Recently, I attended a presentation by Neil Rackman, author of the international groundbreaking classic SPIN® Selling — a book based on the largest ever research study of successful selling in Fortune 500 firms. In his presentation, Neil identified five mega-trends that have redefined selling. How do these trends impact professional services sales and marketing? Let’s take a look.
1. The slow death of sales communication channel
The act of selling used to be a one-way channel – a company would spread its marketing message and potential buyers would receive it, often at face value. There was no conversation and the seller controlled how much and when the information was disseminated. However, selling today and selling 10 years ago have completely different meanings. For example in some professional service firms, sales is not a formally organized effort and some firms go as far as considering sales to be a bad word. But selling is a fundamental business function, and a firm’s ability to sell its expertise contributes directly to its success.
Today, sales and marketing in professional services are more about the value that a firm and its experts can bring to an engagement than the firm’s list of services. Professional service firms today can’t just proclaim “we are better or cheaper” because that is a dismal race to the commodity pit. Instead, they must focus on selling trust and expertise. In our research for the book Inside the Buyer’s Brain we learned that most high-growth professional services firms had three traits in common:
- A reputation for educating their audience
- They had deep experience and a track record of success
- They were likeable/trustworthy
Each of these criteria come to life throughout online and offline interactions with the firms’ staff. And for winning firms, marketing and sales (or business development) are where relationships with prospects begin.
2. The widening transactional/consultative sales split
Oh, the good ol’ days! Remember when you could send out a brochure and a few weeks or months later, the phone would ring? Those days have mostly disappeared. Today, many buyers do some independent research and self-education before reaching out to a potential provider. Much of that self-education happens online. But education does not end there. Buyers also expect the potential provider to continue to educate them, well after the sale is made. In transactional selling, buyers’ decisions are heavily influenced by price. And when companies can’t lower their prices any further, they rely on their marketing and sales pitches to persuade clients to choose their services over similar competitors.
However, in consultative selling buyers seek out expertise and they develop trust in a seller over time — throughout the customer journey. You can see more about the professional services client experience journey in this Slideshare. This selling approach relies more on buyer education.
According to our research, 80.8% of prospective buyers visit a firm’s website at some point during the buying process. And 43.6% rule out a firm because they weren’t convinced by the website that the firm could help them. In this new reality for sales and marketing, keep in mind this equation:
Benefits – Cost = Value
Today’s winning professional services firms seek to crystalize that value through well defined differentiators. In our research we have found that expertise is the factor that most often tips the scale in favor of the expert individual or firm. So the extent to which you’re differentiated around expertise in turn affects the speed of your ascent to greater visibility.
See also: Expertise as a Differentiation Strategy
3. Marketing is the new sales
Nothing happens until someone sells something. The old adage of “do a good job and clients will follow” is no longer a reliable or effective strategy. Instead, today’s professional service firms need strong and sophisticated marketing leadership. One of the biggest challenges within firms is finding talent that combine critical thinking, a wide digital skillset and a practical understanding of analytics. Firms with no marketing departments or marketing coordinators that focus solely on preparing RFP responses are not positioned for success in the future. Winning firms are quickly embracing the role of the chief marketing officer (CMO) and investing in the ongoing training of their marketing and sales talent.
See also: Making a Seat at the Table for CMOs
With the decline in transactional selling, you also have the fall of price-based purchasing tied to a traditional procurement mentality. Instead, it’s about how well your firm can communicate its value through strong differentiators. From our research into high growth professional services firms, we know that high growth firms are three times more likely to have a strong differentiator. The ultimate goal is to engage with prospects that recognize they have a problem and need an expert to help them solve it… and not engage with those that are simply looking for an estimate.
5. Crippling cost of big sales
In other words, selling takes time and money. How well do you understand the prospects’ needs, internal or external challenges and unspoken fears? The more you know about your clients and prospects, the more you will be able to determine if there is a good fit and if you are relevant to their needs. Does your firm know how much it costs to chase a typical opportunity? Do your leaders recognize that cutting down on the number of opportunities/pursuits will actually create more business? How educated are your prospects about the types of problems you can solve? The best way to answer these questions is to conduct research on your target audience — and to talk to prospects and clients as you take them though the client journey.
When it comes to sales and marketing, what is your professional service firm doing to recognize and address these trends? I look forward to your comments.
- Download Hinge’s Content Marketing Guide for Professional Services Firms for tips on creating content that builds credibility and demonstrates expertise.
- Watch our webinar, 5 Visibility Techniques That Win New Clients, which offers advice on how to increase visibility and leverage both online and offline marketing techniques.
- Uncover your firms true differentiators in Hinge University’s course, Differentiation, Positioning & Messaging
How Hinge Can Help:
Hinge is a global leader in helping professional services firms grow faster and become more profitable. We offer a comprehensive range of research, marketing and strategy services. Our research-based strategies are intended to be practical. In fact, our groundbreaking Visible Firm® program combines research, strategy, implementation, training and more.