up the hill for the length of the engagement. Sometimes, though, it's just an unfounded notion that can be blown away with a little diplomatic reasoning.