Earlier this week I ran a full day workshop on selling for MBL (“The art of selling professional services and winning business”). The day was organised into six modules: the sales process, sales planning, integration with marketing, psychological selling, selling skills and measuring sales success. I selected four themes in the art of selling – Integrating marketing and sales, sales process, first contact and selling in a digital world.
Integrate marketing and selling
Peter Drucker famously said: “The aim of marketing is to make selling superfluous. The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits him and sells itself”.
It seems that many professional services firms have a disconnect between their marketing and selling. This is partly due to the structural separation of marketing and sales responsibilities.
Marketing teams in smaller professional services firms are often organised centrally with responsibility for raising awareness of the firm’s brand overall, maintaining key communications channels (e.g. the web site and social media accounts) and ensuring that the existing client and referrer community is kept up to date. The central marketing team might also have specialists in area such as public relations (PR), events, design, digital marketing and pitching.
Yet the majority of the selling in a professional services firm is conducted by the fee-earners who are focussed on clients in a specific sector and/or delivering a particular technical service. Whilst they may benefit from leads and opportunities from the marketing team, they are often likely to have their own list of prospects or targets with whom they wish to connect and engage.
This is particularly the case for professional advisers in corporate, litigation, insolvency or transactional areas where they know exactly who they need to build relationships with in order to generate the right type and amount of referrals.
For those firms targeting complex, global organisations they may adopt an Account Based Marketing (ABM) approach – where marketing is aligned around achieving the aims within a particular organisation – be it a client or referrer.
Some firms have addressed this issue by allocating resources for the development of integrated marketing and sales campaigns which generate awareness and leads for those fee-earners in particular teams.
Other firms have addressed the issue by appointing business development professionals who ensure that the entire marketing, selling and relationship management processes are integrated for particular sector or service line.
A common problem is the value of the information held on databases and CRM systems. Whilst there is usually good information on existing clients and referrers, the information on prospects and targets is often more limited. And whilst most firms have systems that capture and track information relating to digital encounters, they can be lacking at managing information such as telephone calls and meetings. Often as this information must be entered manually and updated regularly.
Interestingly, I saw some statistics at an event yesterday which suggest that the problem isn’t just in the professional services sector. The LinkedIn Moments of Truth survey (2020) reported that 96% of businesses have issues with strategies and processes aligning marketing and sales functions. And that 85% of businesses say that aligning sales and marketing is the single biggest opportunity to improve performance.
Agree a sales process
During the session we reviewed a variety of different sales methodologies and approaches. The different elements can be summarised in my 5P model of selling©
- Analyse the market, current clients, competitors, needs, sources of work and past activities
- Set objectives and KPIs for sales activities and results and align marketing campaigns to raise awareness and generate appropriate leads
- Agree a list of targets (or personas or qualifying criteria) and conduct research
- Agree sales processes throughout the organisation (and adjust as necessary for different markets, services, client types or teams)
- Establish/align information systems for research, client information and sales monitoring
- Train (and reward) staff in professional selling and provide resources and support
- Identify (and quantify) the benefits that your services/solutions deliver
- Differentiate your offering and gather evidence to support your claims (minimise risk)
- Compile the necessary content to support messaging and deliver insight throughout the sales cycle
- Decide how to connect with people and use empathy to generate rapport and trust
- Adapt to different buyers (personalities, information needs, decision making role)
- Manage multiple touch points throughout each buyer’s journey
- Probe and Persuade
- Construct questions, be curious and use active listening skills to identify needs
- Deploy communication, persuasion and negotiation techniques to portray a positive future and overcome resistance
- Manage conversion, deliver the solution and develop the relationship
Make first contact
There was some discussion about how best to make first contact with target organisations and individuals when you don’t have an enquiry or lead. Although there are regulations and reluctance concerning cold calls.
Some of the “reach out” methods discussed included:
- Direct – Send an email or pick up the phone to ask about needs
- Mutual acquaintance – Mention someone that you both know
- Same community – Use membership of a common community
- Shared interest – Leverage a similar background or interest
- Social listening – Follow social media accounts, like and comment on posts and use direct messaging in response to something that has been posted
- Provide value – Send information that offers real value or insight
- Follow up – Continue a conversation started at a networking event
- Invite – Encourage them to attend a business or social event
- Survey – Invite their opinions
- Homework – Conduct extensive research and submit a tailored proposal to secure a meeting
Selling in a digital world
There was some debate about how selling has changed during the pandemic – with face-to-face contact being so limited.
Numerous downsides of screen-based communication were mentioned:
- The tendency to get “straight down to business” without the usual settling small talk
- The impact of distance bias
- Feeling watched
- The lack of eye contact during to the different location of camera and screen (and the resultant perception of untrustworthiness and lack of cues for turn-taking in speech)
- Hard to see non-verbal communication (video explainer on NVC )
- Sound issues (muffles, echoes, delays and “You’re on mute!”
This recent article for barristers considers these issues around building rapport in the digital space further.
During Covid, many professionals reported a resurgence in the use of the humble telephone for more personal conversations for relationship building.
This recent book on “Digital body language” provides insights into how to interpret non-verbal digital cues. It guides you to build better team communication in geographical, gender, cultural and generational diverse teams. The author outlines four laws for digital communication – value visibly, communicate carefully, collaborate confidently and trust totally.
However, this was balanced by the advantages that so much more of the decision-making and sales process now takes place through digital channels before contact is made with the service providers (some estimates suggest this can be as high as 80%). And reports that virtual pitching (through digital channels) is usually quicker than in-person processes.
Thanks, as always, to Lauren Brown at MBL for providing excellent technical hosting services.
How do you feel about selling?
- 50% Neither confident nor unconfident
- 50% Confident
How would you rate your selling abilities?
- 75% Average
- 25% High
Who are you mostly trying to sell to?
- 25% Large, complex organisations
- 25% Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs)
- 50% A combination
Typically, how long does it take from first contact to receiving the contract?
- 20% Less than a month
- 80% It varies a lot
How familiar are you with the concept of the Decision-Making Unit (DMU)?
(Please watch a short explainer video on DMUs)
- 50% No idea what this is
- 50% I’ve heard about it but don’t really understand it
Is your approach to business development more:
- 25% Cast the net wide – reach out to lots of people
- 25% Targeted – aimed at specific prospects/targets
- 50% A combination
Which types of sales objectives do you have?
- 75% Referrals or recommendations generated
- 100% New leads/enquiries/opportunities generated
- 50% Number or type of engagement with targets
- 60% Profit and revenue
- 60% Number of new clients/transactions
- 100% Additional revenue from existing clients
- 40% Pitch or tender conversions
Do you have a list of targets, suspects, prospects, potential clients/opportunities?
- 50% Yes – built into my targets and systems
- 50% Yes – informally (e.g. in my head)
What is the main thing preventing you from selling?
- 50% Lack of time
- 25% Lack of information
- 25% Lack of target list
Where does the majority of your clients/work from?
- 40% Existing clients
- 20% Digital (web, emails, social media)
- 20% Internal referrals/cross-selling
- 20% External referrals/external organisations
How much time do you spend preparing for a prospect meeting?
- 60% 0 – 60 minutes
- 40% 60 – 120 minutes
Which is closest to your current BD approach?
- 25% Networking and Entertaining
- 25% Contact book
- 25% Digital/social media
- 25% Collaborator
How do you generally reach out to targets?
- 50% Direct approach (telephone or email)
- 25% Through industry or business associations
- 25% Through networking
Which is the highest priority for you?
- 20% Strategic marketing and planning
- 20% Tactical marketing/Communications/Lead generation
- 40% Selling (Lead conversion)
- 20% Client relationship management (developing existing clients)
How helpful is your CRM/client and prospect database in shaping your marketing and sale strategies?
- 25% A little helpful sometimes
- 25% OK
- 50% Essential – I rely on it
To what extent is your marketing and selling activity integrated?
- 60% In some areas – it could be better
- 20% OK
- 20% Really, really well
100% of the delegates use the “Trusted Adviser” concept (information on trust and the Trusted Adviser)
How do you feel about selling?
- 25% It’s OK but I’d rather do something else
- 75% I’m beginning to feel more confident about it
Where was your lowest score on the BD assessment:
- 25% Focus and targeting
- 25% Awareness and adapting to people
- 50% Implementation of sales process
Is your personality mostly:
- 50% Cat
- 50% Dog
- 0 Bear
How would you rate your commercial thinking skills?
- 75% 7 out of 10
- 25% 8 out of 10
How are you about asking prospects questions:
- 25% Ask questions to identify a need
- 50% Ask questions to obtain information I need to sell
- 25% Ask questions because I am genuinely curious (see a short video on the importance of curiosity)
Which do you think is the most important selling skill now?
- 33% Emotional intelligence for building relationships
- 67% Asking questions and listening
How good is your firm at measuring sales success?
- 33% Poor
- 67% OK
Are your sales targets/measures linked to your reward system?
- 25% No – not at all
- 25% Yes – but in general terms of contribution for appraisals
- 25% Yes – linked to financial rewards (e.g. salary)
- 25% Yes – there is a bonus system
Delegates’ key takeaways
- Building rapport is key regardless of final objectives
- Continuance vs. progressions on relationships
- Decision maker profiles
- Different types of questions and frameworks to ask them
- Dinosaurs for managing the client portfolio
- Importance of asking questions
- Improve internal sales reporting
- Review how to manage and use data from our CRM better