If you’ve been along on the How Clients Buy journey with Tom McMakin (my co-author) and me, you’ve heard frequently that we believe there is a big difference between how clients buy professional services and how customers buy products.  (Note: For more on this, I encourage you to read Chapter 3 in How Clients Buy: Beyond Pixels – Selling a Service is Different from Selling Things (and Harder, too)). Not everyone is convinced of this point of view, but I think many (if not most) of us agree on this.

The example I use when speaking to groups is this:

If you’re not convinced that buying a professional service is different than buying a product, then explain how we can purchase a $500K home after a one-hour walk through, and yet agonize for months on which architect to use if we’d rather design a home from scratch.

The key difference between the two is ‘what is’ versus ‘what could be’.  Hiring the architect (or financial planner, management consultant, etc.) requires a much bigger leap of faith.  We are putting our hopes, aspirations and dreams of the future into someone’s hands.

Assuming that you agree with this distinction, then let’s dive a little deeper into the mental calculus that a prospective clients uses when choosing to work with us.  I believe that some of this mental calculus is subconscious – it may not be something we explicitly think about, but it is going on in our brains nonetheless.  I believe that clients hire professionals that they ‘know, respect and trust’.  The Big 3.  But what exactly do respect and trust mean?  In How Clients Buy, we differentiate between the two: we must respect a professional’s competence, and we must trust that they have our best interests at heart.  The head and the heart.

As I’ve thought more about this topic over the past months, I think there is another connection between respect and trust that hasn’t been explicitly talked about nearly as much.  This often unspoken topic relates to a connection or compatibility between two individuals’ beliefs and values.  I think part of what is going on in the months during which a client is progressing through their decision making journey is that they are subconsciously seeing if we share a common world view.  If two individuals share a common belief system or values, then I believe they are more likely to respect and trust us.  And, thus, choose to work with us.

If this is true, then what are the implications of this? How does this impact our approach to business development? As with any relationship between two people, I believe that honesty and transparency are vitally important.  If you are not completely being yourself with prospective clients, and sharing how you feel about how things work and how things should be done, then we are inhibiting the possibility of a closer bond with the prospective client.

Being ourselves doesn’t mean that all prospective clients will naturally be in synch with us, but it does improve the likelihood that the clients we do win will share many common beliefs and values.  And, in doing so, I think the clients we do win will bring a more satisfying and productive working relationship.

And, the clients we don’t win may not have been a good fit and were better served by someone else. I realize that this mindset takes a bit of courage and emotional maturity.  Not always easy in the here and now pressures of everyday business. But, certainly something worth thinking about, and perhaps striving for.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.