Friday, October 02, 2015

Selling Professional Services

Selling is hard.  This is why the top companies in the world pay their sales people very well.  Selling is the oldest profession, and to do it well means that there is always a job waiting for you. Smart leaders are always seeking proven sales professionals to add to their company.  The best business leaders cherish those who can sell.

Professional services firms face a problem that their partners (lawyers, accountants, consultants, engineers, etc...) are often doing double duty as the sales people.  If you look at sales oriented companies, the selling team gets the new clients on board, and other people deliver on the work.  But in a services firm the practitioners often has to do both.  This is what it is, and will not change anytime soon (although the largest accounting firms figured it out twenty years ago that having a top tier sales team was the best solution).

To be successful at selling professional services you must accept your role in sales.  Too often lawyers (and others) try to hide behind their work product.  However, being a "good lawyer" is just the ticket into the stadium.  It does not guarantee you will play on the field or win the game.  

Clients expect you to be good at your job.  Heck, they expect you to be great.  So thinking your work is your competitive advantage is a path to mediocre numbers.

The first question I ask those in a service profession is "what differentiates you from your competition?".  Do you know?  Can you clearly articulate the points of differentiation?  Bankers always answer this question by saying "We are a relationships bank".  They are so proud of this statement, but is it really different if all your competition claims the same unique selling position?  Most have no legitimate answer.  

To be able to describe what makes you different and to believe the words in your soul takes time.  This is not an exercise you can complete in an hour long coaching session.  And your answer could, and should, be morphing over time.  This is serious stuff, and yet regularly ignored.

A mistake that is made by those in professional services is that they spend little to no time thinking about sales, business development and their personal brand.  They lament their leading competitors who are winning the game, but they do not examine what those people are doing behind the scenes.  Assumptions are made all the time, but no research or actions are being taken. 

Oh, and social media is NOT selling.  There is a lot of people talking about "social selling", but for the those who are really finding success, social media is an add on to their success, not the basis of it.  Most professional services firms need to get their people focused on old-fashioned prospecting.  This means attending live events and meeting people and then using the phone to get on the calendar to have real conversations.  Even in our social media crazy world, the way people make most decisions still comes down to the human-to-human relationships.  People do business with those they know, like and trust.

CRM systems are great, but they will not bring you more business.  A mistake made in many businesses is they mistakenly think the system is key to sales success.  My friend Jim Pancero has been a sales trainer for over 30 years and has seen all the changes in sales over the decades.  He says that we need to remember the original CRM system was a 3x5 card (and they still can work today).  I remember in my early days of selling that I had a plastic box filled with information on index cards.  Computer programs are more efficient, and allow those inside you company to access this information, but sales still come from people making calls on live prospects.  Emails and tweets will not drive your bottom line.  Gathering information and repeated calls to prospects is how you win new business.

Professional service firms also rarely do sales training or any type of inspiring motivation for the vary people who need to sell their product.  The largest sales oriented companies do a great job of educating, inspiring, and providing motivational materials for their people, but law, accounting, banking, engineering and consulting firms rarely invest in these skills.  These firms do "partner meetings", but rarely bring their whole team together for an annual "kick off" to make sure everyone is aware of the annual goals.  I find professionals cringe at the idea of sales skills training, yet the best sales people look forward to learning new ways to do their job.

Selling professional services is difficult, but not impossible.  The first step is to embrace the need for a culture shift inside a company.  The firms that have real leadership are making changes.  I see law firms that are telling partners to learn to sell or leave.  Wow, that was not said a decade ago.  Other firms are creating training and coaching programs for younger associates and working to get all of their staff engaged in developing new business.  

What have you seen professional services firms do lately that is driving their sales numbers?

Have A Great Day

thom singer

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