Three “becauses” that stifle selling

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“We’ve got all these services…why can’t we sell more of them?”

This continues to be the ‘cri de coeur’ of many senior partners or directors in professional firms (and indeed much more widely).  Instead of being a revenue and profit multiplier, the inability of their professionals to spot and capitalise on opportunities to gain more work for colleagues – even from satisfied existing clients – has ruined the reasonable pretensions of many a good business plan.

Why?  Well, it comes down to some fundamental ‘becauses’ that can win the day if not addressed.  Here are three of the big ones and some food for thought and action if they are to be overcome successfully.

Because they don’t ask  This is a classic manifestation at networking events.  Professionals talk to (or rather at) prospects or contacts, seemingly unable to move outside their own narrow specialism – because they don’t feel confident or equipped to ask the right questions.

To get them client-curious usually requires a three-pillared approach: “upknowledging” so that they understand enough about what other departments do; “upskilling” to give them the selling tools to engage contacts without boring or being a put-off; and “upmotivating” to provide the encouragement and stimulus that helps overcome reticence: which leads us directly to…

Because they aren’t rewarded  “It was my contact, I had done all the ground work, but the partner just muscled in at the end, took it over…..and claimed it!”

Yes, this sort of thing should not happen….but it does and is corrosive because it stifles exploitation of the huge contact base and pool of work available to firms from the managers, associates and others who operate below senior level.

Fundamentally, it’s a leadership issue for partners and directors who have to accept that their job is to facilitate the growth of their business through others as much as themselves: no egos or personal fiefdoms.  That means encouraging and publicly praising the selling efforts and achievements of the people they manage.  It is also a firm-wide issue to ensure that the reward systems for cross selling at all levels are in place, work effectively for everyone, and are not exploited detrimentally: which leads us in turn to……

Because it’s not on the agenda ….systemic issues.  Cross selling success (or the lack of it) is one of the best measures of how open your firm’s culture really is.  It requires trust in colleagues and more leadership at all levels of seniority – both to support best practice and be uncompromising when it comes to addressing negative or self-seeking behaviours.

Without such bravery, the “becauses” will be victorious.  Do they succeed in your firm?

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How to stand out in an “all the same” world

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“There is absolutely no differentiation in the market at all – you all look the same”*
(*Christopher Digby-Bell, quoted in Legal Week, June 1 2015)

Post-2008, competition in most branches of the professions has never been hotter.  There is no shortage of other providers vying for your clients’ business: it can be difficult to choose from the service offerings and claims made.  You have got to be stand-out to win.  Unfortunately not enough are it seems.  So time for three things to consider that can help you to be singular and make the most positive impact.

Point of Difference…what’s yours?

“I’m a tax adviser….corporate lawyer…..architect….engineer etc.”   A lot of professionals we meet are PoD-free zones.  They find it almost impossible to articulate what their Point of Difference is…what makes them beneficially and attractively different to those who share their basic nomenclature.  So they all tend to look and sound the same to clients.

Why?  For some it’s about “not blowing your own trumpet” as they perceive it; for others it’s the “better mouse trap” syndrome (surely the world will naturally beat a path to the door of my expertise?) or an inability to recognise what they do that is of real value to others.

Almost everyone we have ever met has a PoD in them somewhere.  They just need help in thinking/talking it through, and expressing it punchily in ways that are most relevant to those they seek to attract.

You gotta tell AND show

“You have got to be more business savvy.  When you say you know and understand my business what I want to hear is not only do you understand it but you have real experience of it” (ibid.)

Claims are everywhere – but what clients most often want is EVIDENCE of experience.  Despite their professed focus on the E word (lawyers especially), many professionals are singularly averse when it comes to providing it to clients (“what if I get it wrong/breach confidentiality” etc. etc.).    All it takes is a relevant story told confidently and convincingly (What did they need?  What did you do?  What was achieved? How did you make a difference?).

It’s simple.  Just ditch the excuses and do it.  You will stand out.

 The one where the talk was actually walked…

This is a true story about making a difference and the positive impact gained from not being the same.

Two firms were involved in a pitch to a potential client.  Their Points of Parity (service attributes shared with each other) were equal in number and type.  Both promised outstanding client service and speed of response.  Both produced attractive documents and convincing presentations with real examples of their experience.  During the presentation dialogues, some interesting and unresolved issues were raised by the prospect with both firms.

So who won the day?  Back at their offices, the partners of one firm breathed a collective sigh of relief for their considerable efforts, reviewed their performance and waited for a decision – which they lost.  The other, equally-taxed firm went away and, within two hours, had emailed their advice on the unresolved issues to the client – and they won.

By being the values they claimed to espouse, they were different…and victorious.

How to create a sales culture for professional services?

This topic has been “flavour of the year” for some time. It still is and you can see why.

In a survey by London Business School, when asked “How Good Are Professionals at Selling?” over 50% of client respondents replied ‘Poor’. Over 40% thought that the professionals they came across were getting worse at it, not better!  Now it was a while ago, but I reckon things haven’t changed that much.

Here are three things to consider that are one part of helping to reverse this trend and  forge a more productive, ‘sales’ culture for your firm.

Create the numbers…  Basic measurements, metrics, or whatever you want to call them can still be in short supply, if experience is anything to go by.

Without numbers, most Business Development programmes descend into motherhood, apple pie, and the lack of achievement that accompanies these.

Take a good look at the figures in your and others’ BD plans. How robust are they? Are they really SMARTER (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timed, Evaluated, and Reviewed)? Do they measure only inputs, only outputs, both or neither? It should be both.

…then make them stick  What gets measured and rewarded gets done. It’s quite simple, yet so frequently doesn’t happen.

Professional firms are masterful at measuring and rewarding client work to the nth degree: but try and find similar rigour for business development activity and you will often search in vain.

And it is not sufficient simply to have measures. It must be clear to everyone in the firm what they each have to achieve; they must be measured and held accountable (via appraisals and other systems); and it MUST make a meaningful difference to them if they do or don’t achieve.

Make success visible  “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”

Oscar Wilde could have been referring to professionals and their business development activities, couldn’t he? Despite the negative views expressed by some clients about selling expertise, we see many refreshing examples of BD success.

What we don’t see often enough is the intelligent exploitation of this best practice by playing it back in all its specifics to the firm, via excellent internal communications and all sorts of other ingenious means, to influence for the better and enhance the drip feed of professional peer pressure.