Ann, the Prospective Client: Along with the goals for the company that we already talked about, what I really want to do is position the business for sale starting now and then get ready to retire…what I’m thinking is…and then we should…hello…Jim…are you with me?
Jim, the Professional Services Provider: Ummm…oh, yeah. Long-term growth for the company. Right, Ann. Well what you really need is to protect your personal assets while we pursue angel funding. I can help you with both of these.
Ann: Long-term growth? Well, I’m not really sure that’s the path we’re headed down, but you’re the expert. I’d at least like to see what you’re thinking. When can you put together a written proposal for me? Jim?
Jim: One sec…(Gets off his cell phone) I hear ya barkin’ there, Ann. I’ll get in that proposal and get things moving. I can have that overnighted to you (checks calendar…flips pages) in 43 days or so. I can’t commit 100%, though. It’s been busy…
Somebody Else’s Problem?
I know what you’re thinking. “This is an over dramatization of the mistakes of a particularly bad consultant. Sure, it’s always good for me to reread, but I’m past the stage of needing to hear this. I listen. I understand my clients’ needs. I get back to them quickly. I act professionally at all times.”
You may very well be a client satisfaction machine, pleasing clients with your charm, wisdom, skills and promptness. But, odds are you’re wrong — at least according to your typical clients.
In “How Clients Buy: The Benchmark Report on Professional Services Marketing and Selling from the Client Perspective”* we asked the following question to 200 business-to-business buyers of consulting and professional services:
Think about the last few times you purchased professional services. Which, if any, of the following 15 problems did you encounter?
And The Verdict Is
- Inattentive: 41% encountered service providers that did not listen to them (Hello…Jim…are you with me?).
- Clueless: 40% encountered service providers that did not understand their needs (Long-term growth…Well, I’m not really sure that’s the path we’re headed down).
- Late: 38% encountered service providers that did not respond to their requests in a timely manner (in 43 days or so).
The other 12 problems (e.g. service provider lacked professionalism ‘gets off cell phone’, service provider did not craft a solution to my needs ‘pursue angel funding’, etc.) occur regularly, too. Or, you could say, too regularly. In fact, only 15% of buyers reported that they experience no such problems in the process of purchasing services.
What It Comes Down to
85% of business-to-business buyers report they recently experienced one or more major problem with the person selling in the process of purchasing services.
These problems may be somebody else’s, not yours. 85 out of 100 buyers could be dead wrong. Keep thinking that…and keep fumbling opportunities to win new clients.
What Difference Does it Make?
“If a spaceship is traveling at the speed of light, and you turn the headlights on, does anything happen?” — Steven Wright
Many service providers wonder, “If I stop doing what I’m doing (i.e. business development and delivering services), to work on selling effectiveness, will it make a difference?”
According to decision makers who buy services, the answer is unequivocally, “Yes.”
In “How Clients Buy: The Benchmark Study of Professional Services Marketing and Selling from the Client Perspective”, we asked decision makers not only what problems they encountered, but what difference it would make if the service providers fixed these problems.
Here is What They Had to Say
- If service providers listened during the business development process, 74% of buyers would be “much more likely” to consider purchasing services.
- If service providers understood the needs of the prospect better, 76% of buyers would be “much more likely” to consider purchasing their services.
- If service providers responded to prospect requests in a timely manner, 42% of buyers would be “much more likely” to consider purchasing services (and 52% would be “somewhat more likely” for a whopping total of 94%).
As you can see, according to the decision makers who have experienced these problems — and a host of other problems — when buying consulting and professional services, solving them would make a huge difference in their purchasing decision.
Where Do Your Challenges Lie?
Let’s assume you have made the decision to address mistakes you may be making when you are selling. What do you do now?
First, get a sense of what specific problems crop up when you are selling. Which errors do you typically make? Uncovering which problems follow you around isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds, but it can be done. To uncover your problems:
- Be honest with yourself. If you can’t admit that you have any issues, no strategies for improving will work for you.
- Make a list. If you know what you are looking for, you are more likely to find it.
- Pay attention. Once you have your list, simply paying attention to whether the problems are cropping up can help you to uncover them.
- Bring someone else along. Sometimes you simply can’t recognize problems in your selling process by yourself. If you bring someone else along to observe and then coach you, you are likely to not only uncover problems in your process, but to start solving them immediately.
- Ask your clients and prospects. We have found that clients want to help you be a better service provider. Merely by asking, “When we were in the process of figuring out whether we were going to work together, how did I do? Where could I improve? What feedback do you have?” can actually strengthen your relationship.
Make sure you also contact (or have a third party contact) buyers who chose not to engage your services. What you learn from them may not only be eye opening, it could immediately save you from continuing to make costly errors.
Fix It…You Can’t Go Wrong
Let’s assume you now know you have several areas where you can improve. Picking which one to work on first is a whole new challenge. But in this case, just pick one to fix. You can’t go wrong.
Each of the 15 problems clients reported had subtle differences in impact on their decision making process. This should not overshadow the fact that, for every problem they experienced, 85% or more of these decision makers report that an improvement would make them at least “somewhat more likely” to consider purchasing the provider’s services. With this in mind, any one improvement can make a world of difference in your selling process.
So, pick something to improve! And, tell your friends so that the next time we survey 200 decision makers we won’t find clueless, late and inattentive, but instead hear intelligent, punctual and focused.
* Source data: “How Clients Buy: The Benchmark Study of Professional Services Marketing and Selling from the Client Perspective”, authors Mike Schultz, John Doerr, and Andrea Meacham.