A colleague and I once approached an organization that we thought we could help. We were invited to present to the board of this group, leaders of the top companies in this industry. We had never met most of these people.

We were told we had 10 minutes. 10? We were used to having an hour or two for a meeting like this. We asked for more time, but our contact held firm.

On the day of the presentation, we stuck to the guidelines, provided detailed handouts and took a couple of questions. About three hours later, we received a call. We were hired.

Mastering the art of making offers that get accepted can have enormous impact on your success as an internal or external consultant—as well as your ability to make a difference in more lives. My firm got this organization's attention in our presentation because board members were astonished by how well we understood their concerns.

As I learned from one of my first coaches, the better you are at positioning yourself as an expert on someone's concerns, the closer you are to being seen as having the expertise to address them. Making offers that get accepted is about listening and asking the questions that elicit vital information— knowing what your client really cares about. In my experience, most people don't focus enough on uncovering and addressing a client's concerns.

In the story above, we didn't leave this step out; we were just creative in how we did it. This was an important piece of business to us, so we interviewed 20 people in the industry to ask what they thought the organization's challenges and concerns were. We presented this as part of our 10-minute presentation and included what we thought they should do about it. The people we interviewed were names they knew and respected.

Whether speaking to business owners or decision-makers at large organizations, in my experience, these guidelines will enhance your success:

  • Never make an offer until you are absolutely clear what your client's concerns are. Most people make offers too soon. Have you ever made an offer too soon? What happens? People shut down. They may feel that they are being pushed, that you are not listening, or that you are only focused on your agenda.

  • A concern has an emotional element—it is a problem or a deeply felt goal of extreme importance to the client. The better you are at eliciting the real concerns of your client, the more you will be seen as someone who can address them.

  • To become absolutely clear what the client's concerns are, summarize what you are hearing and confirm. Ask what other concerns the client may have. (As you know, the real concern may not be revealed initially.)

  • Ask how important this concern is. What is the potential cost if this concern is not addressed now?

  • Determine whether the client is interested in your assistance. At each step of this process, seek permission to continue.

  • Clarify success measures. How will you and the client know success has been achieved?

  • When you are absolutely certain of your client's concerns, how the client measures a successful result, clear you can support her with this, and that there is real interest in your support, you are ready to make very specific, compelling offer.

  • When making this offer in writing, specify the concerns, the goals and the measurable outcomes you have agreed upon.

  • Whenever possible, make offers “live,” not by email or overnight mail.

Making offers in this way can develop an intimacy that is very powerful. I was fortunate to learn these guidelines early in my career from two exceptional coaches and have shared this information with many others over the years.

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Jackie Sloane is an executive coach and has a background in marketing communications. She specializes in enhancing clients’ ability to engage others. She can be reached at 773-465-5906 or jackiesloane@comcast.net.