Learn why selling in professional services is different than any other sale.
- The professional services market is rich with opportunity and challenges. It's growing fast and it's perfect for today's sales professional. You've made a great decision moving into this space. Now professional services is a broad market, accountants, lawyers, architects, banking, financial advisors, and engineers, and even more. All of these occupations require training and/or licensing. And then use those requirements to provide specialized knowledge about niche areas of business.
And unlike consultants who provide advice or input, professional service providers go one step further as they are responsible for the outcome or end result that their information provides. If their work doesn't meet certain standards, they can face losing their licenses. For them, this means maintaining a good reputation is critical. Now, while the professional services market is rapidly growing, it does present some unique challenges and some things you need to know before you begin to build your sales strategy.
First, professional services are not all the same. In fact, they're vastly different. The way attorneys grow and manage their firms are governed by much more rigid rules than those for architecture or engineering firms. Also, limitations on marketing and advertising for financial advisors are very different from those in the banking industry. As a sales professional, you need to know these differences. Some things to make sure you know for each profession you're selling into are: the service the business provides; the certifications they have; how they market themselves; who are the key stakeholders in this specific profession, and the regulations and laws governing the customer service.
Then, think about whether you niche or you expand. That is an important question. Do you choose to focus on just lawyers, or do you want to broaden your reach to serve any and all industries that fall within the definition of professional services? Either choice brings unique challenges and opportunities. Selling across industries obviously creates more opportunity but requires the need for more bandwidth for sales skills and industry knowledge. Selling in one niche makes it easier to understand unique needs and requirements but it limits your market potential.
Then, there are challenges of pricing structures and industry norms. Many in the professional services area are still functioning under the pricing structure of the billable hour. Meaning clients are charged based on the hours of work it takes the provider to complete the job, not the outcome of the value their offer. But there is a hot debate going on right now about changing that model. Some firms are already moving in that direction. Either way, as a sales professional, you need to know where your customer sits on this debate.
And last but not least, many professional service providers are market sensitive. Their business success changes significantly based on how the economy is doing, consumer confidence and business growth. For example, legal and accounting work are needed no matter the state of the economy but the services they provide shift based on the market. Strong economy drives business, law and acquisitions work, slow economy can mean increased bankruptcy and creditors rights.
Either way, you need to understand the key variables impacting that profession's industry. Professional services is a unique market with its down set of rules. To sell into it effectively, you need to invest the time to learn the industry and the areas of practice. And then, just when you think you have them mastered, trust me, the rules will change. Selling in to professional services is a journey in life-long learning.
- What makes the professional services market unique
- Establishing credibility
- Selling to different markets
- Crafting the right intake questions
- Expanding the customer relationship
- Follow up strategically
- Selling to "sister" services