In my previous series of posts, I layed out the obstacles of selling consulting and professional services that our book hopes to help us resolve:

Part 1: The Obstacles

  1. We’re Trained to Do The Work, Not Sell the Work
  2. Selling A Services is Different (and much harder) than Selling Things
  3. Nobody Wants to be a Salesperson
  4. It’s Harder Than Ever To Sell Professional Services
  5. Everything You’ve Been Taught About Sales is Wrong

If you missed any of these, you can find them all here.

This brings us to our proposed solution which serves as the foundation of the second part of our book; Part II: The 7 Elements – A Framework for Understanding the Client’s Buying Journey. Before diving into the framework, though, I would like to take a step back to share with you a bit of the backstory of the 7 elements.

The ideas that Tom and I will lay out in our new book came about over coffee conversations that we had over the course of about a year.  As friends, Tom and I would meet up for coffee every month or two to catch up and ‘talk shop’. On many of these occasions, our discussions turned to the topic of selling consulting services.  The ‘obstacles’ that I laid out in recent posts were the result of difficulties we faced in selling the work that our respective firms provided. The ‘solution’ that we offer is a collaborative effort based upon our own personal successes and failures over the past 25 years.

Our framework is based upon three principles that Tom and I shared:

Principle #1: People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy if you can help solve their problems.

Principle #2: People buy consulting and professional services from people they know, respect and trust, or based upon a recommendation from a trusted colleague.

Principle #3: Selling a professional service is best understood from the customer’s point of view.

Let’s unwrap these three principles briefly.  Principle #1.  Nobody likes to be sold.  We can tell when a salesperson sees us purely as a cash transaction.  There is no listening to our needs.  No understanding.  Alternatively, we can tell when someone genuinely wants to help us.  There is more listening and less talking.  There is sincere empathy.  There is care and concern.  As a customer, we can feel the difference.  The first scenario creates resistance, frustration, even anger.  The second scenario creates an authentic desire to work with someone who has our best interest at heart and can help solve a problem or fulfill a need.

Principle #2.  When it comes to consulting and professional services, we hire people that we know, respect and trust.  Or, that come highly recommended by a close friend or colleague.  Products are purchased based upon tangible attributes and features: 4-door sedan, 3 bdrm/2 bth, lightest laptop, highest resolution, lifetime warranty, etc.  Consulting and professional services are purchased based upon intangibles like reputation, credibility, respect and trust.  As professionals, how do we become known, respected, trusted, and recommended?  That’s what we strive to answer in our new book.

Principle #3. Seeing things from the client’s perspective. Because of the intangible nature of the work we do as designers, accountants, or architects, the value that we provide is based upon a client’s perception.  Perceptions of intangibles like quality, knowledge, expertise, respect, trust, and reputation.  Tom and I had many philosophical conversations about how client’s choose.  Over the course of several weeks, we hashed out what become the 7 elements; the prerequisites or conditions that must be met for someone to hire us.  What was new in this approach was in looking at things through the lens of the client.

There are already plenty of books on selling.  On sales tactics.  On persuasion techniques.  On personality.  These approaches are not necessarily bad, but they are almost universally written from the point of view of selling products.  Are they even valid or helpful when a client bases their buying decisions on trust, credibility and reputation?  Tom and I both believe that what is needed is an in-depth look at how client’s buy consulting and professional services; the client’s buying decision journey.

Our framework is based upon the milestones or conditions that we believe a prospective client must achieve before choosing to work with you.  Here we go:

The 7 Elements: The Milestones of the Client’s Buying Journey

1. Awareness: I am familiar with you & your company

2. Understanding: I understand what you do, and how you are unique

3. Interest: What your organization offers is credible, relevant and potentially of value to me

4. Belief: I believe that in hiring you the benefits significantly outweigh the risks, and that you are my best option among my alternatives

5. Trust: I trust that you are honest and dependable. I believe you have my best interests at heart, and I feel comfortable working with you

6. Ability: I have the purchase authority, funds and organizational support needed to buy from you

7. Readiness: The timing is right and is now a priority for us to work together

This is our POV and it feels right to us.  That said, intelligent people disagree every day.  Please let me know if anything about our proposed problem or solution gives you any heartburn.

In an effort to keep these posts in easily digestible chunks, I think I’ll stop here for today.  In the coming weeks, I’ll dive into each of the 7 elements in greater detail.