Before we get into what makes the best sales process for professional services, we need to dispel the head trash most professional services have about selling.
I know what you’re thinking. “But, we’re not salespeople!” You may even have some negative stereotypes about salespeople and don’t even want to be perceived as one.
Well, if you provide a solution, ask questions, and seek to solve your client’s problems…you’re already selling.
The only difference is that in your industry, there may not always be a dedicated business development team. And if everyone is expected to bring in business, but no one truly “owns” sales, lack of accountability is sure to creep in. Over time, you’ll likely depend on a few key rainmakers to bring in business, and growth will plateau. As the balance within your team changes, you may find that you end up with a large number of “worker bees” who can deliver excellent work but don’t bring in new business.
The Best Sales Process for Professional Services Companies
Whether you’re a consulting firm or a law practice, one thing is for sure: you need a sales process.
As a leader, developing a sales process for your employees to follow will ensure everyone remains on the same page. Each employee should be able to pitch your solution or offering in a clear and effective way that addresses your unique buyer’s needs. In order to do so, you need to understand how your team generates, qualifies, and converts leads.
Lead Generation for Professional Services
Lead generation is a crucial part of any sales process. And in order to generate the right leads, you must first identify the channels through which you’ll attract your leads.
Asking for Referrals
First, you may want to consider building and managing a network of related professional services. Think of a wealth management company that acquires leads from accountants and attorneys or vice versa (often referred to as Centers of Influence or COIs).
For COIs, make sure that they actually refer business and aren’t just a friend – a good exercise can be to track what referrals you’ve gotten from your COIs in the past. This may result in some surprising data!
Client referrals are also key; most people have friend groups who are like them and may experience similar life circumstances. You can create events for both clients and COIs to bring in potential referrals. These events would need to add value by providing information, e.g. an event on “how to plan for retirement” if you’re a wealth management company.
Building a Presence
Within financial organizations, marketing is regulated – they can’t promise future results. Some have head trash about any marketing because of these regulations and are afraid to try anything.
Regardless, consider attending conferences that appeal to your target market. You can also consider networking and/or building a presence within local organizations, e.g. women’s or minority organization, cultural institutions, local sports, and more.
After you’ve built your presence as part of a certain community, you can consider sponsoring an event to further your reach.
The point is: be where your potential prospects are. Don’t throw money into old-school marketing tactics that don’t work, or sponsorships for events that exclude your target buyer.
Being a Thought Leader
Thought leadership is important, both for content marketing and events, articles, media appearances, and more.
Figure out how best to express your specific topics of expertise (through written or video content) and the right channels through which you can communicate that message. Perhaps there are industry publications you can write for, or conferences and events you can attend. Additionally, decide who should focus on creating these opportunities at your company. You may even consider working with a PR agency.
Most importantly, invest in professional development. Train those who show interest in public speaking and ensure they maintain their expertise and learn new things. Also ensure that you have diverse representation, so that your company can appeal to a wider market.
Developing a Targeting Plan
Consider developing a company-level ideal target and then ideal targets based on individuals on the team.
Senior people might target people more at their level, especially for COIs, while junior people might target more junior people at COI organizations to grow their careers with. If people have previous experiences with a certain type of client, they may be able to target them more effectively since they can speak their language. Similarly, if they’re used to working in any particular industry, they should have a network there and be able to understand common needs and concerns.
You may also consider different levels of leads to target. One great approach is to look at your most successful (ideally both profitable and fun/satisfying to work on) clients.
Also consider which clients and project types tend to generate the most buzz (referrals, media coverage, etc.)
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Measuring the Effectiveness of Your Marketing Channels
A great marketing campaign starts with an equally great CRM to track leads and opportunities.
Tracking from the very early target stages allows you to see what works and what doesn’t. If you just capture late stage opportunities (common in professional services and other areas without a dedicated sales team – “hey guys, I got us a new client!”) you can’t evaluate your multiple channels!
The key here is to tie as many marketing activities as possible into easily measurable tracks, e.g. have people register on the website for events so you can capture data rather than just having them show up or send an RSVP email.
Additionally, be sure to have regular meetings to review progress, track the pipeline, and review stats and ROI for marketing activities.
Lead Management for Professional Services
Qualifying leads is an important part of selling. Not every buyer fits your target profile, and each sales opportunity requires your valuable time and resources.
Ask yourself the following questions to determine that status of your lead:
- What role do they play in the decision-making process?
- How long have they been in business?
- What is the size of their organization? (Revenue, employees, number of customers)
- What are some challenges their team or company is facing right now?
- Do they feel a sense or urgency to solve their problems?
- Do they see the value in your offering?
- How engaged are they in the buying process?
- Have you gotten to know multiple people on the decision team, and are they aligned with each other?
- What types of clients have been easiest to win in the past?
- But don’t just go for low-hanging fruit: are they the right kind to deliver, or will they be too challenging or not the right fit?
- Are they looking for what you want to sell?
- E.g. An architecture firm might get a lot of requests for residential projects but wants to do commercial or a PR company might work best on crisis management vs. optimizing marketing message.
Lead Assignment and Distribution
Keep in mind that lead assignment is also an important lead management practice. The person who first generated the lead may not always be the best fit to work it. But, consider involving the person or people who would work on the client to make the transition easier. Set up focus areas, either geographically or based on industry, project type, and other criteria to make lead distribution easier.
And, consider how you will distribute leads that come in from website, events, and other areas. Evaluate who on the team is best at closing certain kinds of opportunities.
Once you qualify the lead and start to work on the opportunity, it’s a good time to get junior people involved. Assign a lead to both a primary salesperson and a junior salesperson who will participate, learn, help with notes, follow-ups, and other activities. This helps them learn to sell and also helps them get to know the client, especially if they’ll be involved in delivery for that client.
Opportunity Management for Professional Services
At this stage of the funnel, you’ve successfully identified leads or opportunities and seek to convert these leads into customers.
Consider offering a demo or showing product samples. You can even start the consulting process in order to scope.
Consider utilizing the DEAL document, an email template (and sales strategy) that will help you stay organized in sales. This document can be used to set up subsequent meetings and manage expectations.
Develop a sales meeting agenda and demonstrate the value of your offering by showing case studies and testimonials.
You may also consider introducing prospects to current/former clients so they can ask questions, learn about the experience of working with you, and more.
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Unique Sales Process Challenges for Professional Services
Each industry faces a list of unique challenges.
For professional services, balancing time between delivery work (which generates immediate revenue) and selling (which might generate revenue, but much later) is a HUGE problem, especially for junior people who might have high delivery targets but need time to start to build their networks, which can’t be done outside business hours.
Additionally, figuring out who should focus on business development and who should get trained can be tricky. Be sure to improve your development tracks and encourage those leery of doing much selling activity to develop subject matter expertise and write articles, speak on panels, and perform other activities to generate leads.
Lastly, be sure to manage your online reputation. Although this is more relevant to B2C, it can still affect B2B!