Professional selling tipsPosted on: September 4, 2010
Talking with some accountants the other day about their recent sales experiences reminded me of a number of tips for more effective professional selling.
Continuance or progression? – These are important concepts for those who have contacts that they see on a regular basis but find, rather frustratingly, that they are not going anyway in terms of selling. Basically, when you just continue to see people but without progressing the relationship towards an eventual sale then you need to do something different. Maybe it is to pluck up the courage to move the conversation into a different area, or to ask a key question relating to some potential opportunity or perhaps it is to try and meet someone else in the decision making unit.
Decision making unit (DMU)? – This well known concept identifies the different roles that people play in the buying process. Sometimes, people find themselves in a continuance relationship because they are dealing with a gatekeeper who does not have the authority to buy and is restricting access to the real decision maker. Other times you may be in contact with the buyer – as often the case with a Finance Director or purchasing professional – who is unlikely to act without approval from the effective decision maker. Sometimes the person is not directly connected to the buying process but is a powerful influencer on the decision maker or who can act as a sponsor to help you learn more about the organisation and introduce you to the decision makers. Other times the person might be a user of the service but who is removed from those who have the ability to make purchase decisions within their remit.
Grading contacts – If you have a lot of contacts where you are trying to cultivate relationships and identify opportunities, it helps if you periodically review them all and grade them in terms of factors such as the attractiveness of the potential work, the time horizon over which it might convert, the probability of conversion or their importance in terms of referring other work. This will allow you to decide the frequency with which you contact them and/or whether they receive general alerts to keep you on their radar or whether you should invest your precious time in making a more personalised approach. Sometimes you might devise a list of filters (things that increase or decrease their attractiveness to you) and triggers (things that indicate a change in circumstances that might indicate an opportunity is imminent) to help with the grading.
Trial close – Sometimes you wonder whether it is worth pursuing a contact that you have known for a while but where things don’t seem to be progressing. In sales parlance, you could try a gentle “trial close” – along the lines of “bearing in mind what we have discussed, and assuming that such an opportunity arises, how would you feel about trying us out for this sort of transaction?”. Their reaction – especially the non verbal one – should provide you with insight into their sincerity.
A note after meetings – After an informal meeting, it really helps if you drop your contact a short email summarising the main points you have discussed. This provides them of a reminder of your conversation and an easy way to communicate your discussion (and thus raise your profile) with others in their organisation. If the discussion provided an opportunity for them to explore and scope a challenge they are facing, then the note will act as a handy aide-memoire for them and be a subtle reminder of your expertise in the area.
Current opportunity? – Sometimes you are in touch with the right people in the decision making unit but there is no reason for them to change advisers or appoint new ones. Whilst it is good if you are skilled enough to either uncover or create the motivation to buy now, sometimes inexperienced or impatient people may ignore a relationship because there is no immediate opportunity – possibly losing out on opportunities in the medium and longer term.
Free advice? – Sometimes you have contacts with whom there is a good relationship but where they are constantly seeking “free” advice but without showing any indication of actually appointing your firm. Obviously, you need to take a commercial and professional view about whether you continue to provide freebies – but sometimes you can trade such free advice in exchange for other things – such as introductions to others in the decision making unit or for more information about the organisation and its long term aims or even a meeting to discuss another issue.
Keep in touch – While most people will be disciplined enough to have put good contacts on their database or CRM so that they receive regular updates and bulletins, the real skill is in knowing what the contact is really interested in and taking the time and effort to send across snippets and articles that relate directly to something of interest to the contact or the contact’s organisation. Natural empathy and skilled questioning will reveal those areas so that you can then set up alerts or watch developments through social media channels to help you identify things that might be of interest to them.
Add value at every occasion – One of my golden rules is to always aim to provide some value to the contact at each interaction – this could be with some information about their market, some ideas that might help them with an unrelated issue or simply some news about new developments that might impact their organisation. Where you are in a situation where you must sustain regular contact over a long period of time, the fact that you always provide some value means that you are unlikely to be declined when you request a catch up call or meeting.
What are your favourite tips for more effective professional selling?
Related articles on professional selling
Importance of empathy and emotional intelligence in selling.
Pick up the phone – creating better business relationships with the telephone
Enquiry management – Converting sales enquiries on the telephone
Presentation skills – preparing content and great delivery
Planning for effective cold calls
Managing key client meetings through the client lifecycle
My book on Better Business Relationships contains a lot of information on selling skills
For more advanced sales professionals, you should read this book on insight selling (also known as challenger selling).
Large, complex sales are addressed in this book “Let’s get real or let’s not play”
There are also relevant videos (e.g. on emotional intelligence and targeting) on the RedStarKim YouTube channel
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- What are the most appropriate selling frameworks or models for professional firms?
- How do you close a sale?
- What practical steps can I take to improve client relationships?
- How can I improve my chances of winning a pitch?
- How can I improve my active listening skills?
- Take a walk on the client side - Empathy and emotional intelligence when selling professional services
- How do I ensure a successful sales meeting?
- What is a value proposition or USP - and how do I create one?
- Business development for lawyers – five key insights
- What is NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming)?
- How can I improve my targeting of new business?
- How can I improve the effectiveness of my persuasive writing?
- Advanced social media use amongst lawyers, accountants and surveyors
- Book review: Let’s get real or let’s not play – The demise of dysfunctional selling and the advent of helping clients succeed (Mahan Khalsa)
- Helping fee-earners prepare the perfect pitch Mk II
- Use the 6Rs to generate more referrals - Referrer management
- CRM success statistics from Freshfields
- Getting to grips with Key Account Management (KAM)
- Top tips on the psychology of persuasion
- Book review: The seven keys to managing strategic accounts – Sallie Sherman, Joseph Sperry and Samuel Reece
- Pricing in the professions – books for marketers, lawyers and accountants
- Selling and Tenders
- Training Courses
- Selling Skills for the Professions
- Book review: “How to win friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie – Still a valuable guide
- How can a lawyer become more effective at business development?
- Why should a tax adviser use social media?
- How do I integrate social media into my business development?
- What is emotional intelligence (EQ) and why is it important?
- Book Review: Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves
- Book review - Rainmakers and Trailblazers: A step by step guide to Business development for lawyers
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- Book Review – Business Networking: The Survival Guide by Will Kintish
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- Sales and selling tips: 11 point plan for cold calling
- Business development for professional service firms – Summary of MBL seminar
- Six highlights from CLT’s Business Development for Lawyers training course
- Book Review: “The small big – small changes that spark big influence” by Steve J Martin, Noah J Goldstein and Robert B Cialdini (persuasion science)
- Coaching skills – the importance of active listening
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Category: Kim's Blog, Selling
Tagged: Accountants, Better business relationships, Business relationships, Buying process, Closing, Decision Making Unit, DMU, Pipeline management, Professional services, Relationship management, Sales meetings, Sales Strategy, Sales targeting, Sales tips, selling, Selling professional services, Triggers and filters