Many people who are responsible for bringing in revenue for their organizations do not see themselves as salespeople. This is especially common in the professional services industries such as engineering, architecture, accounting, financial services, and law firms. We have a theory on why we think that’s the case.
Most professional services personnel do not enter their business careers because they want to sell. These professionals often receive in-depth technical training to do their job as they move up in their careers, but rarely receive any business development training to give them the tools needed to sell effectively.
What we typically see is that these individuals are highly skilled in their area of expertise, but they haven’t had or needed training in sales. They’ve built an influential book of business because they are experts in their field, and they have a strong network. But what happens when the market changes and the customers aren’t calling, or their number of contacts dries up? The need for business development and sales increases. However, these professionals do not view themselves as salespeople but rather experts in their field of knowledge. We often hear things like, “I do not sell, I build relationships.” Well, building relationships is part of a sales methodology for how to sell. Merely saying ‘get new business is not necessarily going to motivate these professionals, much less help them open opportunities with new companies. Getting people to change how they approach their work is a process.
Leaders can help these employees tap into who they are and identify their authentic way to ‘sell.’ Marketing can provide seeding or ‘air cover’ to help give new customers exposure to your organization. Your team can start by providing information to current clients and prospects that the buyer didn’t have before; we call this ‘something of value’ (SOV). Buyers today do most of their research on their own. Help these buyers in their research efforts. Provide them with information that is valuable to them that they don’t already know. In more complex sales, buyers need a consultative approach to fully understand what their options are to help them build and select the best solution.
Instead of being frustrated with the lack of new business, CEOs, and owners can help these subject matter experts shift their mindset. They can work with these experts to help them think like a salesperson. To help them identify areas of opportunity where they should focus their sales plan of attack. Here are some ways to steer them in the right direction:
To illustrate with an example, one architect we were working with, let’s call him Jim, was an expert on building sports arenas. But, he didn’t know how to position himself to other buyers. He was an industry expert; there was no doubt, he even talked at all types of trade shows but, he didn’t know how to portray that outwardly.
One of the tactics we worked on with Jim on was to have him start small with a buyer and build that initial trust. He needed to demonstrate his strengths in customer service and help customers understand the big picture. He helped them understand what they truly needed from an architect's standpoint and not what they “perceived” that they needed. Initially, the customer was searching for an architect experienced in building Curling Club facilities, but actually, what they needed was someone experienced in building recreational facilities.
Through his discovery questions, Jim introduced other more important criteria for the architect selection. Such as the importance of site selection and the complexity behind access to and from the facility, the cost impacts of local building ordinances, parking requirements, potentially other uses needed within the building and how they were going to fund the project to cover the ongoing recurring cost. Jim provided examples of the types of research to the customers as a way to demonstrate the support he offers. Jim helped them realize they didn’t need just an architect for a curling facility but rather someone who knew about building sports arenas and all that goes with it.
Even if your team works in professional services and claims they aren’t in sales, it’s up to you as their leader to open their eyes. If they are in charge of bringing in new customers and building “relationships” then explain to them that, that’s sales. Sales isn’t a bad word; it’s all about positioning your team for success.