This topic “Why is selling different for the professions?” is covered extensively in my book Dynamic practice development – Selling skills and techniques for the professions – here is an extract:
So why is selling different for the professions? There are many reasons:
Services not products
First, a professional person (e.g. a lawyer, accountant or surveyor) is selling an intangible service rather than a tangible product. In order to experience the service the buyer must commit to some element of purchase – so trust is a vital issue. Secondly, a professional service has a number of elements – there is the core expertise (in law, accountancy, property, technology etc) and there is the way that expertise is delivered. The relationship is part of that service delivery and client experience. Often, the buyer will not be qualified to make a decision as to the quality of the expertise. Most research shows that buyers of professional services either take the quality of expertise for granted or infer it on the basis of the quality of delivery.
People buying people
The quality of the service is based on the quality of the people providing that service. Therefore, in a professional service environment the buyer is trying to assess the quality of the individuals who will deliver that service. In effect, the salesman/woman is the service. People buy people. This idea is extended in the challenger/insight sales model – the person selling the service and the way that they do this becomes part of the value proposition.
Fear of failure
The professions are taught not to fail. The professions are not expected to fail. There is a risk averse culture. Professional indemnity is there to protect those unfortunate professionals who make mistakes or fail. Most practices are intolerant of failure. Early failures or mistakes in a professional career can have long lasting impact. It is therefore not surprising that most professionals fear selling because they lack training and confidence in selling. The professions need a sales process – to know what to do and how to do it and when. The professions fear ridicule and failure. They see selling as a risky business with regards to their career and their reputation. Yet, it is impossible to win every sale that you seek – therefore, implied in effective selling is the occasional failure. This is an incredibly hard attitudinal and cultural transition to make.
Outside their comfort zone
Typically, professionals operate in a role as technical adviser. Where they provide advice in a narrow area of expertise. The relationship manager role – needed for effective selling – has almost the opposite set of qualities and attributes and behaviours. It is challenging for professional experts to step into this different role. It is unfamiliar to them.
Do it all
The professional has to undertake a multiplicity of roles. They have to do the marketing, the selling and then actually produce the service and deliver it to the client as well as supervise the work and organise billing and payment. Each professional must therefore acquire and use a wide range of skills which in other types of companies would be focused in specialist units (e.g. sales, finance, quality control etc). The book “Essential soft skills for lawyers” explores the wide range of soft skills needed.
Ethics and integrity
Most professions still have professional rules about acting in the best interests of the clients and somehow selling still feels outside this definition. It is not until you see selling as a vital part of matching the clients needs against the services and advice you can offer that you start to see how a ‘professional’ could and should sell.
As marketing and selling are relatively new in the professions (it was only in the 80s when the professional rules were relaxed for lawyers and accountants) few professionals have received proper sales training as part of their career development. In some respects, it is hoped that they will pick up the appropriate behaviours by observing their seniors and absorbing the correct approaches. This is a bit like expecting someone to learn how to drive by being an observant passenger. It can work but would be quicker, cheaper and less painful if some professional lessons were provided.
Most professionals expect there to be an ongoing relationship with the client. A close and confidential relationship is not conducive to the perceived relative harshness of selling.
For many years the prevalent feeling was that if a professional did a good job, their clients would be happy and would recommend them to other clients. During the heyday of professional services when demand outstripped supply, few professionals needed to do anything more than pick up the phone to take the constant stream of new instructions. This attitude prevails in some areas making professionals feel that if they have to sell then they have somehow failed in their professional endeavours.
Transactional (and referrer relationships)
Some professionals (e.g. corporate finance specialists, architects, personal injury and probate litigators etc) are involved in work of a very transactional nature – where the opportunities to win business are difficult to predict and rare. Therefore, the chances of developing an ongoing relationship with the client are minimal. This often requires a marketing and selling approach which is targeted at other intermediaries (there are many articles on referrer management) or carried out in conjunction with professionals in the same firm whose work is more likely to bring them in contact with clients on a day to day basis.
Long sales cycle
Whilst consumer services are relatively straightforward to sell, many professionals have to sell to organisations and businesses. B2B (Business-to-business) sales cycles can be protracted and complex and involve many different people in the Decision-Making Unit. Professionals need guidance and support to navigate and nurture sales relationships with organisations.
I have made some short videos explaining aspects of professional selling – and these are on the Kim Tasso YouTube channel
I do not restrict access to the FAQs but I politely request that you let me know by email and acknowledge the source (www.kimtasso.com) if you wish to use the material anywhere.
As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.