by Allan S. Boress, CPA, CFE
In today’s economy, most professionals don’t even think about selling; the work just seems to come in. Will it always be this way? What about those prime opportunities that you somehow just can’t close for the fees you want? Why doesn’t anyone else around your firm help bring in business? What about replacing those deadbeat clients with better ones?
Let’s take a look at the FIVE main reasons people who work for professional service firms don’t sell - and what to do about it. These explanations reflect upon working with over 500 professional service firms as a sales consultant these past twenty years:
Excuses ... Excuses ...
The most common excuse is "I HAVE NO TIME TO SELL!" Chances are that answer spilled right out of your mouth.
Who's got time to sell? We're supposed to be billable -- that's how many of us are compensated. Indeed, lack of space in one's daily workday is the foremost justification for not bringing in more work. After all, professionals aren't salespeople, who are supposed to be spending all of their time selling. Of course, "lack of time" gives those not inclined to sell a handy excuse.
Fact is, there are very busy people who do find the time to sell, even during their busiest times of the year, because they know how important it is.
And there is a part of every workday that is absolutely perfect to sell more business: lunch time. Where do you eat lunch? At your desk? Got a lot of walk-by traffic?
You've Got The Time
Lunch (or breakfast) is one piece of every day that is usually occupied alone or with one's fellow partners or staff. Even during busy times, we usually find time to eat. Why not invest some of those lunchtimes with clients, referral sources, and prospective clients? Not every day, perhaps. Consider utilizing lunches six to twelve times a month to sell more business. Experience shows that you'll be having six to twelve more valuable contacts with prospective clients, referral sources and clients than 98% of your competition.
And by getting a prospective client into a restaurant, you take control of the situation and remove them from all of the distractions that always seem to pop up in their office.
Don't argue with success: The Top Business Producers in all professions do most of their relationship building and selling at lunch or away from their offices.
This isn’t the 1990s anymore
Excuse #2: PERSONAL MARKETING SKILLS AREN'T REQUIRED FOR PARTNERSHIP OR ADVANCEMENT IN THE FIRM.
Even in today's competitive environment, there are still some firms that promote staff to partnership who don't have the disposition or talent to bring in business!
What the firm often winds up with are staff technicians earning partnership salaries without bearing the burden of contributing new life-blood to the firm.
Be prudent about the message you are sending to your staff. Are they abundantly aware that in order to attain partnership they will have to prove that they can bring in business? Don't wait for them to be motivated to do so once they make partner -- by then it will be too late.
Yes, some will scream: "Joe was promoted to partnership without bringing in business; why are you changing the rules on me?" Fact is, the rules have been changed on all of us. You can't do business successfully in the 21st Century as you did in the 1980s and 90s.
Excuse #3: "Professionals PRESUME THEIR CLIENTS KNOW WHAT THEY NEED AND WILL ASK FOR IT WHEN THEY'RE READY."
Many of us are reluctant to approach our clients over what we may feel they need or should want for fear of damaging the relationship.
However, by not approaching clients for additional work, we leave them wide open to interlopers -- outsiders who sometimes wind up getting the kind of work we could do just as well. For instance, your client may consult with a stranger as to what computer system to buy, yet who knows the client's records and systems better than you? The same is true of estate and tax planning, inventory control, cash management, office productivity and business succession planning or an add-on service your particular firm offers, no matter the profession.
By not approaching clients when we could, we are opening the door to outsiders who have their own coterie of professionals and consultants they like working with. They can, and often will, introduce our competitors to our clients.
Also, by not being proactive, our clients' businesses aren't perhaps as healthy and successful as they should be. Maybe they would be less concerned about fees if they made more money, too.
Excuse #4: "I HAVE NO SET PLAN OF ACTION."
People in business like to create lists. We need systems and action plans to control our activities. Without a set plan of action, a list of activities to follow, we generally stall out and do little or nothing.
Imagine trying to accomplish any engagement without a written program. The same holds true for accomplishing a personal sales plan.
Set goals for the number of face-to-face contacts you will have every week with clients, prospective clients, and referral sources. Start with two a week. At the end of a year you would have over a hundred opportunities you might not have otherwise had.
Excuse #5: "I DON'T KNOW HOW TO SELL MYSELF EFFECTIVELY."
Most professionals tend to be quite risk averse by nature and only embark upon those pursuits we feel very confident about. Is the art of persuasion, the Greatest Skill in the Business World, an intuitive skill for people who provide professional services? If it were, wouldn’t they have gone into the highest paid profession of all, selling?
This is a very valid excuse. Ninety percent of the professionals I run into haven't a clue as to how to conduct an effective sale or successfully personally market themselves or their skills. You wouldn't dream of sending an unprepared staff person out on an audit. So, don't dispatch your professionals into inherently risky selling situations without similarly providing the training they need.
Invest in your people's skills through courses available through your state society like our upcoming "I-Hate-Selling Course," the only such program ever created by scratch for professionals.
Designed for the many consultants and service professionals who cannot stand selling, this guide supplies a step-by-step proven approach for maintaining and growing a business--even after raising fees. Boress, a nationally-known speaker and business development expert, shows how to listen to potential clients, ask questions, evaluate answers, avoid fatal mistakes, and maintain contact and control in the sales situation.
Allan S. Boress, CPA, CFE is one of America’s most sought after speakers and trainers on the subject of personal marketing, systematic selling and client retention. He is the author of the "I Hate Selling Tapes" available on his Web site. You may reach him at 954/345-4666 or at [email protected] or www.ihateselling.com