Part 2 of 2
In my last column, I discussed some of the associations that may be hindering your ability to sell your services—and feel good about doing so. In this issue's article, I'll delve into another challenge to selling professional services: maintaining an ongoing sales initiative.
Activity and Productivity
A second challenge to selling professional services, particularly for sole practitioners or smaller firms, is maintaining an ongoing sales initiative. You're either getting work or doing work; and when you're doing work you're not getting work. This balancing act if not managed can mean long periods of doing work ("I'm completely booked out with a major client's entire executive team!") followed by as long or longer periods of finding your next client.
The longer a client drought persists, the more flexible (i.e., desperate, less discerning) you become. This is the precursor to the notion that any client is a good client—which of course is not true.
The best time to do prospecting and selling work is right after you've been engaged by (i.e., closed) a new client. You have momentum on your side, you're much more likely to stick to your standards and maintain your pricing, and most importantly, you're psychologically better able to sustain the inevitable rejection ("Thanks but, NO!") that goes along with prospecting and selling.
Think about it. You've just signed a new client for $US80,000 worth of consulting over the next quarter and you need to get started right away. Still, you contact two new names on your prospect list (more on this later) and they both say, "Thanks for being in touch but now is not a good time for this." Or, more simply, "No, not now, not ever!" How much has that hurt you? After all, you have to get going on your new client and the only reason you took time to be in touch with these two is because you read this stupid article!
OK, same two prospects only now you've been prospecting for the past six weeks and have not had steady income for more than two months. The prospects say the exact same thing: "Thanks for being in touch but now is not a good time for this." Or, more simply, "No, not now, not ever!" How much did you feel it this time? Likely much more.
If you discipline yourself to do the tough work of prospecting when you least need the business, you'll do better: a) because you radiate more confidence; and b) because the rejections or pushbacks you receive are much less damaging to you.
Many sales managers and independent business owners confuse selling activity (A) with selling productivity (P). Their formula for success is:
A = P
And their basic philosophy is "the harder I work the luckier I get." This is true if compared with folks who always intend to go out and call on a prospect but never quite get around to it; however, many people have been involved in a sales "blitz" and have seen minimal or no results.
There is another factor in the sales productivity equation, namely the quality (Q) of the activity. Our selling equation thus becomes:
A x Q = P
The question then becomes "How do you define quality in sales?" This is the stuff of sales process and the gist of my next article, but here is a quick introduction to quality for now. There are five places to improve sales quality.
1. Prospect Quality—Cultivating and working on the right Sales Opportunities
2. Process Quality—Doing the right Selling and Marketing Actions, with the right people, at the right times
3. Execution Quality—Doing right Actions well
4. Reference Quality—Doing the right Customer Support/Service follow-through well and ongoing
5. Metrics Feedback Quality—Sustaining Performance and Improvement in all of the above
To wrap up this piece, we'll focus on the first of these areas: Prospect Quality. How you define a quality prospect is up to you, but whether you'll do so is not really optional. If you don't create a Perfect Prospect Profile (PPP), you'll be doomed to chasing whatever comes your way or you become aware of. And, if we return to the relationship model, this means trying to establish relationships with people/firms that are really not a good fit for you. Which is what many people have done and is, in my opinion, why so many people hate the idea of selling!
Your PPP can contain both demographic (size, industry, location, budget) and psychographic (professional, honest, energetic, win/win) elements. A truly worthwhile exercise is to not simply identify these components, but also create a scale for each. For example, if a prospective client's Willingness to Play Win/Win is one of your psychographic measures, you could rate each prospect as they demonstrate the following:
+10: We can't win if you are not winning as well; how do we make
+8: We want this to be a good experience for you as well as us.
+5: We recognize that this needs to be good for you as well as us.
+3: Here's what we're looking for.
0: It's our way or the highway for you.
Clearly these are subjective but it's your scale so make it work for you. Once you've developed similar scales for each of your PPP criteria, then rate prospects accordingly and rank them on desirability. If you have five demographic criteria and five psychographic criteria, the maximum score would be 100. You can set a baseline that says you will not pursue (or accept) business that doesn't rate at least 60.
Now go prospecting to find firms that are a good match for you and your practice. Work to build a list of at least 50 worthwhile candidates (minimum score of 60 percent of your maximum) and keep current research available on your top 10. If you don't know certain aspects, this is a perfectly legitimate business reason to be in touch and ask who has this information and what might be their view of the things that you feel matter. [Note: I'm sure even as I write this, readers will be balking. We'll take this up next time as well.]
Finally, to the extent that you can, putting together some standard packages or information nuggets that are easily and readily assemble into a relevant and timely introductory package or proposal will solve one last prospecting problem—sending them something.
If you've taken my advice and are prospecting just when you've signed a new client, the worst thing that can happen is to have another prospect say, "That sounds interesting, please send me a short proposal." You're now thinking, "I don't have time to send you a proposal, I have to get going with my new client!"
If you have some standard verbiage and informational nuggets (not printed hard copy but pieces you can quickly assemble in a soft copy document) that you can quickly send out, it will be all you need to do to get the ball rolling. Now that you've done so, you can get started with your new client and also have another prospect or two bubbling on the back burner. Go for it!
- Build a list with 50 PPP candidates (emphasis on Quality)
- Keep current research on top 10 candidates
- Have readied kits to send out quickly
- Reach out to prospects each time you close
In my next column, I'll talk about your sales process and the quality of your process execution.