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The Secret to Selling Professional Services


What images come to mind when you see this word? Close your eyes and say the word out loud.

How does it make you feel?

If you're like many consultants, the thought of having to sell makes you anxious, distressed, or uneasy. And for others, while you may want to learn how to sell, you simply don't know where to start. You've never been taught what to do.

Well, I'm going to let you in on a little secret: As a consultant, you already have many of the skills you need to be great at selling.

Think about it. When you deliver services to your clients, you:

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

This is exactly what you need to do to become successful in sales. It is not about persuading someone to buy something they don't need. It is about helping clients and prospects find solutions to their needs while providing value.

As a Consultant You Already Have Many Skills You Need to Be Great at Sales

Here are just a few ways you can apply the consulting skills you already have to your selling efforts:

  1. Sell as You Serve

    Many consultants 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 at selling, consultants must leave their values and everyday personalities at the door and adopt a sleazy persona and voice-a voice that would normally 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 rainmakers bring in new clients because they are no different when they sell their services than when they deliver their services.

    Great consultants create better futures for their clients that the clients didn't know were possible.

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

  2. Sell to Need

    Great consultants are masters at uncovering clients' goals and challenges and helping them make the changes necessary for success.

    Great rainmakers are no different. However, many consultants feel uncomfortable making connections, uncovering needs, and working closely with people they don't 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 prospects' 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.

  3. Communicate the Value

    Great consultants understand the value they provide to clients.

    They craft compelling solutions based on their clients' unique needs, and they communicate that value to clients clearly and articulately.

    Selling is no different. 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, inspire confidence, and be empathetic all at the same time when you sell to them.

  4. Plan for Success

    It's been said that if you don't know where you're going, then any road will get you there. Selling consulting 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

    Great consultants have a clear process that they follow. Each project has a specific objective, timeframe, budget, and resource allocation.

    Rainmaking is no different.

    Like consulting, selling is a process, and it's waiting for you to master it.

No matter how you look at it, consulting is a sales business. Every day you are selling your clients on your ideas and your recommendations. So stop letting fear get in your way of selling to new clients and start to embrace the idea that selling is actually a good thing. Prospects are looking for solutions to their problems, and you are the one who is well-equipped to help.

Additional Reading
6 Ways Selling is Changing

Selling like it's 1987 (or even 2007) doesn't work like it used to. The way buyers and sellers interact—and will interact—is changing significantly.

What is Consultative Selling?

Since Mack Hanan coined the term in 1970, consultative selling has been the most widely accepted—and most pursued—sales approach. The approach is characterized as understanding buyer needs and positioning offerings as solutions to problems.

While this has been the go-to approach for many sellers, massive changes in buying technology and the vast amount of information on the internet is significantly changing how buyers buy at an unprecedented pace.

Advanced Consultative Selling: Selling in the Blue Ocean

For the last 50 or so years, consultative selling has been the go-to approach for most sellers.

In traditional consultative selling, the buyer states a need and the seller positions their offerings as solutions to problems. This used to be enough to win the sale. But today’s buyers often perceive sellers and their capabilities to be somewhat interchangeable.1 This leaves sellers stuck in a capabilities battle, fighting price pressure.