How to Sell Professional Services

How to Sell Professional Services

Selling products is different from professional services (PS). Selling products is a tangible, visual experience. Product features and benefits can be demonstrated and the competition’s functions and pricing can be compared. When PS are positioned, the positive attributes connected to the offering are not initially visible to clients. For example, clients cannot see the outcome of a technology assessment or migration before it is completed. Thus, clients perceive PS buy decisions as more complex and higher risk. Below are ten tactics to help sellers close PS engagements faster.

1 – Clarify Complex Issues
The issues related to PS are ambiguous and interrelated. Clients engage PS organizations because of their subject matter expertise, as well as their critical thinking and neutral perspective from multiple engagements. Clients have issues to be addressed, but may not know what they are or how they fit together. Effective PS sellers help clients clearly define their issues. They know confused clients rarely make decisions to move forward in the evaluation process and ultimately buy. If addressing issues were easy, clients would not need PS. Clarify the complex.

2 – Communicate the Invisible
While PS can be bought and sold, they cannot be seen or touched like tangible products. The more invisible a service offering, the more challenging it is to communicate the issue or problem and the solution to the client. Consequently, effective PS sellers use analogies, case studies and use cases to help clients understand intangible services. They also use testimonials and tools to help make capabilities, concepts and results real. Marketing departments should also create feature-benefit-result profiles for each service to help “productize” solution offerings.

3 – Customize Client Deliverables
Not matter how many times seasoned PS salespeople see and hear about common issues and problems, they must avoid providing generic communication and deliverables to clients. All clients want to be considered and treated as unique (e.g., our problem might be similar to another client, but it is not exactly the same because they are not us). Thus, effective PS sellers must customize and tailor communication and deliverables to reflect the client’s distinct uniqueness. Remember, clients do not pay premier prices for generic offerings.

4 – Demonstrate Business Impact
Client motivation is based on their confidence in the PS organization and their sense of urgency to address issues and solve problems. When engaging at the decision-making level, effective PS sellers link services to critical business issues and demonstrate how they help reduce costs, increase revenue or create impact within the organization. They focus on business performance (i.e., ROI, TCO, etc.), not operational or technical details. Effective PS sellers always act and communicate like consultants while bringing new and useful information to the situation.

5 – Engage Team Specialists
A complex sale occurs where more than one person is involved in the decision making process. The majority of PS engagements involve multiple people, especially in the enterprise and mid-market. Because different disciplines are involved on the client side (e.g., engineering, operations, etc.), sellers must effectively engage and manage team specialists; e.g., product specialists, solution architects, etc. Each specialist must bring deep knowledge relevant to the client’s specific issues or problems, all of which must be addressed to create confidence in the PS organization.

6 – Hedge Your Bets
Selling PS is about building relationships, creating trust and making the intangible tangible for clients so they feel comfortable moving forward and saying “yes.” PS organizations should use a client-centric sales process to make selling consistent, manageable, repeatable and sequential. PS organizations should also leverage tools, such as an ideal client profile, to objectively qualify clients to compress or reduce sales cycles. Focus limited resources where they will yield the highest return. Allocate resources to clients based on their probability of success.

7 – Keep Challenging Stars
Sales teams fall into three categories: low performers, average performers and high performers. High performers make up 20% or less of the team, but account for 80% of its sales. Typically, sales management spends most of their time, resources and effort “trying to fix” low  and average performers instead of challenging high performers. No PS organization can realize its full potential by fixing low performers and reinforcing average performance. PS organizations should focus on the highest return, top performers, and use their behaviors and results as the bar.

8 – Selling Cost Matters
Closing deals does not mean profitability. Profitability means closing the right deals with the right clients while demonstrating the right actions and behaviors. While excitement and perceived urgency for getting in front of clients in person is often in conflict with cost control, coaching the right behavior can help. For example, do not pursue clients outside of the ideal client profile. Do not make a face-to-face visit without first doing discovery via the telephone. Etc. Sales management should also limit discounting and focus on selling value.

9 – Strong Brand Promise
You are more likely to get the business if the client calls you versus if you call the client. Thus, PS organizations that are successful in commercializing their service offerings demonstrate the following attributes: brand credibility, positive reputation and top talent. These attributes generally translate into gaining access to senior executives and receiving higher margins. Brand and reputation matter. All communication, including people and packaging, should convey the same message and living up to the organization’s brand promise should be cultural.

10 – Value Continuous Improvement
People are a PS organization’s only durable competitive advantage. While service offerings can be copied, people cannot. Ensuring people are committed to professional development is key to maintaining competitive advantage. Continuous and never-ending improvement must be a value within the PS organization. The only constant in business is change. To maintain an edge with subject matter expertise, industry trends, market intelligence and bringing new and useful information to client engagements, organizations and people must continually learn and grow.

All contents copyright © 2014, Josh Lowry. All rights reserved.

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