How can consultants make a strong first impression to win over new international clients?


consultants first impression

consultants first impressionWhen consultants promote their expertise to help businesses and other organizations, they are effectively promising to deliver a future service. The proof offered by past performance is helpful for some, but the promise to deliver is often based on the impression established at the first moment of contact.

The independent 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.

In that short time, the potential client makes a subconscious decision: they will either listen politely and then dismiss the proposal, or trust what they have seen in those first seconds. What they feel and hear in those few seconds will be the basis of a future relationship with the consultant.

So how can consultants make sure they create an excellent first impression to potential clients?

Work backwards to understand how to first attract a client’s attention

We all know that a product is used, impersonal and tangible, but a service is experienced, personal and intangible.

So what does it take to sell and get acceptance for an intangible concept in a foreign market?

Ultimately, you need to create an image in a foreign contact’s mind that will appeal to them and lead to being hired to provide that intangible service.

Explaining the first step to selling an intangible idea internationally comes down to how that relationship is built. In the world of relationship-based sales, there is an adage that says one must seduce first and sell afterwards.

You can’t sell until you persuade, you can’t persuade someone until you have their interest, and you can’t have someone’s interest until you’ve attracted their attention.

With so much riding on catching attention early on, the initial visual image is vital to the success of the steps that follow.

When the eye buys an image of credibility, the mind and heart follow

Clients will usually only pay for a consultant’s expertise if others have reported positive experiences with that service. Independent consultants who seek new clients therefore need to first create an image of confidence, competence and success. The next step is then to transmit that perception of their services, promising to fulfill the future client’s needs.

When making a sales pitch, large companies usually calm a potential client’s concerns simply with 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. They have to work much harder to create the image that future clients will consider.

What’s important to remember, however, is that before reaching any professional level of notoriety, every large company inevitably grew from one individual who then created a small company, just like an individual running their own consulting 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. So what can you learn from their examples?

Even large service providers who may serve as your competition all started with the same basic approach.

To compete with other consultants or businesses of any size, you just need to develop a strong, positive image, preferably one that’s original or stands out in some creative manner, and then deliver on the promise of that idea.

Whether it’s expertise, innovation, originality or something else, find your strength, emphasize why it makes you stand out in that market, and go from there.

What qualities will help you adapt your first impression for success in international markets?

The consultant selling their services at home is likely to know the general requirements of potential clients and how best to shape their image for new clients. As a result, they are usually able to adjust to territorial, economic and cultural challenges.

The challenge of selling consulting services overseas is more difficult because the consultant is working in a market whose standards will be different than those of their domestic clients. Whatever they do at home to develop business may not apply to the international market chosen, and you may need to adjust how you project your image accordingly.

Selling and promoting consulting services internationally thus requires a much broader set of transferable skills. These include:

  • Understanding the target culture and adjusting to it seamlessly;
  • Linguistic talents to learn some basic phrases, if not fluency;
  • Adjusting to other cultures’ views on time and punctuality;
  • A thick skin to NOT take things personally;
  • Tenacity to overcome unexpected hurdles;
  • Changing and adjusting one’s presentation to fit into the new market’s parameters;
  • The ability to move forward in the face of rejection;
  • Flexibility and imagination to overcome preconceived cultural or national ideas or misconceptions;
  • Recognition of one’s “foreignness” in the target market and the ability to turn it into an asset;

Canadians can also capitalize on their national 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 global 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.

For consultants from other countries around the world, find your strength, emphasize it in a unique way that captures attention, and then use that attention to explain how you can deliver on your promises. Once you master these steps, you’ll make a great impression that will get the conversation started and lead to more clients.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the contributing author, and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forum for International Trade Training.

About the author

Author: Ennio Vita-Finzi, CITP|FIBP

Ennio Vita-Finzi is a Certified International Trade Professional (CITP) and was a Trade Commissioner in Europe, Latin America and the US as well as President of the Canadian Council for the Americas during NAFTA negotiations. He has been a multinational executive and entrepreneur and is now a College lecturer, keynote speaker, and author based in Montreal. (

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