Over the years, I have observed the mistakes of many professionals in what we call “selling situations;” that is, where they are trying to acquire a new client or account. Although the actual approach may vary, there are many common pitfalls that trap professionals.
- They talk instead of LISTEN too many professionals monopolize the time they have in front of prospective clients with their talk, only allowing the prospect to listen. For every hour in front of a prospect, they spend five minutes selling their services and fifty-five minutes buying them back. Result: no engagement, or “We need to talk to other firms.” The prospect should do most of the talking, as much as 70%.
- They presume instead of ASKING QUESTIONS some professionals seem to have all the solutions. In fact, companies no longer offer services, but are in the business of “providing solutions.” The only thing wrong with this is too many professionals try to sell solutions without knowing the problem. The professional must ask questions “up-front” to insure a complete understanding of the prospect’s perspective.
- They ANSWER UNASKED QUESTIONS when a client makes a statement such as; “Your fees are too high,” most professionals automatically go into a defensive mode. Often they begin a speech on quality, value, or experience. Sometimes they respond with a concession or a fee reduction.
If a client can get a discount by merely making a statement, then maybe he shouldn’t buy until he tries something more powerful to get an even better price. “Your fees are too high” is not a question! It does not require an answer. Rather, ask the prospective client, “Why do you think some companies charge higher prices than others?”
- They fail to get the prospective client to REVEAL BUDGET up front how can you propose a solution without knowing the prospect’s priority on a problem? Knowing whether there is money planned for a project will help the professional to distinguish between the prospect who is ready to solve a problem and one who may not be serious about it.
The amount of money that the prospect sees investing to solve a problem will help to determine whether a solution is feasible, and if so, what approach will match the prospect’s ability to pay. Is price the only consideration as to which company to use? What has the prospect paid in the past? Why get into a bidding war, or “low-ball” prospective clients, only to have them get mad at you now and switch companies later?
- They make TOO MANY FOLLOW-UP CALLS when the engagement is actually dead whether it is a stubborn attitude to turn every prospect into a client or ignorance of the fact that the engagement is truly dead, too much time is spent on chasing prospective clients that don’t qualify for a service. This should have been detected far earlier in the process.
- They fail to get a COMMITMENT TO BUY before doing a proposal Professionals are too willing to jump at the opportunity to do proposals and often end up wasting their most precious commodity:
TIME. They miss their true goal in acquiring a client and become free educators, many times merely teaching their prospects enough to help them buy from their competitor. How many proposals has your firm done where thousands of dollars of unbilled time and effort were spent because there was a poor job of qualifying the prospective client early on in the screening process?
- They chat about everything and AVOID STARTING the sale before doing a proposal Building rapport is necessary and desirable, but all too often the small talk doesn’t end and the “sale” doesn’t begin. Unfortunately, the prospect usually recognizes this before the professional. The result is the professional is back on the street wondering how he did with that prospective client.
- They prefer “MAYBE” instead of getting to “NO” Prospects are constantly ending the engagement interview with the ever-so-prevalent “think it over” line. The professional accepts this indecision, and even sympathizes with the prospect. It’s easier to bring back the message that the prospective client might use the firm’s services “sometime in the future,” rather than saying this prospect is not a candidate for the firm’s services.
After all, wasn’t it the professional’s responsibility to go out and get prospects to say “yes?” Getting the prospective client to say “no” can also produce feelings of personal rejection or failure.
- They see themselves as BEGGARS instead of DOCTORS Professionals don’t view their time with a prospective client as being spent conducting an interview to see if the prospect qualifies to do business with their firm. All too often a “prospect” really remains a “suspect” and never gets to the more qualified level of prospective client, or client. Professionals often find themselves hoping, wishing and even begging for the opportunity to “just show their expertise” and then maybe a sale will be made (some even do this by offering free consulting engagements).
This is unlike the physician who examines the patient thoroughly before making a recommendation. A doctor uses various instruments to conduct an examination of the patient. The professional should view questions as the equivalent to the doctor’s instruments, and conduct his or her examination of the prospective client.
- They work without a SYSTEMATIC APPROACH to selling Professionals find themselves ad-libbing or “going with the flow” to make the sale. They allow the prospect to control the selling process. Professionals often leave the sales interview without knowing where they are because they don’t know where they’ve been, and what the next step is to get the engagement.
The need to follow a specific systematic sequence and control the steps through this process is vital to the professional’s success in acquiring new clients and getting more business from existing ones.
- THEY LOOK, ACT, AND SOUND LIKE THEIR COMPETITION what do professionals know about the “Greatest Skill in the World: The Art of Persuasion?” What happens when the prospective client is faced with professionals who look, act and sound alike in a multiple selection process? How might the prospect make a decision in that situation? By who has the lowest fee?
By personality? In order to outsell the competition and avoid losing prospective and current clients, the professional needs to develop an approach to selling his firm’s services that differentiates him from the competition and that is more effective. Developing a questioning strategy looking for a prospective client’s “pain” (not by playing some form of “show and tell”).
“Pain” is the underlying emotional reason people do things. So How Can I Improve? Marketing and client skill development is essential. The professional who is serious about his business keeps pace with the times.
Some really progressive firms realize the necessity of investing in marketing plans, consultative selling skill development and ongoing reinforcement of these skills. Can you afford not to?
By Devin Mason