The question of how to sell professional services is an enduring one. It wouldn’t matter if Courtney’s “client” was an accountant, web designer or freelance architect — her challenge would be the same. Services are sold differently than products. Whereas a laptop salesperson sells features and attributes, a professional services provider wins new business on reputation, referral and relationships. What advice should Courtney give her rising star?
Here are seven tips from professional rainmakers.
SHRINK THE POND
If Courtney’s charge can’t be a big fish in a big pond, then she should make the pond smaller. Successful professional service providers define niches they can own.
Good: I work with retailers on merchandising.
Better: I am the city’s No. 1 coffee shop merchandiser. On average, I increase per store sale by 23 percent.
Good: I am an immigration attorney.
Better: I specialize in helping West African asylum seekers navigate immigration law.
Technology has made markets broader. An attorney is just as likely to have clients internationally as they are locally. This ability to access potential buyers makes it more important than ever to narrow one’s focus. Specificity attracts. Who would a client rather represent them in a divorce: the best divorce attorney in the area or a “we do it all” legal storefront?
Technology allows us to communicate with large amounts of people because it automates repetitive tasks. With the click of a mouse, you can flood the zone with white papers, LinkedIn posts and email offers. There are also software suites that let you track such outbound pushes and then the resultant inbound “demand.” Here is the truth, however: Increasingly, customers think of such broadcast efforts as the output of spam machines. It is better to realize that there are 200 individual buyers who could make all the difference in one’s professional services practice and then narrowcast to them.
Courtney’s colleague might be overwhelmed by the size of the market, so she’d do better to focus on where she has already seen success. Did she end up doing IP work with pre-IPO firms that where looking to manufacture in China? Her first job should be to compile a list of pre-IPO technology firms in her area. Then, she should vow to meet with each one over the course of a year, sharing case studies of previous success with them.
UNDERWRITE A CONVERSATION
One the quickest ways for an attorney to meet their “group of 200 [potential buyers]” is to underwrite a conversation among them. Let’s face it, these would-be clients are more interested in their peers’ experience than they are in being pitched by a law firm. The young attorney should give them what they want ― a sponsored lunch or conference call where she can facilitate a best practices conversation. The executives will get to know the attorney by her first name and appreciate the value she has given them in advance of any sort of sale.
By underwriting regular conversations among the people the attorney most wants to serve, the attorney will also be waiting around opportunistically. No one needs expert help until they do, and then they are in a hurry. This is the time to be top of mind.
For example, when a firm acquires another, who do they call for mergers and acquisitions help? Maybe the person they met three years ago at a conference, but more likely the law firm partner who sponsors the quarterly roundtable they find useful.
UNDERSTAND THE BUYER’S JOURNEY
Every potential client goes through the same steps in getting to know and hiring an attorney. They need to do the following:
- Know your name (Awareness)
- Know what you do specifically (Understanding)
- Feel like it is relevant to their job and business (Interest)
- Know you can do the job (Track Record)
- Feel like you have their best interests at heart (Trust)
- Have the resources to hire you (Ability)
- Be ready to pull the trigger (Readiness)
The absence of any one of these elements can block an attorney from engaging with someone they can help. Courtney’s best advice would be to tell her attorney to go to market with a balanced approach. All billboards (Awareness) and no case studies (Respect) will keep her from connecting with potential clients.
We buy services from people who we know, respect and trust or who are recommended by someone we know, respect or trust. Courtney’s young star shouldn’t be defeated by the enormity of a potential market. She should pick her niche and farm it diligently. In time, she will reap the harvest.