Professional services business leaders are tasked with doing many things. From selling new business to managing clients to mentoring staff, it's hard to find time to do all of those things as well as you would like to.
That's why it's so important to spend your time on those activities with the highest probability of success. Nowhere is this more important than in sales. Unless you're an international consulting firm, it's unlikely that you have dedicated sales people in your firm.
The professional services business relationship rests on a foundation of trust. The traditional professional service model is that of a practitioner building a book of business by selling new clients and leveraging those relationships to grow by ensuring that they get the results you promised them.
I know all this very well. I run a small business where I'm responsible for managing sales, marketing, operations and client management. I just can't afford to waste precious time on low percentage sales opportunities. So here are some high percentage tactics you can use in your professional services business.
Focus sales and marketing resources on targeted niches
This is a subject we've discussed quite often in this blog. SMB companies need to focus resources on high-percentage opportunities, period. In order to focus your sales and marketing resources, you need to know what a good opportunity looks like.
Here are some things to consider as you define your target markets:
- What are the common characteristics of your best customers? Are they concentrated in common industries? Are they of similar sizes? Similar geographic areas? List the commonalities of your best customers and use this to help qualify sales opportunities.
- Who are the buyers at your best customers? Remember, most professional services sales are complex - there are multiple influences in the decision-making process. The CEO may make the final decision, but she could be looking to the HR Manager to help judge what the best decision is for the company.
- Are there areas/industries in which you have deep domain expertise? In my case, I spent 25 years as a management consultant before starting my inbound marketing business. I target professional service firms because I know their businesses - their pain points, their needs and how people buy their services. I don't know a whole lot about retail, so I don't spend time chasing that kind of business.
Once you know what your ideal customer looks like and who their buying influences are, you can target your messaging and content at them. You can also use their characteristics to qualify leads.
Have a process to ask satisfied customers for referrals
A referral is the holy grail of professional services marketing. Think about it, a referral is likely hearing good things about you from a satisfied customer and is likely in a buying process. What else could you ask for?
Yet many professional services business leaders don't have a systematic process to generate referrals. Most don't even ask for them. Remember, the worst possible outcome of asking for a referral is hearing, "No, I can't think of anybody right now."
A good way to ask for referrals is to build them into your project review/stewardship process. Top-flight professional services firms have a process in place to review how projects turn out or periodically check in with ongoing customers.
The goal of a stewardship report is to make sure the customer is happy with your service and to identify opportunities for improvement. If you identify a satisfied customer, it's natural to ask them, "Do you know anyone else who might be able to benefit from our services?'
Remember, you've to to give to get. You know what your customers do and who they do it for. Try to find the chance to introduce them to business opportunities in your network.
Know the rules of the game before you play
I saw a statistic recently that I found amazing. The Sales Benchmark Index found that 60% of sales opportunities end in no decision. How frustrating is it to devote your limited time and resources to a sales opportunity only to find that the buyer decided to do nothing?
The first thing you should do is to use your marketing automation software to qualify leads for fit and interaction with your marketing content. In my case, it's a waste of my time to chase after opportunities in the retail industry, so I use my marketing automation software to qualify leads for fit with my target market.
Let's assume that you've qualified an opportunity and you've decided it's worth pursuing because it matches your target market profile. Now you need to find out if this truly is a buying opportunity. Ask questions to understand:
- Does the prospect have the budget to pay for your services?
- Does the person you're working with have the authority to buy from you? If not, who does?
- Is there a real need for your services? What are the consequences if the buyer doesn't solve the problem/need you help with?
- What is the timing to make a purchase decision?
Your time is valuable and you are a qualified professional. You don't need to waste your time with tire-kickers and people who don't have the budget or authority to buy from you. If someone wants a proposal from you, make sure you fully know how the decision-making process is going to work before you spend any more time pursuing that opportunity.
I've learned most of these things the hard way - I've wasted more time than most chasing phantom opportunities. But I'm good at what I do and my time is valuable. Before I spend my valuable time on a sales opportunity, I'm going to have a high degree of confidence that I'm working on a good opportunity. By narrowing down the time-wasters before you commit resources, you'll increase your close ratios. It's a matter of playing the percentages.