All of us on the consulting, vendor, and service provider side have experienced this.  We think we can bring great value to a company and yet we can’t get an e-mail returned.  Why?  What are we doing wrong?

To understand the dynamics, I asked Joan Lewis, until recently the SVP of Global Consumer and Marketing Knowledge at Procter and Gamble, and now establishing her own consulting practice, to share her thoughts. What follows is a quite contrarian view to how most vendors sell.  It’s time for a reboot!

Joel: How did most suppliers approach you? How would you decide who will make it onto your calendar?

Joan: Most told me they want to understand my business issues and how smart they are as consultants to address my unmet needs. That is so wrong!  That approach would never work with me.  Insights leaders do want new capabilities, and it’s very hard to sift through the many similar claims.  There is not time to assess everyone, so we need to hear something of substance quickly.

Joel: Well then, what approach is better?

Joan: I want the supplier to lead with their capabilities and ideas that are new to the industry.  What do you have to offer that is different and incremental? Don’t tell me how smart you are. If all you have is a better way of doing the same thing, well any client could go to their existing suppliers for that.  That is why they invest in those relationships for exactly that purpose. However, if your capabilities stretch my thinking about what is possible or you address a problem we might have been working on ourselves but not yet cracked the code, I am potentially interested.

Joel: Could all suppliers with interesting capabilities get on your calendar?

Joan: No, because they might ask for the wrong thing.  Don’t ask me for an hour or two to present.  Ask me for 15 minutes and I am much more likely to respond. That also means you need to learn how to tell your story in 15 minutes and many don’t know how to do that either. If all goes well, you would get introduced to the organization.

Joel: How do you separate the true innovators from those who are really pretenders without substance?

Joan: First show me you mean it, and that you have something of substance.  Create a demo that proves this works and adds something new.  Have a pilot program ready to offer that acts as a proof-of-concept. Show me that you work with others I respect and interact with.  Drop names. Oh, and by the way, if I am interested, I WILL check!

Joel: Are there other style issues that you respond to and alternatively, that turn you off?

Joan: Definitely. As I said, do NOT come in with an approach that we are really smart consultants.  That is table stakes and non-differentiating. Come in with new capabilities…talk about yourself.  That will earn you the right to hear my pressing issues. It is also important that you are completely open.  Candor is critical.

Joel: Great advice, thank you so much! Do you have any parting comments?

Joan: I just want to add that I and other insights leaders DO value smart consulting. The challenge is that we have to get to know you to see that, and everyone claims it, so the STATEMENT is not differentiating.  The comments here are, I hope, helpful thoughts about how to break through to have a chance to prove that you DO have differentiated, great consultants AS WELL AS a new solution to a real problem.

Joan Lewis can be reached via LinkedIn.

DISCLAIMER: Joan is not speaking for P&G or describing any specific P&G policies or practices.  Rather, she is speaking from a lot of experience about what breaks through for her, personally.