For professional services such as accounting and law firms to be successful and grow, they continually need to source and obtain new clients. Few such businesses employ a sales professional specifically to do this. In most instances, opportunities come in the form of leads or referrals, in which the accountants and lawyers themselves must convert into business, requiring them to sell themselves, the business and its services.
These professionals often don’t like to think of themselves having a ‘sales’ aspect to their role. When they hear the word ‘sales’, they immediately picture the stereotypical pushy used car salesperson. Therefore, sales in professional services is more commonly referred to as ‘business development’ rather than selling.
The first step can be a shift in mindset, understanding that sales shouldn’t be about pushing products or services onto people they don’t want or need, rather it is uncovering a person’s wants, needs and ideas, then matching a valuable service or solution to suit.
Although sales is in fact a large part of their success, it isn’t common for accountants and lawyers to receive any training or formal instruction in this area. They undergo years of study in their qualification but receive little in the way of skills required to maximise opportunities in converting leads or referrals into new clients.
Professional services generally have a brilliant understanding of their industry, and are a wealth of technical information. Impressing potential clients with this knowledge however, isn’t enough for a client to see value in doing business. A big part of winning new clients is building relationships and establishing trust, through asking effective questions and actively listening to show understanding. Ultimately, a client needs to feel the professional is working with them to achieve the same goal.
As well as obtaining new clients, maintaining and nurturing relationships with existing clients is also an important aspect of business development. Adding value to clients through educating them of the other services offered, is a way of maximising the relationship for the business, as well as offering the client a full and complete service. The goal is creating loyalty where clients become a source of further referrals and leads.
No matter what you refer to it as; sales, business development or converting clients, professional services regularly wear a ‘sales hat’. Learning to wear that ‘hat’ well, can be a determining factor in the growth of their client base.
Working in a sales or customer service position, we come across all types of people. Sometimes we encounter customers who we instantly click with, making the interaction smooth and enjoyable. Other customers, we seem to clash with or are completely frustrated by them, making the interaction more challenging.
Much like people in the other areas of our lives such as family, friends and colleagues, the customers we interact with all have different experiences, characters and styles of behaviour. No two customers are the same however, there are generally four different types of customers we encounter on a day to day basis. Understanding these general customer types, can help us recognise them and adapt to their style of communicating and making decisions, to help make our encounters more successful for us and for them.
For example, there is the fast paced type of customer who tends to be very focused and doesn’t like to wait around to be served. They can be assertive and often seem demanding in their expectations of you and your service. The good news is, these customers make decisions very quickly and often know exactly what they want.
Then we see the customer at other end of the scale, who can be indecisive and take a long time to make a decision. They don’t like to be rushed and need a lot of reassurance. They also need to know you are sincere about helping them and if they feel you genuinely care, they will often become a loyal customer for life.
We are all familiar with the customer who loves to talk. They treat everyone like their new best friend and are more than happy to stop for a chat. They are optimistic and have great energy therefore, it can be fun interacting with them however you will bore them if you provide too many details, as they prefer to keep things light and upbeat.
On the other hand there is the customer who loves to know all the facts. In fact, they have often done a great deal of research prior and like to see that you know what you’re talking about. They sometimes ask a lot of questions but prefer to keep things professional and on task.
Because we don’t know what type of customer we are going to encounter next, it’s important to be flexible and adaptable. Rather than having, a ‘one size fits all’ approach, interacting with customers in a way that works for them, is going to provide the customer with a positive experience, as well as provide a better outcome for you and the business.