Professional service sales are much more challenging than selling products. Why? Because you have to get your potential customer to understand the value in you, your company and very often an assortment of intangible factors that should sway them to buying your particular service. Rather than paying attention to product features, a customer pays attention to your strengths and weaknesses when making a buying decision. This can be very intimidating to new salespeople, especially ones that lack the previous experience or contacts to allow their reputation to speak for itself.
Selling professional services is much more intimate than a product sale. With a product sale, you tell the customer a price, they agree to it and you send them an invoice. With a professional service sale, there is a much more extensive process. The following professional service sales tips should help:
- Problem identification – Your client obviously has some sort of problem, or else they would not be asking you for help. The problem may be that they do not have the in-house capabilities to perform your services (accountant, attorney, etc.) or it could be that they don’t have the outside perspective to help them solve a management issue (management consultant). The first step is to identify with their problem and make them realize that you understand it from their perspective. Professional Services Sales Tip – During this process, make sure to relate to your customer/client and understand their business. There is no need to overly demonstrate how smart you are, or belittle the issue that they are facing. Business owners and buyers of professional services are taking a big leap by asking for help, they need your expertise and insight, they don’t need to feel like they aren’t the smartest guys in the room.
- Make things tangible – The more tangible you can make your services, the better a fit you will seem to your client. Think about it – what is the easiest thing for a business owner to buy? In a recent survey conducted by ClientSky, 36% of business owners stated that office supplies were the easiest thing to buy. This is because they are simple and solve a problem definitively without much extra thought. “I need a pen” is solved by buying a pen. Very simple right? Professional service sales are obviously more complex, but the more you can focus on specific deliverables in your sales discussions the better. Professional Service Sales Tip – Don’t focus on your experience, resume or your boilerplate processes to fixing issues. Work with your client as if you were a partner in their business and provide a specific set of solutions. “We are going to do A, B and C to solve the problem and create X improvement in the business.” Mapping out specific deliverables makes it very easy for customers to justify their expenses.
- Watch your tone – Never make things about you, your company or what makes you the best choice. Let the client decide that. Frame all of your pre-sales and sales discussions as if you were an employee in the client’s business. Business owners will appreciate this for a few reasons:
- You will appear to be a member of the team
- You will be making statements in the same fashion and tone that they would make them in, leading them to feel more like “you are on the same page”.
- It will be easier to justify the expenditure on professional services if they look at it purely as an “investment in their business”, rather than cost sink on an outside professional service provider.
- Professional Service Sales Tip – Use terms like “we” and “the company” and “us” to position your statements. Little changes to your vocabulary can go a long way.
- Professional service sales proposal should have no surprises – With exception of sometimes the cost, the entire scope of work, process and specific deliverables should be clarified with your potential client long before you ever send the sale proposal. They should be excited and already talking about working together. Proposals themselves do not win work, salespeople win work. Sales proposals, especially professional service sales proposals, help relay a level of professionalism and close the proposal faster, but they are not a substitute for a good salesperson. Professional Service Sales Tip – Build a relationship with the client and be brutally honest about the scope, challenges, etc. all over the phone. If there are significant challenges or the scope is much larger than the client thinks, they should know about this during the pre-sales conversations and not be surprised when they see the sales proposal (or worse, halfway through the project).
- Give stuff away – Too many professional service providers think that they are unique or special in some way. GET OVER IT. There are many people just like you in the world and your processes, data, etc. are probably not all that proprietary anyway. I’m not saying that you should do a project for free, but building some good will with a client can go a long way. Offer to help them with one of their short term problems, or spend extra time with them analyzing their issue and make some recommendations. Professional Service Sales Tip – Your ability to build a relationship with the potential client is the most important part of sales proposal conversion. Building goodwill with your client will establish that you 1) understand their needs, 2) are a fair business partner and 3) are not a nickle-and-dime operation.