As it becomes harder to get new business, professional services companies need to engage all of their technical consultants in the sales process. Some technical people take readily to the idea. Others raise logical and considered objections. Here are some of those objections, and some possible responses.
“Selling compromises my role as an independent, impartial advisor!”
“The client is probably expecting you to sell the services of our firm: after all, he or she is probably being asked to sell their organisation’s services too. Your advice can continue to be impartial and independent. This impartiality does not stop you asking the client about their future needs, or about the problems they face in areas outside your immediate expertise. The client is an adult: they know you are employed by our firm. If you think we do a good job, then it is only reasonable that you will seek to extend our relationship with them.”
“This isn’t what I signed up to do. I joined this company to give clients advice, not to sell to them!”
“You joined this company as a junior person. As you have become more senior, it becomes necessary not only to do the work, but also to generate the work. This is part of the change in job description as you became more senior.
If you are still junior, then it is greatly in your interest to generate work: this will support the growth of the company and enhance your future career.
Most of your work is certainly giving advice. Most of our firm’s work is follow-on work, so by the excellence of your advice you encourage the client to continue their partnership with us. All we are asking is that you increase your awareness of new opportunities, and actively seek to introduce colleagues. This is part of your job.”
“As a professional person, I shouldn’t have to sell. Doctors, lawyers and surgeons don’t sell. The clients come to them!”
“Increasingly, selling is part of the job for all professionals. I think you’ll find that doctors, lawyers and surgeons do have to sell their services. However good we are, the clients won’t just arrive on our doorstep.”
“And clients don’t want to be sold to!”
“They don’t want products or services pushed at them. But they could well be perfectly happy to have commercial conversations with experts who have the client’s best interests at heart. If the client values your expert services, they would probably like to know what more we could do for them. So long as you are having conversations which are about their problems and their needs, then the conversations are interesting for clients. What clients don’t like is pushy sales people, who have their own sales targets at heart and don’t listen. You will not be one of those.”
“Selling is somehow sleazy. I just don’t think it fits with the professional image.”
“Some sales people are sleazy. That doesn’t mean we have to be. When sales is done well, it fits easily with the professional image:
– it is honest: no hidden agenda
– the conversation serves the client’s needs
– we are clear if we are not the right firm for the job
– the dialogue with the client is straightforward : we don’t manipulate or deceive
Some sales people give sales a bad name. We don’t have to be like them. We sell professionally.”
“Isn’t selling all about relationship building and people skills like that? It’s for soft and fluffy people – not hard-edged analytical types like me.”
“Relationship building has its place, certainly. You already have relationship skills or you wouldn’t be the excellent and effective advisor that you are. Sales also is logical and analytical. It is a problem-solving process, which will make good use of your analytical skills. We have a number of clear processes that we follow, which I can describe to you. We measure progress. We collect data and analyse it, just as we do when we advise clients. The sales processes in our firm need your analytical skills as much as your relationship building skills, and your critical faculties will be very welcome.”
“Why should I do the sales? I thought we had a marketing department for that, and a business development team.”
“Yes, those teams are important. They provide plans, information, and direction. They also, by raising our profile, make sure that potential future clients have heard of us. They also sell. You and your colleagues are in the important position of being face-to-face with clients every day. You know what is going on. You hear about future opportunities. Because you are present in the client community, you are in the best position to initiate sales conversations and follow up new business, with both existing and new clients.”
“I don’t know how to hold the conversations. I’m OK if the client presents me with their problem. Then I know what to do. But how do I start the sales conversation from nothing?”
“All conversations have a pattern, and these patterns can be learned. You are skilled at holding advisory conversations. You can acquire the skills to hold other sorts of business conversations, including sales conversations. We offer training in this.”
“I don’t want to cold call.”
“You don’t have to cold call. Most selling is not cold calling. Most selling is very like advisory work: listening to problems and working out solutions.”
“I simply haven’t time for this. I am 100% billable, and I already work most weekends on internal stuff.”
“The fact that you are 100% billable means that you are one of our most valuable sales resources: you are 100% engaged with the clients, and you know them very well. You probably already notice unmet needs in the clients, and you have useful knowledge about upcoming new contracts. We’ll find a way for you to feed that knowledge into the sales process. You probably hear information about new opportunities over coffee, and at the beginnings and ends of meetings. We’ll see if we can liberate some time for you to go on a course to learn how to make the most of those informal conversations. And to help you maintain your excellent record of billability, we will involve you in future proposal writing and sales visits, so that you move swiftly onto your next assignment.”
I believe that every person in a firm can contribute to the generation of new business. It is part of the everyone’s job. In today’s world, selling does not mean turning up in a shiny suit and trying to convince the client to buy something they don’t need. Today, selling means listening carefully to a client, and hearing needs that may be unexpected or new, and then working out how, and if, our company can address those needs. That, in many ways, is what we do when we do advisory or consulting work. And that is how we sell.
Are you a technical person who sells, or who doesn’t sell? What do you think?