Some professional services marketers are very involved in closing the sale. But many are a step or two removed. They may build brand visibility and generate leads, but stop short of closing the sale.
Whichever category you fall into, there are critical elements of the sales process that you should be aware of. These five research findings can literally help you generate more new business without busting your budget.
Let’s start by clearing up some confusion.
Sales versus Marketing
For the purposes of our discussion, we want to make a distinction between marketing and sales. Marketing starts with research and analysis to help you select target client groups, services to offer and brand positioning. It ends when a new business opportunity is generated. In this approach, lead generation is included with marketing.
Sales begin with a fresh lead and end when the sale is closed. The sale can be to new or existing clients.
Recent research on professional services buyers has given the industry greater insight into the client’s approach to buying and using services. This has been supplemented with additional recent research comparing firms that won the sale to those that came in second. Here are five key findings that may change your view of the relationship between sales and marketing.
1. What closes the sale is not necessarily what clients value
This one took a while to sink in. When you look at which factors are most important to closing the sale, you get things like reputation, knowledge of your industry, skills and expertise of the project team, team chemistry and sometimes price.
When you examine what clients value in their professional services firms, however, you typically get a different set of factors. These may include the firm’s role in better decision making, its status as a trusted advisor, or its ability to add value. Strangely, while important during the engagement, these factors do not count for much during the selection process.
The implication is that you may need to convey different messages to potential clients and current clients. If you attempt to sell to new clients using your insights from existing clients as guidance, you may well lose the sale.
2. Good marketing makes closing the sale easier
How you market to a potential client has a direct impact on your ability to close the sale. Leads generated through cold calls require a very different level of effort to close than those generated through content marketing. The former is much harder to close, as they have little background knowledge of your firm and typically start out with their defenses raised.
As you’ll see in the next point, some marketing techniques play right into the closing process. More hard-to-close leads are typically not the answer.
3. Education and new perspectives are the top priority
The top factor that distinguishes sales winners from runners-up also predicts satisfaction with the sales process and the intention to buy more from the same provider. It’s not price, expertise or experience. And it’s certainly not the relationship.
The number one factor associated with winners is whether or not a firm provides education and new insights. Do you help your potential clients understand their situation in a new or more insightful way? Can you simplify complex issues?
The goal is not to be the smartest engineer, the fastest computer programmer or the most knowledgeable tax specialist. The goal is to give the client the greatest insight into their issues around (for example) tax planning or the latest engineering challenge.
If you generate leads through content marketing, you are at a distinct advantage. This way potential clients get to know you through your educational materials; they come to trust your firm as a source of knowledge, insights and expertise. So you are starting from an advantageous position before you even begin the closing process.
4. Collaboration is next most important
The next most important factor in closing the sale is collaboration. More specifically, it’s the feeling that you collaborated with your potential new client to find the best solution to their challenge. You’ll notice that this is quite closely related to giving the client insights and new knowledge.
Once again, if you inject a sense of collaboration into the marketing process, it nicely sets up the subsequent sale. This is not the client telling you what services they want. It’s you discussing options to solve their problem.
It’s also easy to see how this sets up a pattern that will be conducive to a good long-term working relationship.
5. You must convince them you can deliver the results
It’s probably not too surprising to learn that the third key factor associated with successfully closing the sale is convincing potential clients that you can deliver the results that you promise. It’s easy to talk a good game. But can you actually deliver the outcomes the client wants?
Those firms that can provide convincing evidence are more likely to walk away with the new client. Understanding this important dynamic can help the professional services marketer provide the ammunition necessary to successfully close the sale.
This evidence might be case studies, research results or even testimonials. Powerful supporting evidence can help boost the close ratio of almost any business developer.
Marketers and business developers may be different people, but they are on the same team. By understanding some key realities of the sales process, the clever marketer can make the entire process easier and more effective. Meet your new best friend.
Find out more about the relationship between sales and marketing in our new co-authored book, Professional Services Marketing.