Marketing is essential for your professional services practice. Equally as essential, and perhaps more troubling, is Sales and Selling.
The reality is that even if your Marketing is firing on all cylinders, you still have to Sell your services. Rarely will a new client call you up and sign immediately, without questions, customized needs, or fees discussion.
Marketing is what brings people in the door. Selling is how they become clients.
To be sure, great Marketing makes the Selling process much easier. If you establish the value of what you offer well enough in advance, Sales conversations are much easier. But you still have to have those conversations.Marketing is what brings people in the door. Selling is how they become clients. Click To Tweet
Just like they do with Marketing, many professional service providers disdain or avoid Selling through lack of real-world business training and experience. And so, while they may be very good at what they do, and capable of providing great help to many, they just can’t communicate this well enough to consistently get new work. Their business struggles.
Successful Selling is not something you’re going to learn from a single blog post. But I hope to at least impress upon you the importance of Selling skills, and provide a framework that might help you land more clients.
Why are people afraid of Selling?
At a basic level, Selling is really a very simple thing. It’s the development and presentation of a specific solution to the client’s needs, including services to be provided, price, and method of payment.
The solution you Sell can be simple or complex. If you’re hungry, I can sell you a burger. Or, a combo with fries and a drink. Or, a 14-course chef’s choice meal with individual wine pairings.
And that’s where Selling gets tricky. Without an exploration of the prospect’s needs, and whether those needs are appropriately met by the solution, you could be selling something that’s not of real value to them.
This has been done enough times by enough unscrupulous or uncaring people that the negative image of the salesperson has stuck forever. The lingering general opinion of Selling is that it’s a manipulation, that the salesperson is making people do something.
Naturally, people find this distasteful. It’s this image that makes it difficult for business owners to approach learning Selling skills. A common promise of Marketing and Sales training these days is learning how to Sell without “being Sales-y”.
Heck, even I used the same language in my Marketing post:
You DON’T have to be “hype-y” or “sales-y”, and you DON’T have to manipulate people. (You really shouldn’t.)
I kind of regret that language now. Selling is NOT an evil practice, and it’s NOT something to be ashamed of. IF you approach it from the right motives and mindset, it’s not being “sales-y” at all.
Along with a huge number of other great ideas about Selling, the late great Zig Ziglar said it’s “something you do FOR people, not TO people.” Zig was proud of his career, and his sales training and motivational speaking is still some of the best of our time. But as a former travelling cookware salesman, even he couldn’t fully erase the idea that only wheeler-dealers can Sell.The late great Zig Ziglar said Selling is 'something you do FOR people, not TO people.' Click To Tweet
How to Sell
We all hate rejection, and Selling creates huge psychological barriers for people. Doing it well is mostly about establishing and maintaining a positive mindset.
Sales trainers and all types of books and blogs cover this in detail, along with other aspects of Selling including prospecting, dealing with objections, and closing. Those other elements can be important, but none so much as mindset.
Everyone is different, and establishing the proper mindset requires you to know yourself. Here are some ideas that seem to work for me, to help as a jumping off point.
1. Love what you do
Selling requires conviction. If you don’t first believe in yourself and your service, how can you talk convincingly about it?
Nothing in selling is more effective than your absolute confidence that, as long as the client is a fit, you can do a great job for them. Without this confidence, you really are manipulating people.
2. Take a flexible approach…
Selling is about creating solutions for people. As much as possible, you want your solution to be a fit for what they need. A set offer can be just fine, but adopting a “take it or leave it” attitude is a barrier to productive sales conversation.
Remember that being flexible does NOT mean you have to change your fees! There will always be those prospects that won’t (or can’t) budge on price. It’s up to you to decide whether to adjust the conditions of your offer.
Just remember that the tone of a client relationship is often set in these early stages. If you devalue yourself to meet a prospect’s demands, you may be setting yourself up for poor treatment later.
3. …but be specific
Confused prospects don’t move forward. Your offer has to be clear enough for them to understand it. Be as specific as you can about what they’ll receive, timelines, terms of payment, etc.
Obviously, when delivering a service, what you’ll be doing for the prospect may not be easily definable at the outset. There’s nothing wrong with this, just spell it out for the prospect, and be clear about the other factors you can control.
A clear offer can also save you time later by eliminating common questions that arise about the delivery of your service.
4. Work on your Marketing
Again, great Marketing can do some of the Selling for you. Consider building up your website, print and other content to describe what you offer and the value it provides for your clients.
Be careful about trying to Sell too much. You want to be able to converse with people to discuss their needs. Marketing offers with too much detail may cause prospects to decide prematurely and not contact you at all. Use analytics on your website to monitor the number of visitors who aren’t responding to your Marketing.
5. It’s all about the prospect
As we’ve discussed, people are largely distrustful of of salespeople. And while they have no trouble buying something they want, they do NOT like to be “sold”.
Remember what Zig said: “Selling is something you do FOR people, not TO people.” The moment a prospect senses that you’re pressuring them, or that you’re putting your interests above theirs, you will lose them.
If you love what you do and are committed to providing the best service possible, it will come through. Be honest and objective in your conversation. Don’t be afraid to EXCLUDE prospects if they’re not a fit. It will be harder to service them anyway.
When you’re truly focused on the prospect’s needs, Selling isn’t about a prepared pitch or slick closing techniques. It’s more about (a) helping them to recognize they have a problem, and (b) asking for the opportunity to help them solve it.
To my mind, that’s a much easier approach to the conversation.
6. ALWAYS set expectations for follow-up
This is a big one. Never end a sales conversation without setting an expectation for what happens next.
Ideally, you want to create conditions for prospects to be honest with you. Often, people will politely put you off to avoid an awkward refusal, to save your feelings, or out of fear that you’ll use some sales trickery on them. Getting clear on the next step saves both their time and yours, and keeps you from chasing them. Chasing prospects is the worst.
Again, avoid putting pressure on the prospect. It can be as simple as asking them, “Where do you think we should go from here?” This lets them set the next action, or at least defer to you to propose what to do.
Another thing you can do is explicitly ask for the opportunity to follow up, as long as they are still in a decision-making mode. This gives them the ability to “think it over” without disappearing on you.Never end a sales conversation without setting an expectation for what happens next. Click To Tweet
7. Recognize Objections for what they are
Volumes have been written about countering objections. Everyone always wants to know what to say and how to deal with them, as if Selling is some sort of tennis match to be won.
Objections are a GOOD thing! They’re a clear indication that the prospect is thinking about your offer, and willing to discuss their decision with you. This type of prospect is far better than one who says nothing, tells you they’ll think it over, and then disappears.
Recognize an objection as an opportunity to uncover what information the prospect doesn’t yet have in order to make a decision. You could try asking them directly: “That’s something I hear often. Many times it’s because of [a common reason for the objection]. Is that the case for you?”
Price can be a frequent objection, and it often arises because you haven’t yet established the value of your service over other possible options (including the option to do nothing). Remember that people are willing to pay more for something as long as they recognize the value. If a prospect really does have an inability to pay, you can explore financing or partial payment options.
Whatever the objection, staying open to the prospect’s concerns and being as flexible as you can is the way through.
8. Learn Selling Skills
Finally, be open to continuously learning and improving your Selling skills. As a business owner, you MUST Sell your services. It makes sense to learn how to do it well.
In my opinion, you don’t need fancy closing techniques or a slick pitch to sell effectively. You DO need a positive mindset and a client-centred approach. Look for resources that approach Selling from those angles.