Techniques that help sell products just don’t work when it comes to professional services. Services are usually tailored to meet the needs of specific clients, and the success of the ensuing relationship relies heavily on the “chemistry” or trust that exists between client and their primary contact. Here are a few things to consider, and some solutions to common sales issues.
- Successful Sales Efforts and Client Retention Depend on Confidence and Trust
Professional service companies provide services that are integral to their clients’ business success—key services like legal, accounting and financial counsel or insurance. In doing so, the service firm is placed in a position of trust and is privy to confidential, important competitive data, and other sensitive information. Client retention requires that the service company ensure that all their employees know that integrity, honesty and discretion are mandatory in all client matters. When it comes to soliciting new business, emphasize the long-standing relationships you enjoy with existing clients and stress your firm’s commitment to clients’ confidentiality requirements.
- Money Matters
Most service-based businesses sell time and bill hourly rates. For a service provider, time is money –quite literally. Make sure your clients understand how your firm bills for its services, what your employees’ various hourly rates are, and how you handle out-of-pocket costs (e.g. travel, couriers or mail services, long-distance phone charges, etc.). People who wouldn’t expect free products sometimes don’t apply the same logic to professional services. Beware of new business prospects who want to see a detailed and specific proposal that sounds like a plan that you’d normally charge hourly rates to develop.
- Personal Relationships are Key
If the client/service provider relationship is one-on-one, there is a good chance the business will follow the employee if he/she leaves your company. Client loyalty is often directed towards the individual (the day-to-day client contact or account executive) and not the firm who employs them. The only meaningful way to address this is by providing an account team wherever possible. You, or your firm’s key executives, must develop your own strong personal relationship with decision-makers at the client company. By participating in client meetings, in idea sessions, or account review meetings, you (and other senior managers) ensure that your clients realize that the expertise and attention your team offers extends well beyond the one person they see most.
- Tailor Marketing and Sales Pitches with Sensitivity
Successful case studies are an important tool in marketing efforts, but make sure your eagerness to win new business doesn’t disrupt an existing client relationship.
If your services involve problem-solving –whether it be PR or image problems or
bankruptcy counseling— it is unlikely your past, or existing, clients want to be identified directly or indirectly in your marketing materials. A case history without a “real” company may be less compelling but perhaps, in addition, you can provide qualified (truly interested) prospects with a select list of client contacts who are willing to provide references for your firm.
- Ongoing Marketing Efforts Pay Off
Typically professional services involve a longer sales cycle than products. Often the process of winning new clients takes months (sometimes more than a year). With this in mind, maintain a consistent sales/marketing effort (networking, professional/trade media relations, etc.) year-round. If you lose a client unexpectedly, replacing the lost sales revenue won’t be so daunting if you are already courting several qualified client prospects.