You probably didn’t enter your career as a consultant, lawyer, engineer, IT consultant, accountant, or other professional service provider so you could spend all of your time selling, but the world of professional services has changed considerably. To advance in your career, you have to succeed with business development.

You have to make the transition from professional to rainmaker.

When you find you have to start selling, you’ll fall somewhere on the spectrum of love selling or you’d rather retire penniless than sell. For those who love it, every part of the sales process offers a thrill—finding new opportunities, uncovering potential client needs, crafting solutions, helping clients envision a better future, and so on. But even you lucky folks who are destined to love selling have some learning before you get on the horse.

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For those of you who dread the process of promoting yourself and your services, you’d much rather have someone else sell the work while you focus on your clients, delivering the work, and helping them be successful.

Wherever you fall on the spectrum, now is the time to start selling professional services if you want to have greater success finding clients and winning new business.

Where does it all start? With action! And the first action: stop avoiding selling. There are many business development tips for professional services, but it’s crucial to make action a priority.

“The Dog Ate My Rolodex” and Other Great Excuses Not to Sell

There are a handful of excuses that professional service providers give for not selling. Some of the most common are:

  • I’m not good at it so what’s the use
  • This isn’t a good use of my time. Somebody else should source leads and I should deliver work
  • I’m booked for at least six weeks. I couldn’t handle another deal if it landed on my desk
  • If I reach out to buyers, I will sound like a used car salesman
  • My clients will contact me if they have additional needs I can help them with
  • I’m deathly afraid of / hate selling
  • My leads only come through referrals. Outbound business development doesn’t work, so why bother
  • I have to deliver my work, I don’t have time to sell

Pick Your Poison: You’re too young or too old. You’re too busy. You’re better in the morning and it’s late in the day. You only have 15 minutes before your next meeting. The dog ate your Rolodex. (Ah, the Rolodex…)

The excuses for not selling are plentiful. To be successful, you must make business development a priority. You can start by setting aside some time every day to focus on your sales efforts.

Forget What You’ve Heard About Selling Professional Services

Oily. Smarmy. Phony. Mendacious. Two-Faced…

Right or wrong, these words are often associated with salespeople. So, when it comes time to sell, you fear becoming your own worst nightmarethe overly aggressive, desperately slick, walking sales cliché.

This can cause professional service providers to backtrack from the appearance of selling by making it known to clients that selling them something isn’t what they’re about. As Queen Gertrude said to Prince Hamlet, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” Protest too much, and the prospective client will wonder what’s going on.

While being salesy is ill-advised for almost any sales rep, it is particularly bad when selling professional services.

Buyers of products can say, “I don’t like the sales rep, but I can tune them out for the next few minutes and simply evaluate their product against the competition.”

Buyers of professional services evaluate the sellers. Why? The seller is often the service provider. The relationship does not end when the sale is completed—it’s just beginning. Thus, building trust in the sales process is of paramount importance.

This is why business development training needs to be geared specifically to professional services. The sales strategies and tactics that work for products don’t cut it for high professional services where relationships are important, you’re in a seller/doer role, and it’s often a long sales cycle with high dollar values. The dynamics of the selling professional services is different.

4 Keys to Selling Professional Services


There is nothing wrong with selling. Quite the contrary. The act of selling, when done well, adds a significant amount of value. A well-planned sales conversation can help even sophisticated buyers make smarter decisions.

Here’s the good news: You can and should sell with high integrity and success, and do it without “salesy” tactics.

In fact, you can apply the same skills that make you a great service provider to help you succeed in sellingall you need to do is sharpen those skills and apply them effectively.

Here are a few ways you can apply the skills you already possess to your sales efforts:

1. Sell as You Serve: Great service providers create better futures for their clients that the clients didn’t know were possible.Many accountants, consultants, lawyers, engineers, and others who have never sold think the purpose of selling is to part someone from their money at any cost. They believe that to be successful in selling professional services, they must leave their values and everyday personalities at the door and adopt a sleazy persona and voice, one that would naturally say something like, “What’s it gonna take to get you into this shiny, red, pre-owned sports car today, ma’am?”

Nothing is further from the truth. The best business developers bring in clients because they’re no different when they sell their services than when they deliver their services.

The best business developers meet mutually-set expectations over and over again, building relationships, trust, and confidence. The best business developers are ethical at all times.

The skills that can make you a great service provider can make you great in sales. When you deliver your services to clients you:

  • Ask questions
  • Provide expert opinions
  • Work hard
  • Prepare
  • Are accessible
  • Build creative solutions
  • Deliver what you say you’re going to deliver
  • Develop relationships
  • Solve problems
  • Act with your clients’ best interest in mind
  • Introduce clients to new ideas, helping them see a better way

That is exactly what you need to do to become successful in business development.

Sales is about helping buyers find solutions that solve their problems and help them succeed.

2. Sell to Need: Great service providers are masters at uncovering their clients’ goals and challenges, and helping them make the changes necessary for success.Great business developers are no different. However, many service providers feel uncomfortable making connections, uncovering needs, and working closely with people they don’t yet know well. Too often the first conversations go awry when they don’t need to.

The same skills you use to get to the root of your clients’ problems and develop solutions to help them meet their goals are the ones you can use to uncover potential client needs and propose winning solutions. You just need to recognize what you need to do and bring these skills out at the right time and in the right way.

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Note that it’s not just selling to the client’s current perception of need. They may need outcomes that you can produce with additional services, they just don’t know it yet. If you know their objectives and goals, you can bring forth new ideas to drive additional business.

3. Communicate the Value: Great service providers understand the value they provide to clients. They craft compelling solutions based on their clients’ unique needs, and communicate that value clearly and articulately. In other words, they help clients make change happen when it needs to happen.Selling is no different. In fact, this is the basic premise of consultative selling—the approach you should take in your sales efforts.

You must learn to lead discussions that influence direction and outcomes, and you must advocate your services and communicate your value. Just like when you advocate new ideas to your clients when you work with them, you must be persuasive, confidence inspiring, and empathetic all at the same time when you sell to them.

4. Plan for Success: Great service providers have a clear process that they follow.It’s been said that if you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will get you there. Each project has a specific objective, timeframe, budget, and resource allocation.

Business development is no different. Selling professional services requires planning on multiple levels:

  • Generating discussions for the first time with prospective clients
  • Leading individual conversations and interactions
  • Planning outcomes for specific accounts
  • Orchestrating the entire business development process—how many clients you need to gain, how often, and for how much revenue and profit
  • Planning your sacred selling time

Business development is a process, and it’s waiting for you to master it.

You already have many of the skills you need to be successful in selling professional services. Now it’s time to take action. Make business development a priority and you’ll find the transition from service provider to rainmaker is within your reach. 

Mike Schultz